At the 65th National Film Awards, 2017, the members of the jury cited Abhishek Verma’s Maacher Jhor (The Fish Curry) as a well-crafted portrayal about accepting those with alternate sexual preferences. Here is an excerpt from an interview conducted with the young filmmaker.
Q1. Tell us about your background, about your growing up?
I was born and brought up in Hazaribagh-Jharkhand. My schooling happened in St Xavier’s Hazaribagh and DAV Kapildev Public School Ranchi. Since childhood, I was interested in art & craft and pencil drawings. My parents had expectations that I should do well at all the subjects. But it was very difficult for me and I was under pressure to perform well and do well in science. Class 11th was the most difficult time, I rarely passed or just managed to get the passing marks. While I was in class 11th, I developed an inclination towards the songs and cinema. I wanted to be a lyricist. I sold my books and bought a radio. Radio helps to develop an ability to listen and visualize. I believe that is known as Storytelling. In today’s education system or any modern pedagogy we stress on storytelling. We stress on narrative flow. I experienced that same in corporate and education systems. But you know “narrative” and “storytelling” is a fancy sale word. Very few people have an understanding and structured knowledge about narrative theory or actual storytelling.
Q2. How did you develop an interest towards animation filmmaking?
I think listening to radio programs had changed my life. I am thankful to Vivid Bharati and all their anchors such as Mamta Sharma, Yunis Khan, Sehnaaz Akhtari and few heroes of my life. In programs like Aaj Ke Mehman, Sargam Ke Sitare, Chitralok etc. directors, screenwriters, actors, singers and all established names in the film industry were invited as guests. This made me understand that filmmaking is a collaborative effort and one needs to have specialization.
Q3. How did you come across the story of your film?
This is a true story. My very close friend comes out to me and I felt very sad. Because one has to hide their identity for such a long year. There is no space for acceptance. I went back and talked to many people. I was helped by Aaditya Joshi (Convener of Saathi group-IIT Bombay) in doing my research and understanding the subject well. Me and co-writer Jayesh Bhosale took all the research, interviews and started writing. We started in August 2015 and completed the writing by November 2015. It was a dull and difficult process. In the process of finalizing the one-liner, we made sure that it comes out a love story. And we were going to put food as a pivot for presentation. A boy coming out by cooking!
Q4. Tell us about your process of making the film?
The making of the film went through a lot of interviews and then flushing out of the one-liner for the film. But throughout the film it reflected certain experiences from my surroundings. Interviews help me flush out details for detailed and subtle understanding. Writing for animation is unique. It is written with the flexibility of surrealism and magic. It’s like “Lalit morphed into fish longing for his beloved. He is a merman in a dense oil sea but happened to swim in the same density as of water.” I believe, when I write, things unfold in a paper. After that, I analyze the plots and re-write again. This is followed by a breakdown of the story and making animatics with rough sketches. It gives us a clear picture of production. Cost, time and narrative.
Q5. How did you collaborate with your team members from various departments and how would you like to define their contributions?
The best experience or the most beautiful process is collaboration. When you meet new people and pitch your story. At that moment, you try to see the same spark in theirs as you have in your imagination. It strikes, and expertise autonomy is transferred to that person. I could have never imagined that a 12 min film brings so much learning.
I want to tell about the team members who made the film live
Jamuura.com – I met them after Chasni won an award in Jamuura online film festival. After that Arun Fulara, Piyush Tewari and Munish Tewari were like a friend. They were the one who showed the confidence in the script. And agreed to manage the pre-budget logistics and production support. It was a great motivation just after the college and I was taking such an ambitious animation project without any money back up.
Jayesh Bhosale – we met at Ritesh Batra’s writing workshop in 2014. We became friends, as he was interested in cinema and art. He is a great listener and provides interesting references. I think that helped.
Shantanu Yennemadi – I am privileged to work with him for all the three films. Chasni, Marcher Jhol, and Lukka-Chuppi. I believe, he puts a soul in the film. Without his intricacies details to sound design, the film speaks emptiness.
Antariksh Jain – Who is a dear friend, teacher, and mentor. He is a documentary filmmaker and storyteller. He edited the film and brought a lot of documentary narrative editing methods in Maacher Jhol.
Ashwin Vasudevan – He was my batchmate and pulled off the entire version of Animatics in the film, from 17 to 10 mins. and also helped in drafting the technical compositing in the film.
Laishram Bhogendro – He joined us later and made the entire production scheduling, format, and pattern for scalability. In the end, he pulled the film with excellent technical expertise in detailed compositing and more than 150 renders of the film.
Piyush Priyadarshi – he also joined us later. He manages thematchbox.co and has several years of experience in animation. He happened to be my school batchmate (not a friend). We had rarely talked to each other in school. We met after 12 years and he joined as boss. The entire drawings were done or need to be redrawn, but the saturation made us (team and film) as deadstock. He took over the ownership as an agile line producer and made sure that film gets done by 31st Jan 2017. Under him, we completed two hand-drawn animation films in 90 days. Approximately 15 mins of animation production. I gained a lot of weight with which I am still struggling.
Sarath Warrier – He managed to create most of the online content for the film.
Suyog Happe – He contributed through his budding skills of storyboarding and making a promotional video for the film with Jayesh.
Aditya Joshi – For his continuous feedback and reviewing of the content. As the film was being made by a person who doesn’t belong to the community there were chances of handling the content, that might be offensive or incorrect. Aaditya helped us with that and he appreciated that we managed to tell the story with such detail and warmth. He might have viewed more than 11 version of the rough animation.
In the entire process, we managed to collaborate with Suhit Chiruthapadi and Rajesh Pawar for the creation of two beautiful songs. They both worked with us with minimum fees and shared the same passion for the film. I managed to find Suhit with the help of my Professor and Rajesh through Youtube. He shares the voice of Rafi Sahab to the entire world now.
Q6. At what stage of your film did you opt for crowdfunding and what was the reason behind such decision?
We needed money because we thought that we can make film in 3 lakhs rupees, but it became impossible. I was doing two jobs to make the film and support the functioning of team. We didn’t want that anybody should work for free and it’s a very bad habit to make people work for free. I decided, I will do consulting and freelance but will pay my team members. Many in the team didn’t take a penny. But moving the entire log of production needs money. Later I discovered that to cover the submission cost one film needs minimum 2 lakh Rupees. I remember writing to all festival directors of the world and they waived the fees in just 6 hours after they received my mail. It includes Mr. Cameron Bailey, festival director of TIFF. We wanted to share our voice on the concept of acceptance. The format was simple if you believe in the subject, give your little money and we will do our best. So, we created awareness on subject, animation in India and letting people know about our film. It helped and our film won Kashish, then winning an award in Annecy and then special screening at Animafest Zagreb. After that the film happened to be everywhere. When I was doing crowdfunding, I received a message from a person; he was working in a corporate company in Gurgaon and from one of the reputed college in country. He mentions that why an animator needs to go for a crowdfunding for an animation film. He says that one needs computer, cracked software and free music from Internet and film can be done in Zero budget. I was angry at that insensitivity and that particular reply is still saved as Draft. I never replied to him. After the crowdfunding of 2.51 lakh (including tax of 27000 INR), the first thing we did was to buy software for 1000$.
Q7. Share your experience with the online crowdfunding platform ‘Ketto’ as a filmmaker?
Ketto was a good platform and they are becoming strong. At the time I managed the funding, they were growing. I assume they are stronger now. But if you ask that how money came, it was with the marketing team of Arun, Piyush, Ishvin, and Neeta from Jamuura and Jayesh and Sarath. They worked really hard for 45 days to make the reach possible.
Q8. How is the present scenario of animation filmmaking in India?
It’s very weak. Independent content is difficult to find their space in the market. As the production is less there is no awareness or consumption. Suppose there are 10 independent short films made. The average duration is 100 mins of animation. Can we think that in the population of 1.25 Billion, we make a 100 min of quality content and create a market? Never! Can we make Rick and Morty instead of Bheem thing? Can something like Adult Swim start in India? Solution: fearless investment into the stories for Adult animation. Not only kids and mythology. But as long as we don’t get investment, we will suffer. We have to source money from alt jobs and make 10 min film in one year.
Q9. Is there any animator whose work has inspired you? If yes how?
There is a list of animators who give me inspiration and possible hope to go ahead and create something strong in India. Prof. Shilpa Ranade, she taught me everything and gave me the confidence to animate. All her films and how she approaches the film is a deep insight and learning. Her film feature animation Goopi Gaayan, Bagha Bayan (GGBB). Gitanjali Rao, mentor, and teacher. Her Printed Rainbow is one point of inspiration to all of us. Reka Busci, her film Symphony no. 42. Her storytelling is surreal but quite real in the contemporary setup. She takes us to the beautiful journey of images and reality. Don Hertzfeldt, World of Tomorrow. Simple line animation and excellent narratives with to and fro dialogues. Chinese film director and animator Liu Jian. His film Have a nice day is a big inspiration and how he controls the still shots with tension in hand-drawn animation. There are an endless inspiration and many mentors whose work has inspired me.
Q10. Do you think the phenomenon of crowdfunding has improved in India in due course of time?
It is popular and growing. It’s a social investment to a known or unknown person or work. If it grows in number, people will be reluctant to put money. But if more people come front and invest just Rs 100. It solves a lot of problems. Its simple economics of demand and supply. The concept of consumer surplus where we can help people just by putting 100 Rupees rather than putting 1000 Rupees. Because market is big and there are too many people to invest and it brings higher possibility that by investing just Rupees 100 the project can complete its target. So, one will have 900 Rupees extra and then can invest in other crowdfunding projects. Dr. AK Shivakumar tought me Economics and policy in Young India Fellowship program.
Q11. What are your plans for future? Do you think that winning national award will be a boon in your career?
I feel National award is an honor, a rather big honor and inspiration to the entire team. Obviously, this will mitigate my struggle and I would be able to talk about animation with added confidence. Hope people will listen to me and if I come with a new story it will be at least seen.
Future plans are same as what I discussed above. Focus on how we can produce more original IP in India rather than outsourcing. I have few animation web episodes in mind and feature-length animation films. The one I am interested in is making 6 episodes of 20 minutes each of “The man with experience”, who is government clerk and solves bigger problems in the surrounding.
Q12. Any plans of releasing and distributing your film?
Yes, there are many plans for the film. The fear engulfed is that we can’t make the film to the public soon. As this was my first independent film and it cost me a lot of money, time and energy. This was not an easy sail. The money went into coordination, creating a team, pre-production, production, submission of the film-to-film festivals, representing the film (In case of Maacher Jhol, Piyush Priyadarshi- heads and manages thematchbox.so did most of the traveling and incurred a large amount of money from his pocket so that Maacher jhol doesn’t remain orphan in festivals) and renders and reworks. In order to recover the money, we will be selling international rights and that will disable us to distribute the film in public domain. We will go with a restricted contract so that we can make it public and possibly make some money to produce the next film.