The mockumentary director is the enfant terrible of filmmaking. While not exactly a documentary, almost always cheekily parodying the form, the mockumentary isn’t entirely fiction either. One of the best-known examples is This is Spinal Tap, a satire on the rock documentary featuring the exploits of a fictional heavy metal band. Also think of films such as The Blair Witch Project, a stock footage-treated horror movie, or the hilarious Borat, in which comedic genius Sacha Baron Cohen exploits the camera to hysterical degrees.
Closer home, the format has achieved some representation with Kunaal Roy Kapoor’s The President is Coming, All India Bakchod’s Genius of the Year, or any of The Viral Fever’s YouTube comedies. Rohit Mittal’s take on the format, Autohead, is another entry in the genre. Autohead is the only Indian film to be selected for the Hong Kong International Film Festival (March 24-April 4).
In Autohead, Rohit and his team are shooting a documentary in which they attempt to capture the life of an auto rickshaw driver. In the process, they are ushered into his angst-ridden world that is replete with paranoia and sexual frustration. “It is an intriguing format,” Mittal said about the mockumentary. “It’s more real than a normal form because the camera itself is a character and at the same time it’s mocking reality. There is a direct involvement of the camera in the story. At the same time it questions the intent of the filmmakers or the camera or the eye through which you see the film. In a very generic way it questions media and imagery in everyday life. In some ways it is anti filmmaking or a criticism on filmmaking.”
Autohead has been described as Taxi Driver meets Man Bites Dog. Mittal was attracted to the tone of satire that runs through the latter movie, in which a film crew follows a serial killer. “I always loved mockumentaries and the Dogme films,” Mittal said. “I always found them very innovative in thought and structure and aesthetics. Also I wanted to do something that is a character study of a destructive mind in a repressive society but at the same time question the intent of the filmmakers in the film. I wanted to question the filmmakers who make films about social issues – documentary or fiction. Also I like it when characters in films break the fourth wall and talk directly to the camera or the audience. I like the sarcasm in mockumentaries and the criticism of reality.”
The mockumentary attempts to blur the line between fiction and reality by questioning the artifice of filmmaking as well as the attempt to present a realistic style, Mittal pointed out. “The format allows one to shoot things a little differently and manage without a massive budget,” Mittal said. “I don’t think I would shoot the film any differently.”
Autohead was made with a crew of all of 12 people, Mittal said. “We did a lot of planning so that we could let accidents happen and capture things more organically,” he said. “We would never do anything that would grab any kind of attention. We would always be on a run. Shoot quietly and leave. But at the end of it we were shooting a film and not selling drugs or bombs, so we had to be fearless and not care much about the authorities or the people.”
A format that has been attempted by some estimable voices, from Ricky Gervais with the television show The Office to the unparalleled Woody Allen with Take The Money and Run, remains underutilised in India. Mittal is curious about how local audiences will react to Autohead. “I think they will get it and also enjoy it in some way, because of the humor and performances and also the thrill,” he said. “It will definitely be something new. I am hopeful.”