Filmmaker Kranti Kanade was 23 when his short film Chaitra won three National Awards in 2002, including the award for Best Short Fiction Film. Starring Sonali Kulkarni, Kanade’s graduation thesis film was set in rural Maharashtra and dealt with a woman grappling with social injustice, revenge and destiny. Kanade considers the National Award win as a “big thing”, but that did not take him down the lucrative path of making advertising films though he got a lot of offers to do so. Instead, the Film and Television Institute of India graduate enrolled in the producers’ programme at the University of California.
Since graduating from UCLA, Kanade has made the 80-minute Hindi film Mahek, produced by the Children’s Film Society. His new film CRD revolves around students trying to win a prestigious theatre competition, inspired by the Pune-based Purushottam Karandak festival, and the lengths they can go to to win while humanistic ideals of making art fall by the wayside. Kanade spoke about the September 29 release, his filmmaking ideology and distaste for commercialism and advertising films.
What is ‘CRD’ about?
CRD is about how competition and the urge to win at any cost has permeated the space of arts, and performing arts, in particular. It involves young people competing to win a theatre competition.
What made you want to make a film inspired by the Purushottam Karandak festival?
Purushottam Karandak is a 70-year-old intercollegiate theatre competition. More than 10,000 students participate in a year. This year, 51 colleges participated. This festival is a whole world in itself. It is pretty much life for these students. It creates the philosophers and rebels of tomorrow. In the last 40-50 years, great writers like Satish Alekar have emerged from it. Sadly, we call something as important as this a local competition. As we are obsessed with national identity, we fail to recognise that life is held together by multiple layers in India.
I wanted to pay a tribute to the competition and at the same time question that should one be obsessed with winning or be concerned with sharing thoughts with one another to create a more equal, lovable society.
How long did it take you to complete ‘CRD’?
The idea was there with me for the last 10 years, but it took me and my co-writer Dharmakirti Sumant three years to write.
As for funding, me, my family and friends put savings of ten years into it. We took loans. We shot over six months for 65 days. Then one year of editing and six months to compose music.
CRD was released in the US last year, but we had some censorship troubles which delayed the release here in India. What troubles we had is irrelevant.
Did you always want a theatrical release or were you looking at a digital-only release as well?
We got offers for a digital release but I was very keen on releasing CRD in theatres. I think all people deep inside their hearts want to connect with stories in the dark, on the beautiful screen. You walk in there without knowing what you are going to see. That is how I began seeing films and loving filmmakers. After theatrical release, CRD will be released digitally. But CRD has been made keeping the theatrical expanse in mind. If anyone is disappointed by the film, I will be glad to refund.
You worked with Harvey Keitel in your yet-to-be-released film ‘Gandhi of the Month’.
Whether it is Harvey Keitel or Tom Hanks or Aamir Khan, these are not the reason why I make films. The reason I make films is because I cannot live in this world with my eyes closed. I am worried about certain issues such as fundamentalism, fascism… fascism in arts, the unbelievable aggressiveness behind winning awards and how they perpetuate ideas of superiority in arts. Keitel or Hanks or Aamir are unbelievably great actors but my inspiration to make a film is always the subject.
Gandhi of the Month is about a school principal who is an expatriate America [played by Keitel] who runs a boarding school in India and tries to save his students from fundamentalists. I was very fortunate that Harvey Keitel agreed to do the film, but the aim of a director or at least that of my life is to tell stories and then think about whom to cast.
I want to correct that statement. The aim of my life is to stay worried. If I worry about the society I am living in, I think I am doing my job as an artist.
How difficult or easy it is to be an independent filmmaker?
I am an independent filmmaker not because I work on a less budget. Being an independent filmmaker is about bringing forth certain voices and stories that the mainstream cannot worry or care about. To do that, I can go to any extent. If necessary, I will sell my house, my clothes, my arm but not compromise on the story that I want to tell because it is about my life and the life of my people, about my country, my earth and my city.
On a particular day, they might find commercial films palatable but newer narrative discoveries are also essential. I don’t think that the poorest of the people in India want mindless entertainment. It is a misunderstanding. Like we are always stuck in traffic in the cities, the lowest common denominator is stuck with bad films. Who knows? The revolution can happen if we can collectively offer them beautiful, intelligent cinema?
Where did you discover your filmmaking ideology?
I grew up in a socialist household. My grandfather, Dr DS Kanade, was a socialist leader and thinker. In our house, my grandfather would keep and teach 50 poor students. It was a free hostel for them. My parents were professors and amateur theatre artists. They told me, don’t waste your life, be an artist. So, I became an artist and I inherited socialism from my grandfather.
How did the National Film Award for ‘Chaitra’ affect your career?
It was a big thing. I was 23 and people started offering me ad films. But I refused to do them. I think ad films are the biggest crime of the 21st century. We are selling things to each other we don’t need. We are selling Coke and Pepsi without thinking the health hazards they bring to the people of our country.
Ad filmmakers are nothing but mercenaries. They earn Rs 40-50 lakhs a month doing what? How do these products improve the lives of the poor in our country? What is the connection between oil and maa ka pyaar?
So instead of being an ad filmmaker, I did other things like carpentry – I designed my own furniture and did the same for others. I did organic farming, ran an NGO for destitute children, did real estate transactions for my bread and butter. I did a lot of things but not ad films. Even if I die poor and hungry, I will never make an ad film unless it has some ethical filter.
I am profoundly sad, hurt and depressed by our treatment of trees in India. Trees that are 30, 40, 60 years old are being cut in Pune, Mumbai and everywhere else to build a three-feet compound wall. We don’t bother to think for a moment that trees are the reason we have oxygen and we exist. My next film will deal with this urgent, moving and troubling issue.