Brahmanand S Siingh is a well-known award-winning Director, Producer and author who is known for features and documentaries like Kaagaz Ki Kashti, Pancham Unmixed, Jhalki and many more His “Pancham Unmixed: Mujhe Chalte Jaana Hai” has won many awards and accolades, including two National-Awards for him.
His recently directed & co-produced film Jhalki released recently has won many National & International awards and created quite a buzz.
A brave film for having picked up the sensitive subject of human trafficking and child labour, Jhalki has become a path-breaking, in terms of its design for alternative distribution which gives Singh his enormous reach and for having Impact Advisors on the film who are taking the film to some of the most prestigious platforms around the world (these are not International Film Festivals but actual activism based platform where the film is shown, an esteemed panel then discusses it and uses it for action implementation. To catch traffickers and save children around the world).
In a freewheeling interview, Siingh shares many interesting things of his life journey and experience of becoming a writer-director-speaker.
How was your experience in the starting days of your career as a writer and director?
I was in Kolkata doing my studies and at the same time I started writing for newspapers and magazines like for Telegraph, Statesmen, etc.
In the starting, it was frustrating but in no time, once I cracked the cue, I started publishing with prolific frequency.
I used to write for their cultural pages: Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Other than this, I was also doing lots of theatre and radio. Kolkata is a very creative place for learning many things.
When did you decided to shift Mumbai and what kind of difficulties you faced?
I came to Mumbai in 1993 and I got royally exploited for writing. I wrote 7-8 scripts in almost three years. Few people paid (that too very little) for writing and many didn’t even care to pay.
But I was playing dumb deliberately because I wanted to learn, I was looking for opportunities and money was not a priority for me. During this learning phase, my excitement for cinema started taking shape in a very concrete way.
You are famous for making different cult documentaries but do you think documentaries are beneficial financially?
I started making a couple of documentaries like Ashgari bai, A Burden of Love and they flew off to various film festivals. At the same time, I started making corporate films and I lived that life for almost 8-10 years. I became comfortable with the money I started making by the corporate films. I didn’t have the idea that we can also earn by making documentaries as well. I had this notion that you make these documentaries for your passion and creative hunger by putting a little bit of your own and/or somebody else’s money then film goes to festivals or win few awards, it makes some media buzz but for your livelihood, you make these commissioned corporate or any other type of films.
When did you felt that your career started taking shape?
My real take-off started in 2008 with Pancham Unmixed, a feature documentary on RD Burman. It went to around 40 film festivals and won about 15-16 awards and many International awards.
We released it through Shemaroo and it did really well. Then we also did the distribution and that was a great success story. People loved it, critically acclaimed, commercially too it did very well and it changed the perception about documentaries. I felt I had found a pretty nice ground where good work can be done and expect commercial success as well.
It became almost a cult film. After that, around the same time, I was writing Jhalki which was released recently on this children day and has also won many awards. Also, I made a documentary on Jagjit Singh and for me, everything went smoothly and people loved all our work. I had finally discovered my own space of combining the creative, the cult and the commercial too in many ways.
Do you think that film making needs a vast knowledge or special education?
I always feel that cinema is a very peculiar art form which needs a knowledge of art, technology and business. You will do great if you have knowledge of all these three.
Making a film is a very collaborative process where there are different department and people for everything like camera, music etc. I do not need to have all the deep knowledge of every technical & each department but there should be a mental clarity about everything.
When I had nothing to do then I went to assist Shyam Benegal but he asked me that why do you want to assist me? Satyajit Ray never assisted anyone, I never assisted anyone. If you believe yourself then you should start working on your own projects. Still, I did assistant work but not with a perceptive to learn or earn. I had a good exposure of cinema and I kept working more towards it. People started using terms like your kind of film quite frequently and that was an indicator that something right and relevant was happening in the process.
What are the difficulties you face during a film making?
There is not a single project where you know everything, you keep learning new things with new projects. I never had any big problems in making any film. But it wasn’t a cakewalk either.
But I realised once you are clear about what you want to do, why you want to do it and how you want to do it, winds are much more favourable in the direction of your sail. It’s important to have a great, spirited, intelligent and passionate team with you.
You have to be a good, caring and inspiring leader to your team and above all, I believe that you yourself need to be a good storyteller for a being a good director. Rest, it’s an amazing medium where technology, creativity and commerce all have to come together in the right proportion, to make it a success. There will always be challenges but a lot depends on how you handle them in the process of the end goal and the higher purposes that you may have in mind.
How different was Jhalki from your other projects?
Jhalki was my first feature film where I had a crew of the size of 125 people. In my previous projects, we used to be a team of 10-15 people maximum. It was slightly different from what I had done before.
The story creation process was different from how you do it in docus, but follow similar tenets of good story telling. The entire rigmarole, paraphernalia is different but lots of elements remain the same. So, let’s say I just needed to do the same things but in a different way.
In Jhalki, you have cast very fine actors like Divya Dutta, Sanjay Suri, Boman Irani, etc but in the leads you have casted non-actor kids. How easy or difficult it was to pull out their performance on camera?
It’s very easy to make anyone act when you don’t push them. When you are getting desperate, trying to push people, all of this never works. To make kids perform and pulling out their act, first of all, you need to be prepared, you should know what they have to get out from them. As a director, you need to tell them the situations in a way that they understand and grasp things easily. If you are loving your characters and are polite with your actors, you do get their best performances out from them.
What are your future projects?
There are many projects in the pipeline like, there is a story of a father-son relationship with a backdrop of Alzheimer’s. This was supposed to be ready before Jhalki but got delayed due to certain reasons but now we are going ahead with it.
Then there is a beautiful love story feature biopic on a cult musician. Then we have a very big project which includes four countries and is based on Rumi’s journey from a scholar to the Sufi that we know him as today.
In addition, I am very fascinated with biographical films and I would love to do more of these. So tons of projects to look forward to.