6 August 2012

Budget, What Budget?

Srinivas Sunderrajan
made a feature film for Rs 40,000. Trisha Gupta paid Rs 850 to watch it. He tells her how life is stranger than fiction. Or vice versa.

SRINIVAS SUNDERRAJAN’s debut feature is ostensibly a film about a pleasantly paunchy software guy called Kartik Krishnan who’s in love with his attractive colleague Swara Bhaskar. He blushes when she says his hair looks nice, he sees visions of her, he turns up at five minutes’ notice to listen to her vent about her family — the usual stuff. But The Untitled Kartik Krishnan Project (TUKKP) is anything but the usual stuff. So what really happens is that the fictional Kartik Krishnan (played by the real Kartik Krishnan, whom you won’t recognise, even in his Certified Cinema Fanatic T-shirt) invites the fictional Swara Bhaskar (played by the real Swara Bhaskar, whom you may recognise as Kangana Ranaut’s friend from Tanu Weds Manu) to act in his short film, which, naturally, is about a software guy who’s in love with his attractive colleague.

Got that? Alright, so the fictional Swara agrees to act in the fictional Kartik’s short film, directed by the fictional Srinivas Sunderrajan, a young filmmaker whose short Tea Break won the 2007 Grand Jury prize at Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles (IFFLA), but whom Kartik admires more for having spoken to Quentin Tarantino. Kartik starts to write the film the way the fictional Srinivas says he should: no camera angles, boss, just the story. But then strange things start to happen…

You’ve probably guessed that Tea Break is a real film made by the real Sunderrajan, and it really did win that 2007 prize. That was also the year Sunderrajan graduated from Bombay University with a Bachelor’s in Mass Media. When he came back from LA, he wrote a post on the (now defunct) Passion for Cinema blog about meeting Tarantino. A movie-mad software engineer called Kartik Krishnan read it. Kartik and Srinivas met, and discussed making a short together. No thing came of it. Then one day in 2009, says Sunderrajan, “I woke up with the title in my head. And then it struck me: what if we’d made that film?”
A conversation with Sunderrajan is slightly befuddling, like his film. You’re never sure whether what he’s telling you is the real story, or the story of the real story. There’s a constant looping between reel and real, both in the film and outside. It’s not just the actors, either. There’s the plot, which is studded with real people (re)enacting real events, and talking about making an indie — when they aren’t being assailed by a future-telling robot and a man in dark glasses who calls himself The System. Then there are the locations: local train interiors, an office, a lassi joint. The fictional Kartik lives in a third floor Bhendi Bazaar flat. It’s also the locale for his fictional film. It’s also a flat owned by the real grandmother of the real Hashim Badani, Sunderrajan’s real college friend who is TUKKP’s real cinematographer.

Unlike every third Bombay release that claims the label, TUKKP is a true indie. It was filmed on a minuscule budget of Rs 40,000, with actors working for free, and friends and family chipping in. It was meant to be shot over 15 weekends in 2009, edited in the monsoon and sent to a film festival in September. But the film refused to be finished. The Bhendi Bazaar flat collapsed in the Bombay rain. “Meanwhile, it was acquiring cult status among small people in Bombay,” laughs Sunderrajan. That buzz has worked in the film’s favour: after much effort, it released under the PVR Director’s Rare initiative last week. And if there’s something surreal about paying Rs 850 to see a Rs 40,000 film, well, perhaps we might consider that experience as in sync with TUKKP.

Published in Tehelka Magazine, Vol 9, Issue 31, Dated 04 Aug 2012

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