Kaushal Oza is a graduate of Film Direction from the reputed Film and Television Institute of India, Pune. He has twice been awarded the National Film Award by the President of India. His first short film Vaishnav Jan Toh was awarded the National Film Award for Best Debut Director of a Short Film in 2010 and his second film Afterglow won the National Award for the Best Short Film on Family Values in 2013. His films have also won Best Film Awards in London, Mumbai, Kolkata and Delhi and have been showcased at various international Film Festivals. (From IMDb)
Kaushal Oza’s Conversation with Dibakar Saha Of Filmmakersfans.com
Dibakar: How did your Filmmaking Journey begin and why did you choose filmmaking as a career?
Kaushal: Well, I chose filmmaking as a career because it was the only thing that I could do from ever since I can remember. I have loved telling stories and writing. However, I feel I am more of a visual writer, I imagine things on a screen and I do not necessarily imagine them as a novel writer or a poet would. So, wanting to tell stories and having these visual imaginations necessarily meant that filmmaking is something that I’ll be attracted to.
Dibakar: How important was FTII for you?
Kaushal: FTII has been extremely important because FTII is what has shaped me. I didn’t have any experience of Filmmaking before going to FTII. I have a Bachelor in Commerce and had no exposure to world cinema. It was 2006 and watching films through Internet at that time had really not caught on. So, FTII has given me the technical know-how and aesthetic understanding to make a film. It has also given me a platform to make films. So, it has been an important milestone not only in my career but in my life.
Dibakar: How was your experience at the FTII interview?
Kaushal: There was panel of 10-12 people, all of them erudite gentlemen. I think, very soon they figured out that I knew nothing about filmmaking, but I feel they saw a certain passion in me. A certain drive to tell stories and learn filmmaking formally, hence I think I got through.
Dibakar: Who are your inspirations as a filmmaker? How did their filmmaking style affect your own?
Kaushal: I admire Billy Wilder’s films a lot. Closer Home, I admire Rajkumar Hirani, Vishal Bhardwaj, Kundan Shah, Zoya Akhtar, Farhan Akhtar. But, their filmmaking style really doesn’t affect me because I think as a director I am a servant of the script. I cannot boast of a filmmaking style of my own and even if I have one I do not want to impose it on a certain script. I want to understand what the script is about, the feeling of the script and the kind of treatment that it needs. The style of filmmaking will be dictated by the story and not by whom I admire because that is completely external to the story that I’m telling.
Dibakar: What are the challenges that you faced while making your films?
Kaushal: There are countless challenges in any film because filmmaking by nature is very unpredictable. You sit in a room before the shoot starts and then you plan out things, you organize, even time your shots. But, when you go on the set there are 200 people, there are so many variables, you don’t know how the weather is going to be like, and you don’t know how the actor is going to say the line that you’ve written. Possibly the actor will say it better than you’ve imagined it, if you have a good actor. So, you have to adapt to these things. Everyday in filmmaking is a constant challenge merely because you don’t know what is going to happen. While making “Vaishnav Jan Toh” we were supposed to shoot in a studio and hence we had to create a set. It’s a period film and everything had to be 1940s. It was a student film and it’s not that we had the budget of a Jodha Akbar. So, with that kind of budget I had to make sure everything, even the lock & key is something that is antique that belongs to 1940s. Even the crack on the wall or the bars in a window can’t seem anachronistic, it can’t be modern. This was really difficult to pull off and we were very resourceful that we could do it. In “Afterglow”, the film was set in a Parsi milieu and I had to make sure everything about the milieu is right. I’m not a Parsi myself, though I have seen a lot of Parsis, but I had to research a lot and make sure everything seems very authentic. Even the actors were all Parsis. When I decided to cast only Parsi actors I had a very limited pool to choose from, like 2 or 3 options for a role. But, thankfully the best of the actors liked the script and agreed to work for me on a pro bono basis which is fantastic.
Dibakar: Both of your short films were inspired by some literary pieces. How do you think this helps you? And, why did you choose those two short stories for your films?
Kaushal: Well, I chose those stories only because they touched me. I read a lot and I came across these short stories while reading and I was profoundly impacted by both the stories- Mrs. Adis for Vaishnav Jan Toh and Condolence Visit for Afterglow. I do not ever have an agenda of doing an adaptation and I do not read with that agenda but its only and only when something moves you so profoundly that you want to put it down, that you find an expression in someone else’s story which is what happened with these two stories and hence I adapted them. I think, filmmaking is also writing, writing for the screen. It’s also the process of taking this germ of an idea and then weaving it into much more elaborate screenplay and that is at times one of the most difficult phase for a filmmaker while he is writing his screenplay, turning his ideas into a script. While it is excruciatingly painful, it is also perhaps the most satisfying thing that you can do as an artist. I feel completely at ease writing a film completely from an original idea or adapting something that I’m touched by. I cannot adapt something which doesn’t touch me or appeal to me. It only means a lot of hardships and dissatisfaction and that route I don’t want to take.
Dibakar: Music plays an important role in your films. Generally, what are your personal inputs in the score? Do you think about the score while writing the script or is it completely post production?
Kaushal: I’m definitely thinking about the score while writing the script. Infact, Music inspires me a lot. I listen to a lot of music when I’m writing. Generally what happens is that I have an idea and I know what is the feeling that I want to convey and then I go out looking for music that conveys in some abstract sense the similar feeling and I listen to it over and over again so that I can be constantly in that mood and then I write. So, I use music pieces and construct my stories around it. It always comes immediately after the idea and not in the post production.
Dibakar: I loved the subtle score in Afterglow by Johannes Helsberg. How did you approach him?
Kaushal: Afterglow is something which is very powerfully performed and had a lot of scope for a good score. I always knew I wanted Western Classical Music. I had thought of Harps, Violins & Cellos for the score and I wanted to record these instruments live and not record them on a synth. There were no Harp players in India at that time that we knew of. There was one but we could never get through to him. I came to know about Johannes through a mutual friend who had met in Germany. I spoke to Johannes about this, he was a film student there in Germany and was very enthused about the score. We worked to and fro on the internet. I sent him some reference pieces, he sent me some ideas and then I sent him some clippings of the film and he sent me a rough score. To and fro it took about 6 months of detailing and working with everything for the score to finally fall in place. I’m glad you said you like it.
Dibakar: What kind of films inspires you?
Kaushal: Any film that is well-made, any film that has an honest and sincere story to tell and which is well told is a film that inspires me.
Dibakar: You have won a number of awards including two National Awards. How important are awards to you?
Kaushal: I think the biggest award is the audience and if the audience likes the film, if they are moved by it, if they are touched by it, if they laugh, if they cry is what really matters. Applause after a film is screened is the most important award because it comes naturally. What are awards.. Awards are an opinion of a jury of two or three people, even National Awards are only that though the jurors are very evolved and people who know about Cinema but at the end of the day it is only and only the audience that matters. Who are you telling your story to? Are you telling it to a trophy or a live person? Obviously, to a live person, an audience. If you can move something in them through your story, it is the most that you can achieve. National award is just one moment but it’s been about 4 years since I made Afterglow and not a day passes when I don’t get a Facebook message or an e-mail or a Youtube comment saying how much they have loved the film. So, it just gone on for 4 years which is phenomenal, not even the Oscar can give you that kind of satisfaction.
Dibakar: What do you think about the newly emerging Indie film scene? And, what do you think is the future of parallel filmmaking in India?
Kaushal: I do not like this term “Indie Film Scene” because I think they are either good films or bad films. There’s nothing like Indie films or Commercial films. I don’t even believe in genres. It’s just the honesty and sincerity by which you approach a story and then it doesn’t matter, it could be a film with Shah Rukh Khan or a complete nobody and non-actors, if you have that honesty and conviction in your storyline and if you believe in it, you’re going to make a good film. So, Indie films, Parallel films, Art Films, I do not like these terms, nor do I use them and nor do I care about them. For me there are just good films and bad films. Good films deserve to be seen and bad films deserve the kind of non-response that they get.
Dibakar: Any contemporary director that you admire?
Kaushal: I think, a lot of good work is happening nowadays in India. Mostly there is a deluge of bad films but once in a while you see a gem of a film. But, to really admire a director you need to have seen the director’s body of work. So many of the directors that I like have only made one or two films. For me to actually admire their body of work, I’ll have to wait and see what kind of films that they make. One name that comes to my mind is Rajkumar Hirani whose films I mostly liked.
Dibakar: What’s next for you?
Kaushal: I’ve just finished writing a feature length script. I’m very excited about it. So, I’ll be shooting it next year and hopefully people will get to see it soon.
Dibakar: Any message for upcoming filmmakers?
Kaushal: I think what is lacking today in this country is a certain understanding of Cinema which is our very own, very original. What is happening is people are either conforming to what the commercial films have been doing for ages unknown or we are trying to make films like Westerners make or how Europeans want India and Indian stories to be portrayed. I think, an original voice is very important and everyone has an original voice in the beginning and they must stick to it and not give in to pressures from either side. Filmmaking now has become very easy, you take up an I-phone and you can shoot a film which means a lot of people are shooting films but unfortunately there is a cacophony of stories or aesthetics imported or rather copy-pasted from World Cinema or from Commercial films. There is very little original voice. So, I’ll appeal to everyone to preserve the original voice to tell the story that they want to tell without being bothered about how it is going to be received either in India or in other countries or in the festivals or Box Office.