The Hunt for a Story: In conversation with Anup Kurian
Anup Kurian, director of Manasarovar and The Blueberry Hunt, is currently based in USA, writing software so that he can make enough money to fund his next film. In an email interview, Anup tells us about the joys of making small budget films, his fascination with elephants, and being an obscure software programmer in a foreign country.
Sharanya– You studied computer programming. What made you join film school after that?
Anup– Computer programming was an accident. But film school was planned. I wanted to make films because as a form of expression, filmmaking is hardest to get right. I love that sort of a challenge. At that time, going to Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) was the best way to learn to make a film. So, I did that. If it were 2014, I would have probably started out by making a film on my cell phone camera.
Sharanya– There were six years between Manasarovar and The Blueberry Hunt when you went back to non-film related jobs. How easy or difficult is it for you to switch between two worlds that are so removed from each other?
Anup– I switch between software programming and filmmaking, but it is not by choice. It is because I have found absolutely no other way, at least till now, to get funds to make films. So I make money and make films. It’s a simple formula, though quite impractical. The switch is hard. As I type this, I am also working as a Java programmer to save enough money to have a small publicity campaign for The Blueberry Hunt.
There are some advantages also. You get to see life from a different perspective. You meet people of varying backgrounds. You live in places which have no connection to the world of cinema. So in certain ways, it’s a blessing in disguise. Right now, at the workplace my colleagues have no clue that I make films. The anonymity and obscurity is somewhat liberating.
Also, programming and filmmaking are similar in certain aspects. There is logic to both. And they also say that ‘good code is like poetry’. (But it is probably something programmers say to make their profession sound more poetic).
Sharanya– You’ve said in a previous interview that you are ‘allergic to plots’. So, what is it about a story that would inspire you to make a film?
Anup– This is difficult to answer. I try to find stories that only I can tell. The result is a long search and gestation period between the films. The story has to be unique, although I agree that ‘unique’ does not necessarily mean ‘good’. I like to make films where I am following characters, and following their lives. The plot is secondary. It is something that will happen when you are following a character.
I realised recently that the stories of all the films that I want to make are already in my head. But then, both my feature films happened sort of spontaneously. So I have no idea where my journey as a filmmaker will take me. And that probably is the beauty of the journey.
Sharanya– There is an elephant in both your films. Are you superstitious about making a film without an elephant in it?
Anup– Elephants are majestic, gentle and intelligent creatures and they are native to India, especially Kerala. I have a theory that every good film will have an elephant in it. It’s the inverse of the theory, ‘The badness of a film is directly proportional to the number of helicopters in it.’
To answer your question, may be elephants are a leitmotif. There is no elephant in my latest screenplay because I want to break the ‘Elephant Rule’.
Sharanya– Both Manasarovar and The Blueberry Hunt were made on very small budgets. Is it possible to make a financially successful film on a tight budget? What have you learnt after two films?
Anup– There might be exceptions, but it is nearly impossible to make a financially successful film on a low budget. The good part about making my type of films is that the money you lose will be less too. Losing millions and crores of rupees or dollars is immeasurably worse than losing hundreds of thousands of rupees. So I make sure I only lose less money, not more.
Sharanya– Naseeruddin Shah said in an interview before The Blueberry Hunt released that he regrets doing the film. Did that affect the way the film did?
Anup– Naseeruddin Shah is one of the greatest actors in this planet. But to answer your question, I have no idea.
Sharanya– What do you think is the future of small budget independent films in India? What do you expect to see as far as form is concerned?
Anup: It is hard to predict. I think that good cinema — independent or not — will remain alive as long as people are interested in stories and performances.
About form – there are limits to what you can do as far as style is concerned. But cinema is evolving. The latest films use visual information in interesting ways, and without it being distracting. For example, in the film The Fault in Our Stars, text messages sent by the lead pair are projected on the screen. It would have been awkward even ten years back. I am guessing something similar may happen in Indian films.
Sharanya– What are you working on next?
Anup– I have been working on a screenplay since 2012. But it’s too early to say how and when the film will get made.