After being a writer, creative director and show-runner on some of the most successful shows on Indian television and co-writing the screenplay of the blockbuster feature film ‘Baaghi 2’, Niraj Kumar Mishra has now realized his long-standing dream of directing a feature length film by making ‘Samanantar’ (The Parallel). The film, which the writer-director describes as a ‘psychological-cum-supernatural thriller’, has garnered accolades at some of the prestigious film festivals and has found a presenter in Oscar winning sound designer and filmmaker Dr. Resul Pookutty.
In this interview, Niraj talks about the appreciation that has come his way for ‘Samanantar: The Parallel’, collaborating with Resul Pookutty, the challenges involving in making an independent film, and plans for the film’s release.
‘Samanantar’ (The Parallel) has made rounds of some prestigious international film festivals and has been appreciated by the audience.
God has been kind. While making the film, I was sure about sending it to festivals first and then, releasing it in cinemas. Since ‘Samanantar’ (The Parallel) is my first film as a director, I was nervous about how the audience would react to it. Thankfully, the festival audience has really appreciated the film. So far we have sent a ‘work in progress’ copy to a few festivals. One final round of edit and sound designing are still in process. After that, the real litmus-test will begin.
Referring to your association with Resul Pookutty, you had stated in an interview that the film marks the coming together of two different worlds for the common cause of cinema. How did he get on board as the presenter for the film?
Getting the opportunity to associate with Mr. Resul Pookutty on ‘Samanantar’ has been a blessing. After the first cut was ready, I was requesting people in the industry to watch the film and share their feedback. Filmmaker Jaideep Sen, who is a friend of mine, connected me to Mr. Resul Pookutty. Resul sir took time out from his busy schedule, watched the film and instantly fell in love with it. All I could say, if your efforts are honest and intentions are right, God will show you the right path. We had a similar experience while working on ‘Samanantar’. I had never thought of reaching out to Resul sir as I had never even met him. He also gave us some very crucial and valuable suggestions for the final edit. People in the industry call him the ‘God of Sound’ but he has a great understanding of each and every aspect of filmmaking. Both of us passionately love cinema and good storytelling. He is the kind of person who believes in action rather than talking about plans. These are the strong connecting factors between us. I am pretty sure one fine day he will surprise the world all over again and that day is not far away.
As a presenter, what is his contribution to the film?
Resul sir is not only presenting the film but now he is a part of the production process as well. Because of him, the reach of the film has grown significantly. Many prominent people in the industry including Mr. Amitabh Bachchan and Mr. Manoj Bajpayee had tweeted the first teaser of the film. Resul sir has gone out of his way to ensure that more and more people get to know about the film and it reaches out to a wide audience. Along with his team, he is working towards putting together the final sound design of ‘Samanantar’.
How would you define the word ‘Samanantar’ to a layman? How is the title connected to the theme of the film?
‘Samanantar’ means parallel. The film has four different stories. It is a supernatural philosophical thriller and has a unique combination of different genres. As we know, there are two parallel realms in this world. There is one realm which is inhabited by humans and other living beings and then there is another realm which we often describe as hell and heaven or the other side. I have tried to merge this concept with some prevalent social issues that we face in our country like extremity of unemployment, child rape, etc. I would describe ‘Samanantar’ as a supernatural thriller that deals with social issues and philosophies of Karma.
Being an anthology film, one expects a common thread to run through it. Is there one?
Yes, the four stories are connected to each other by a philosophical thread which we refer to as ‘Karma’, the doctrine of ‘Karma’ holds that every physical, mental and ethical activity performed by human beings have definite result, and that’s the common thread.
Usually, filmmakers face a lot of challenges while making an independent film. You must have gone through your fair share of challenges while making this film.
Every single day of working on ‘Samanantar’ was a challenge. Initially, I tried to raise funds but that did not happen, so I decided to invest my own money. The casting process took a lot of time. 98% of the actors who have featured in the film are the ones who have faced the camera for the first time in their lives. Most of the technicians were under the age of twenty-five with almost no professional experience. It was a challenge to lead such a team. The weather conditions also contributed towards making the shoot difficult. We shot in different locations of Bihar and it was extremely cold out there. Working with young people also worked as an advantage. They were charged up all the time and had a different sort of passion and energy. We took all sorts of risks and did a variety of experiments throughout our journey. We used all sort of available vehicles as dolly or trolley. The shoot was challenging but enjoyable at the same time. One particular night, a large number of foxes were howling in the background. These things were quite common in that area but we also felt something abnormal in the air. There was a different kind of chill. We packed up and literally ran away from the location. We shot a lot of scenes closer to the border of Nepal. It is a route known to be infested with smugglers and miscreants. Though we got lots of help from the local residents and administration. In a nutshell, it was a wild, wild journey.
Did you go through any issues during the post-production process?
Yes, the post-production stage threw up a lot of challenges at us too. I knocked on so many doors. Some never opened, some opened partially and ultimately, some came forward to help me out whole-heartedly. My editor Afzal Shaikh is one of those individuals whom I am extremely grateful to. For an independent filmmaker, challenges never really end but I strongly believe that those who never give up see their dreams come to reality.
What are the kind of release plans you have for the film?
We are exploring all the possibilities. Every filmmaker’s dream is to see their film releasing in theatres packed with a large audience. Whenever the film releases, I shall feel happy about offering something to the audience which they haven’t seen before. We are going through difficult and uncertain times because of the Covid-19 situation. All the big-budget films with big names have pushed their theatrical release. On the contrary, mine is a small film with no names. The only thing we have is innovative storytelling. Talks are on with different platforms and some distributors. Let’s see how does it pan out.