Thursday, May 30, 2024

Meet Maharshi Kashyap- The filmmaker from Assam whose short film became India’s official entry for Oscars (Exclusive Interview)

Rose Newton (Sub-editor)

Maharshi Tuhin Kashyap is a filmmaker from Assam, whose film The Horse from Heaven (Mur Ghurar Duronto Goti) became India’s official entry for the Oscars in 2022. This makes it the second film from Assam to become India’s official Oscar entry. Recently, Enigmatic Horizon had a conversation with the filmmaker, regarding his struggles, as well as his views towards cinema.

What inspired you to pursue filmmaking? How did your journey begin?

I believe drama played a significant role in inspiring me to pursue filmmaking. Since my childhood, around 4th and 5th grade, I actively participated in plays, and that experience had a profound impact on me. When I reached 8th grade, I made a firm decision to become a filmmaker. Drama provided the inspiration, and that’s how my journey in filmmaking began.

What were the major challenges you encountered during your journey?

The journey towards my filmmaking career presented several significant challenges. When I expressed my desire to become a filmmaker, especially during my 8th grade, people would often laugh and not take me seriously. I had no background or connections in the industry. I had to start from scratch and learn everything on my own. I received guidance from a friend who helped me understand the process of filmmaking. Making a film with limited resources was also a challenge. In 2015, when we created a short film, we had no idea that we could shoot a film using a DSLR camera. Digitalization was a new concept for us at that time. Despite these obstacles, we managed to make zero-budget films with the support of our friends, such as Vishal Sodhiya, Vishal Sharma, and others. These experiences were my true learning in the world of cinema and the film industry.

Do you have a guru or any role models in the film industry?

There are numerous individuals in the film industry whom I consider as role models. However, in terms of cinema specifically, there are filmmakers whom I admire and learn from, but I haven’t had the chance to meet them, and it’s possible I may never meet them. Some of these filmmakers are even from Thailand and China. I appreciate their unique approach to filmmaking. Additionally, I draw inspiration from the people I encounter in my daily life. For example, meeting someone like you today could potentially inspire me in various ways. I often find inspiration in the incidents and people I come across daily, particularly when I develop personal connections or fall in love with certain individuals. These experiences also shape the direction of my films.

Did you ever expect your film The Horse from Heaven to be an official entry for the Oscars? Could you share more about your journey with this film?

Honestly, I never anticipated that my film would become an official entry for the Oscars. I simply focused on making films, and that remains my primary goal. It doesn’t matter to me whether my films are selected for festivals or receive recognition. What truly matters to me is that people watch and experience my films. This exposure helps me in making more films. However, when my film reached the Oscars, it definitely boosted my recognition and led to more opportunities.

This year, an Indian film, RRR won an Oscar for the first time. How do you feel about this achievement? How important is it for a movie to gain international recognition through the Oscars?

Personally, I find RRR to be a mediocre film, and I am still not sure why it received an Oscar. However, once a film enters the Oscars or becomes an official entry, there is a lengthy process to advance further. Various requirements need to be fulfilled, including financial investments and hiring professionals and press. RRR may be a commercially successful film, but I don’t consider it exceptional or deserving of extensive praise. It lacks novelty and intensity, and I wouldn’t label it as a must-watch film. Therefore, I find its recognition kind of problematic.

Why do you think it took so long for an Indian film to win an Oscar? Do you believe there is a bias against India, or do you think the Indian committee submits films that are not deserving enough?

Yes and no. The Oscars, being a commercial competition, naturally prioritize financial considerations. However, there are many film festivals around the world that are more credible than the Oscars. The Oscars predominantly showcase commercial films, particularly those from the United States. It is exceptionally challenging for films from outside the U.S., especially short films, to gain recognition. In India, we produce many excellent films. For instance, my senior colleague, Dominic Sangma, recently made a film called Rapture which received recognition at Locarno Film Festivals. There are many esteemed film festivals which are organized in various places worldwide, and Indian cinema is performing extremely well in those spaces. So, I don’t think we should emphasize on the Oscars that much.

What are the main challenges faced by the Assamese film industry?

The lack of a proper film industry setup is the most significant challenge faced by the Assamese film industry. We don’t have a well-established industry that operates consistently without pauses or interruptions. A true industry functions continuously, which is currently missing in Assam. This is a serious challenge.

Why do you think the Assamese film industry lags behind other regional film industries like Marathi or Bengali?

I disagree with the term “backward.” Let’s consider Marathi cinema, which has a long-standing industry with a rich history. Bengali cinema also boasts a strong historical background. In Assam, the cinema industry faced interruptions due to various problems throughout history, experiencing phases of rise and fall. However, in the present moment, we are witnessing an exciting time in terms of filmmaking. I am proud to be residing in Assam and working in the film industry during this period. The films produced in the Northeast are gaining acceptance and recognition from outsiders. Rima Das is a perfect example of someone creating outstanding work. We have many such individuals who exemplify the fact that the Assamese film industry is not relatively inferior; in fact, it is progressing faster than many regional cinemas.

In recent years, there has been growing discontent in Bollywood due to content plagiarism from other industries and the portrayal of our culture in a negative light. For instance, the film “Aadipurush” has received criticism from both critics and the audience for its vulgar representation of the Ramayana. How do you feel about this issue? What kind of content should Bollywood focus on creating?

I think the problem lies in the acceptance of poor content by the audience. Bollywood’s content has been declining in quality. Ultimately, the content produced depends on what people want and accept the most. Bollywood’s intention is not the issue; they have already stated that they make films for monetary reasons. If people continue to embrace subpar content, the industry will keep producing it. Nevertheless, I believe the phase will change soon.

What project are you currently working on, and what are your future plans?

Currently, I am involved in several projects. I am in my final year project as a student of SRFTI, located in Kolkata. This film was my second-year college project. Currently, I am in the process of writing my final script, which will be shot in Assam, most likely in September or October. Besides that, I am working on a documentary project cantered around the women of Chaygaon, Assam, who engage in boating. These women, have represented India in this sport, and yet their stories are largely unknown. I am passionate about creating a film that sheds light on their experiences. These are my current endeavors, and I have more projects lined up for the future.

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