Deepti Kakkar: Very difficult to distribute documentaries in India


Deepti Kakkar and Fahad Mustafa’s documentary KATIYABAAZ is creating a decent buzz. It’s perhaps the first Indian documentary which is getting a wide release and has the potential to change the fate of Indian documentaries. We caught up with the directors who spoke at length about their journey which had a few shocks (pun intended) but was eventually fulfilling.

What inspired you to make KATIYABAAZ?
Fahad: I wanted to make a film on Kanpur. I was born there. We moved out when I was very small. I grew up in Saudi Arabia. My parents are now living in Canada. We were living in Vienna before this. So there was always this thing of going back to Kanpur in my head. And whenever we went back to the city in between, we found out that it was stuck in this miasma. There was no change at all in that city in the last 20-22 years. And I was fascinated to see what used to be a very proud industrial city of workers and having a certain working class culture, sort of crumbling apart without infrastructure. So that was interesting for me. I think electricity became a peg to tie a lot of these stories of Kanpur together. And the film really took shape when we met Loha Singh.

You apparently had a tough time getting a katiyabaaz
Deepti: Yes, the main people instrumental in getting the characters, especially Loha Singh’s character are Iqbal our production manager and Jamal Mustafa our assistant director. Since they live in this area called Chamanganj, they knew best how to approach these people and how to get them involved in the project. So they had introduced us to someone and the entire crew landed in Kanpur. We were all very excited for the project. And on day one that guy started asking for money, which we obviously didn’t have. So everything was cancelled. Three days we did nothing. It was during the Independence Day weekend. So we were really getting worried that we have put in so much investment. But when we finally met Loha Singh, it was love at first sight. 


'KATIYABAAZ can open the space for other documentaries in India'

How did you get the finance to make this film?
Deepti: It was very difficult. For any indie film, that is perhaps the biggest challenge when you are in production. We finally got funding from eight countries. Sadly there was no funding from India even though we tried. It was a continuous process. Even until 2013, we were trying to raise funds. It took a long time.

How difficult is it to not take sides while making a documentary?
Deepti: It’s not that difficult actually. It will be easier to take a side. It’d be much easier if we decided Loha is our hero or Loha is our villain. We could have edited accordingly. But that was not the idea. It was really hard for us to convince the Kanpur administration to let us film. That’s one thing that’s never been done before – showing bureaucracy in that way with that access. But we really kept going back to get those permissions. We felt the story would be completely unfair and incomplete if we told it without KESCO (The Kanpur Electricity Supply Company Ltd). We wanted to strike that balance.
Fahad: We are not the people who can point fingers because if you go to a place like Kanpur or any other place, people tell you it’s a very complicated situation. So who is right and who is wrong no one can say. We can just point towards the meaning of these events or what has happened. And that’s what we have done.


Did you have any idea where the film was headed while you were shooting it? 
Fahad: No, we didn’t. There was no way that we could know. When we started shooting the film, we didn’t even know that the elections were going to happen. We just knew that we had to be around the main characters and for us the city itself was a character. So we had to film everything in there. Thankfully our production values were in place to be able to capture everything.

Were there any creative differences between both of you and how did you resolve them? 
Fahad: There were many. We are chalk and cheese that way. I think it is a miracle that we agree on what is the idea of a scene but everything else is completely different.

How did you go ahead then? 
Deepti: Sometimes I would let Fahad win and sometimes I would win (smiles).


What is the toughest part about making a documentary?
Deepti: Every stage that you’re going through feels the toughest. But I think distribution is the toughest. For us the biggest lesson has also been that you need to start thinking about your audiences and who you want to show the film to and how you want to bring it out, the day you start making it. It’s a challenge in India. Because especially in the West, in countries like Japan and Korea, there is a well-developed culture of receiving documentaries. Basically documentaries are not given that space in this country. I think somewhere there’s this perception that they are preachy, that they sermonise, they make you want to convert your beliefs. That’s definitely not the case. We have seen in the last couple of years fantastic documentaries coming out of this country. Several don’t make it to theatres but are brilliant things nonetheless. I think they stand on their own feet because of the storytelling. The way the stories are told are so creative and don’t follow a formula.

Fahad: And I think there are so much interesting, exiting and relevant stories playing out every day outside your doors. Creatively there’s so much fodder in there for a director that you immediately want to get your hands inside that. I think any director in Bollywood or for that matter in India will be super interested in documentaries but the space for exhibiting them is only slowly starting to form.    

'When we finally met Loha Singh, it was love at first sight'

Do you see that changing soon?
Deepti: Everybody is trying little by little to make that change. Everyone is trying to get audiences to cinemas at the first place. Because jab who pehli baar aaenge, they will realise that this is fantastic. And they will definitely go and watch it the next time. Our attempt is an effort in the same direction.

Do you feel films which are high or content don’t do well because the audience isn’t ready to watch them for whatever reason?
Deepti: I don’t think that’s the case. The audience will watch them. I think a lot of it is dependent on the marketing machinery and the marketing muscle you pull out. Most people don’t know that such films are releasing. We want to change that. At the same time, we are constraint. Constraint by the kind of budgets we control and by the kind of platforms we have. People who do watch such films, always come back with appreciation. Even if they don’t come back with appreciation, they do find the films interesting.
Fahad: With this film we knew from the very beginning that we wanted to take it to the Indian audience. We spend eight months building up the release. Phantom came on board and amplified it. So it’ll be very interesting to see what happens. Because it is the first time that a documentary is being put out in a nationwide manner with the marketing and publicity. We hope that it does something good which opens up the space for other people also. Even for us it is important because we want to make films in the future.