India's answer to Hollywood and No-Budget film production

Anamitra Roy, Indian filmmaker and no-budget forum member talks to Ian McCormick about his life and work in this interview conducted on 4th March 2012.

See previous blog entry for a critical and contextual review of Anamitra Roy's film work and ideas.

How long have you been making films?

I don’t know if I’ve been making films. I think I’m mocking films because the set up one needs to make films is not accessible for me. I just shoot with whatever I get. I write scripts keeping in mind my resources like friends who can act, or the lights and cameras I and my friends own etc. I started editing back in 2006. I used to choose just any stock and chop something out of it. In 2008, Sriparna, my girlfriend, bought a second hand miniDV and in the same year I met poet Arupratan Ghosh. We made the first film together in the month of December. There was another guy named Arkapratim Mukherjee with us. I acted in and edited the film. It was not something good, mostly a failure except the fact that this film caused the birth of Little Fish Eat Big Fish, our forum.

 How did you first discover your interest in film making?

In 2004, I watched Four Hundred Blows, yes, the famous one by Truffaut. I found that film to be different, I mean, in my country and my society, watching good films is not a regular thing for a teenager. Television and the industrial products have blinded our youth successfully. You’ll be amazed to know that there are independent filmmakers even in the Bollywood (like most of the people in India understand something related to Anurag Kashyap or Abhay Deol when they come across the term). I used to be a poet-writer. I used to write for Bengali ‘Little Magazines’ (I still do that sometimes). But the problem here is that parents are sending their children to English Medium schools often so that their next generation doesn’t have to face the problems they had regarding language. This is how the mother-tongue is becoming an unimportant second language for Bengalis. They are not finding any interest in their own literature. Then there are the big publishing houses and media to suppress the alternative and promote trash. I wanted to break this barrier. I thought audio-visual would be a good medium to reach out. Probably that’s why we have hard-coded English subtitles in all our works.

What was your first ever film? (Tell us about it)

The first film that I made? Well, that’s quite a story.
The film was called “Jean-Luc Godard Had No Script”. It was a part of the Five No Budget Films (2010) compilation. The film is available on Youtube. It is one of the most popular films produced by our forum.
Lot of people have praised it, but no one ever raised a question, which is rather depressing. Some people also consider this to be a tribute to Godard, but that’s not true either. It was a critique of Kolkata’s worship and illusion of Godard. I mocked Godard there. My face was painted full white like Europeans, but my hands did reveal the colour of my native skin. I distorted my accent but what I spoke was Bengali. All I wanted was to break the illusion that has given birth to an all-talk-and-no-work culture as well as to provide a theoretical basis for the ‘Indian No-Budget Filmmaking’ which was started by us.

What camera did you use and how long did it take to make?

It was Sriparna’s miniDV, that was the only camera we could avail for free at that point of time. Developing the concept took three months before I wrote the script in October, 2009. I planned to shoot the whole thing in just a day but it took one more as the first day’s shoot was interrupted and we had to shift the location due to excessive mass gathering. The post-production took almost two weeks as we had to dub some dialogues and the tape was damaged in some parts. We had to capture those damaged shots in slow motion and then reconstruct the sound for it which was completely out of plan.

How do you find working with others on a film? What works best?

It depends on some other factors. If I have a tight script I’d just like people to follow my instructions. But if I don’t have one I’d like people to be imaginative and improvise. For instance, Secret Footage_The Encounter was a film without a script. But I had the whole idea inside about the sequences and things I wanted to shoot. I shared the concept and the purpose with actors and asked them to perform accordingly. It was the same with the character of the journalist (played by Snigdhendu Bhattacharya) in JLG Had No Script. He knew about the situation in Lalgarh better than I did. So I just told him where to focus, the dialogues were absolutely on him. And for Memories… of a Dead Township (2012) I told my father and sister to improvise on the basic melody (the theme) as I thought the music must resemble the memory in pattern, that is to say, which can not be reconstructed and whatever you play is the perfect and the imperfect at the same time.

Do you make a living from film? How do you support yourself in your work?

Yes, I do. I’m a freelancer. I work on commissioned projects as Editor, Director, cinematographer or whatever just to earn a living and to continue working independently outside the mainstream industry. See, I have this problem of ethics. I feel guilty whenever I think of applying for foreign-funds for some documentary or something. My govt. does not support my initiative and they better not waste money I feel. If they have money they should try to provide food and basic infrastructure for people. I have not applied for any film fund yet. But maybe I’ll do that too one day in order to survive.
Where do you get your ideas about film from?

From life, from the content always. And my life is my content.

How do you work on an idea and develop it?

I walk with the basic schema inside. I keep on looking at people’s faces, posters, signboards, I try to hear others’ conversation and add up whatever seems suitable. I steal from the nature, whatever is passing by me.

What for you is the film making and creative process?

A method of communication. See, the basics are the same. I don’t write or make film until I feel like. I have no such urge to become famous or a celebrity. If I feel that I need instant relief I sit with a pen and a paper and start writing. I keep on working on it until I’m satisfied. Same thing happens with my films. First, an idea comes to my mind which I can not convey in words. I take a walk, I try to understand it myself. Whenever I feel that I know it all now, I start to steal, as I said earlier.

Who are your favourite film makers?

There are no favourite film makers for me. There are favourite films only. I one I feel most close to is from my country and my language – Ritwik Kumar Ghatak. He is special for me. Except him, I like a lot of filmmakers from all around the world and from all the genres almost. The range is like from Bela Tarr to Emir Kusturica. Or from Andrei Tarkovsky to Mikhail Kalatozov . From Renoir to Godard to Breillat sometimes. Kenji Mizoguchi to Takashi Miike; it’s hard to specify really. Even Jon Jost.
I love films.
Which people or works (in any art form) have been influential for you?

Almost everything which can be called ‘art’ has been an inspiration to me in different times. If I try to name all of them the list is going to be much longer that the incomplete one above.

Why is community or collaboration significant in your work?

I need my voice to be heard. It’s better to sing a chorus than shouting alone in the street. We didn’t even have money to submit to any international film festival till this year. So, if I have 10 friends to watch my film my filmmaker friend knows another ten. Ten of us together can reach out to 100 people. That was the basic concept behind Little Fish Eat Big Fish. 

Except that, community is the place every human being belongs to. The origin of my family is actually Bikrampur Pargana, Dhaka, Bangladesh. Before the riot (I really don’t know why) our family moved to Agartala, Tripura, India and became the royal priests. I, at this point of time, live in a district called Hooghly in West Bengal, India and I don’t like the fact that I don’t have any connection with the origin. Everything was alright, I got this gut feeling since I realized that my life has changed a lot after we moved out of Dunlop Estate (The place in my last film). Maybe that’s the reason, just because I miss the thing it becomes highlighted in my works.

What do you think about Hollywood and big-budget film?

They understand what business is i.e how to invest wisely to fool others and make a lot of profit out of that.
What perceptions or impressions do you have about life and work for film makers in Great Britain?

Not much knowledge really. Chaplin, Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, David Lynch, Ken Loach, Mike Leigh, Michael Winterbottom – are they what you mean? Chaplin is almost everyone’s all-time favourite. I love his works and the story of his life. But these are the names I came to know because of the big industry. I don’t have a perception really except that some of them are / were great!

What challenges do you face as a film maker in India?

Almost everything is a challenge here or one might say there are no challenges at all. I don’t get a theatrical release, but how does it matter to me anyway. India has nothing to do with it. Had I been in Burma things would have been the same for what we are doing. The only irritating factor is Bollywood and its influence over people. There used to be good people in the movie industry earlier. For instance I love Bimal Roy, Kishore Kumar or RD Burman or Tulsi Chakraborty. There used to be good films once upon a time even in the Bengali Film Industry. The most popular film in Bengal for all times is ‘Saptapadi’ probably, an Uttam Kumar-Suchitra Sen starrer. Yes, they used to copy Hollywood realism but it really doesn’t matter when I compare ‘Saptapadi’ or ‘Sare Chuattar’ to some ‘Pagloo’ in Bengal or ‘Don 2’ in India.

The main challenge is to keep on working without going insane, I think.

What will you be working on next?

I have already started raising funds for a 90 minute feature. Right now I’m calling it ‘The 0ne Rupee Film Project’. It’s going to be a film on the independent Film Scenario of India.

What are your fears about culture/politics for the future?

We are already going through the worst. What’s left to fear about? The civil war is here. Govt. has launched Operation Green Hunt to let MNCs loot the minerals without facing much resistance. In the name of killing Maoists they are killing or putting behind the bars just anyone they suspect. The police is ruthless in Bengal, Orrissa, Andhra, Jharkhand, Chattisgarh and wherever people are trying to resist. The Armed Forces Special Power Act is still on in Manipur. There are threats of war with China and Pakistan

The so called democratic political parties are engaging in armed clashes, killing people in the name of political colour. And also the only option we have except this Sonia Gandhi – Manmohan Singh rule at the central is the great communal Bharatiya Janata Party led by persons like Narendra Modi and L K Advani. Maoists are also killing people in Police, Military or anyone they suspect to be an agent of the govt. I mean, what’s going on, I really don’t understand! 

In this June, it’ll be two years since I was hit by a bomb in my own hometown. Culture is great! You can hear it coming out of any local shop during any festival. We need naked women in our films to become recognized independent filmmakers.

What is there left to fear, can you tell me?

Do you have a dream project for the future?

Anything or everything I work on becomes my dream project for that point of time as I know that life can throw me in a gutter just any day and I might not be able to make films anymore. I’m on the edge and I don’t feel that my society has accepted me whole-heartedly. So, now, my dream project is to make this crowd-funded feature. I know I will be able. After completion only, I’ll think about the future and the next dream.

You can follow the updates of ‘The 0ne Rupee Film Project’ on this blog
and this facebook page

Thanks for your support, it means a lot.


  1. nice..Dr.MacCormick....and a grt reply from Mr.Roy......feels really grt to se the grp doing so well..!!

  2. Dr.McCormick(sorry for getting the spelling wrong in my previous post)...pls share the Indie situations in GBR..and also how it is affecting the Main Stream films...would love to know that...grt work sir..keep it up..!!

  3. Thanks for those comments - we'll do all we can !

  4. Thanks your site is very informtive for us.......

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  5. Yes, the independent film scenario of GBR, we know nothing about it. A post on that would be great :)

  6. "Independent" is quite meaningless now as a special term in the UK. Thousands of independents function as fully commercial companies. There is a very small community of people who work as film artists in school, or who provide video services to the public sector or to voluntary, community and charitable groups. Some of these may be businesslike, others are more participatory or exploratory in their aesthetic. A very very small group are artists who survive on arts commissions. You could argue that many of these are not 'subversive' as they tend to be good at providing what a clique of arts commissioners want to fund. The arts establishment plays with the avant-garde as a system of patronage (see the new book by Duncan Reekie). Where there is growth and opportunity is in free associations of amateurs just wanting to share and screen their work as non-professionals. Imperfect Cinema is one group in Plymouth that I visited recently which had about 100 or more people present.

    In legal terms it is becoming more common for people to establish partnerhsips as 'social enterprises' which means that they exist to re-invest their surplus after they have paid their wages and basic costs.

    But film and video in the UK is in my view 99% commercial. Independent films as such are often international co-productions within Europe and tend to have budgets in excess of a million pounds. Therefore it's a completely different proposition from a no- or low-budget film staffed with volunteers and costing next to nothing. As I am saying, the main system of screening and distribution is dominated by international companies, so there is not guarantee that I £1 million film will every reach a significant audience.

    But that may begin to change as more films become available on free online sites, and word of mouth begins to operate. But that in turn often means that the crew are really spending all their creative time trying to create a buzz in the free social media. And they are up against a billion dollar marketing machine that is also using facebook, twitter and youtube, as well as traditional channels such as TV ads and newspapers.

    But do not despair. If, like me you consider that poverty is a badge of courage, and if you stick to your authentic self (or enjoy radical experimentation) you may survive to fight on, one day at a time, free from the shackles of absolute exploitation.

  7. What's interesting, I guess, is that we have a thriving pop music scene which no on dreams of subsidising. Similarly, book publishing thrives without public intervention. Both can throw up creativity and radicalism at time, and in certain quarters. It just takes a bit more searching in corners, and through the gaps, in the mass market.

    Smaller budget films and documentaries do also circulate on a festival circuit. Recently I attended WatchDocs Human Rights Film Festival in Prague which was very popular with local people and a community of film industry people.

  8. You can follwo my film and media posts on Twitter "postfilm"

  9. BBC Reports TODAY:

    "Walt Disney has said it expects to lose $200m (£126m) on its movie John Carter, making it one of the biggest flops in cinema history.

    The film, about a military captain transported to Mars, could result in an $80-120m loss for Disney's movie business during the current quarter.

    Disney shares fell 1% in after hours trading after the announcement."

    Well, really, what did they expect?


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