The passion for storytelling and making your voice heard transcends gender, geographical and linguistic boundaries. The team behind the Marathi web phenomenon, Bharatiya Digital Party- consisting of Anusha Nandakumar, Paula McGlynn and Sarang Sathaye- is an example of the same.
Anusha Nandakumar is an alumna of the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute. Her documentary, The Boxing Ladies, was awarded the National Award for Best Film on Sports, and screened at various international film festivals.
Paula McGlynn is a filmmaker trained at the Simon Fraser University. Hailing from Vancouver, Canada, she has been living and working in India for four years, conceptualising the Marathi web series Casting Couch With Amey And Nipun, and acting in a Marathi film, Pindadaan, along with a plethora of other projects. She also started the BC-Indian Film and Media Initiative for creative collaborations between filmmakers.
On the eve of International Women's Day, we speak to these incredibly talented ladies about their experience in and opinions about the entertainment industry:
Where did the impulse for filmmaking come from?
Anusha: My grandfather was a filmmaker, he would make films in Tamil. That’s where it started for me.
Paula: I watched the first season of BBC’s Planet Earth in high school. After watching that I thought, “You know what? I’ll learn films first, and then I’ll figure out what to do.” Because if I could do something like that, then I thought I’d be happy. So that’s when I decided to go to film school.
(To Paula) Why India?
P: In my last year of film school we had an opportunity, an internship of sorts, which involved coming to India and working with a film company. I applied for the internship thinking it would be, like, a free trip.
The internship brought me to Chennai where I met some fantastic filmmakers like Anurag Kashyap, Sriram Raghavan, and cinematographers like Ravi K. Chandran. Before that I didn’t know much about the film industry here. It was then that I realised the variety and diversity of Indian cinema.
At the end of the second round of the internship, I was offered some work on a film by a friend, and I decided to give it a shot.
How did the partnership with the two of you and Sarang (Sathaye) come about?
A: The film that Paula mentioned also had I and Sarang working on it. Sarang was in Casting and the two of us were assisting. The prep for the film was fairly long, during which we spent a lot of time together, realising that the three of us had a lot in common.
We had similar reasons for pursuing filmmaking, we were driven by this common urge to tell good stories, create good content.
So we got together and it has been working out well us!
Also read: Sarang Sathaye's interview
(To Anusha) You started by making documentaries. Why the shift to production?
A: The collective vision that Paula, Sarang and I shared culminated into our company, Gulbadan Talkies. We started by doing brand videos for companies, and we realised that we had the creative and technical expertise required. So production came organically to us and that’s where we are now.
P: When we started pitching ideas to our clients, the one whose idea it was would become the director, and the other two would produce. It’s still going on like that.
(To Paula) How was the experience working in Pindadaan?
P: It was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Especially because it isn’t often that a foreigner like me gets the lead role in a Marathi feature film of that magnitude. So it was very special.
Also, it was the first time I was being rewarded for speaking in Marathi (laughs). When I first came here I just memorised some lines like a parrot, without really understanding the grammar. I would impress people at parties by mouthing a few lines in Marathi.
Pindadaan was significant in that it essentially drove home the idea that it was very necessary for me to learn Marathi, especially as I was living in Maharashtra, and working with Maharashtrians all the time.
In front of the camera or behind?
P: I’m definitely more of a storyteller than an actor. I’m a bit of a control freak, so I like to have a say in everything. Actors only have control over their character up to a degree, but in the end you have to submit to your director and allow them to guide you.
I do enjoy that process, but I’m more into writing, directing, producing, which make me feel I’m achieving a lot more.
The industry is notorious for harbouring nepotism. As independent filmmakers, how has your experience been?
P: As a complete outsider, someone who isn’t even from India. I feel very lucky in that soon after coming here, I found people that I liked working with, the people who liked to work with me.
However, I don’t think there is anything wrong with children of film stars finding work because that is the environment they have grown up in.
Film school passouts also learn in a similar community. The only barrier is making the jump to the professional industry after you finish your education. It all boils down to building a community of like-minded people around you, because unless you do that, you’ll have a very hard time getting any work done.
A: Suppose you want to make a full blown Bollywood commercial film, there is a lot of money riding on that and you need to work with people who trust your vision.
Perhaps for industry insiders, it is easier to find people to invest that much in your vision.
Since coming out of film school I found great collaborators in Sarang and Paula, so I’ve been lucky that way. In the process, I am also discovering the kind of stories that I want to tell. So the bigger challenge for me is finding my voice first, and trying to fit in.
How is producing a web series different? What are the aspects that need to be taken care of?
P: We shoot maybe once or twice a month for a couple of days. We have to keep ourselves updated to ensure that our guests are celebrities whom people would like to see.
At the same time we have a strict timeline to follow. You have to post fairly regularly to keep up the interest of the audience. So there’s a constant pressure to keep coming up with new ideas for the next episode.
Unlike movies or TV shows where you have a defined plot which you shoot as soon as you can and then take your time to work on it, the timeline here is compressed to two weeks. And once we start the season we need to keep churning out videos.
A: At Casting Couch, we have a fun team. The only agenda is to ensure that the fun we have is translated on the screen, and conveyed to the guests, as well as the audiences. Amey (Wagh) and Nipun (Dharmadhikari) are crazy, the guests are having a great time, we’re laughing all day.
P: It is one thing to make a web series, and another thing to release it. At the moment, there is not much Marathi content on YouTube. Only about an hour or two of Marathi content gets posted every week.
People don’t come to Youtube especially to watch Marathi. Most people who watch Casting Couch watch the episode, and then close the window because there’s nothing else to watch.
Eventually there’ll be a time when once you finish watching one such video, there will be enough content that some other Marathi-language recommendations will come up. We hope that happens soon, but for now, there is a lot of space for Marathi content to grow.
What is your take on the evolution of TV in India, specifically the sudden burst of web-based content by the likes of The Viral Fever (TVF) and All India Bakchod (AIB)?
A: I’m a big fan of both TVF and AIB. TVF especially is impressive because they generate fiction content which Indian television has not been providing for a long time.
Elsewhere in the world, some of the best writing is happening on television, like in the series we watch on Netflix or Amazon. The time which these series invest in writing and production is something that is not given that much attention in Indian shows.
TVF is spending that kind of time in developing content, and that is what we at BhaDiPa also want to do- good fiction, stories that we want to tell, stories that are offbeat- and cater to an audience that has an appetite for these stories. There is definitely such an audience out there. We just need to know how to access them.
How is it different for women in the entertainment industry? We know the wage gap exists even among actors, what is the scenario behind the camera?
A: There are all kinds of people everywhere, and I have been fortunate that we haven’t come across people who are very biased.
P: The problematic part has been more on the client side. When you deal with companies, you do notice that the attention starts to shift towards the man in charge and as a woman, it can get very irritating. That often happens when we attend client meetings as a team. The conversation seems to be directed towards Sarang, just because he is the man at the table.
He himself is very sensitive about that, and keeps directing the conversation to us. But a weird, unconscious bias is definitely there.
A: I read an interview of director Jane Campion who said the same thing. She said, “In the film industry, men trust men. Even the women trust men.” So you really have to make yourself heard and understood. And you have to put in much more effort to get your point across.
Do you see someone as your creative inspiration?
P: No one person in particular! You see inspiring things around you all the time, and I don’t like to get hooked on to one manner of expression, or inspiration. In the end I think the inspiration comes from the heart of the story. You should feel so connected to it that you want to dedicate your blood, sweat and tears to it.
A: As part of our film school education we watch so many films, learn about so many stories from around the world, that your inspiration keeps shifting. Today I could watch a film from Hollywood and be touched by that, the next day it could be a film from Romania. I think a story related by a filmmaker with honesty resonates with me the most.
Isn’t free expression by women affected by the current scenario of stringent censorship in the country, like the certification snub to Lipstick Under My Burkha?
A: The state of censorship is so terrible in the country that not just women, but filmmakers in general find it difficult to share their stories. It is a scary time for the filmmaking community. Censorship is worse because these are times when we have to take a stand, and say what we feel.
While the reason for the CBFC’s stand against Lipstick Under My Burkha is appalling, I feel we should do away with censorship in general. It is a certification board. It should certify films, people are capable to choose for themselves what they want to see.
What are other projects you are working on?
P: Sarang and I are scripting a film by Vikas Bahl, called Interpreter. It is an Indo-French collaboration. Apart from that we’re also working on a Marathi film of our own.
At BhaDiPa we are planning to launch our own fiction series, so that’s what we’re working on now. We’re dedicated to developing not just our channel, but also a community around it, pushing our own boundaries as well.
What is your message to girls aspiring to join film or TV industry?
P: It’s advice that I have followed myself. Don’t set yourself for one goal, so that when you achieve it your life will be over. While you’re young and you have the energy, stretch yourself out as much as possible, experiment as much as you can, and make mistakes while you can still get away with it. This isn’t just for women, this is for everybody- while you’re young you should just worry about yourself, never saying no to any opportunity.
A: My message to women would be, please come, work with us. There are so many stories that women have to share, and I believe that we see things differently. The stories women have to tell are so personal, so specific, and we need these kind of stories everywhere.
Also women are great at multitasking, so we could rule the industry. If you want to share anything, create content, just do it!