RAJEEV VIRANI- FROM SAN FRANCISCO TO BOLLYWOOD
Posted by Vivek on October 16, 2009 | No Comments
What got you into the film line? How has the San Francisco Bay Area contributed to that?
After I graduated from Sydenham College in Mumbai (armed with a B.A. in Commerce in 1990) I was at a crossroad in my life. I was certain that I did not want to go down the conventional route and do my C.A. or M.B.A. and join the mainstream but at the same time I didn’t have a clear direction about what I wanted to do in the future. Around that time my cousin in New York who was in the diamond trade offered me an opportunity to come work with him and take a year in New York to clear my head and figure out what I wanted to do with my life. While I was working in the diamond industry (which I really wasn’t cut out for either) I discovered my passion for movies and television. Once it was clear to me that I was naturally drawn to the film/entertainment sphere I started to apply to various film schools in the U.S.
My first choice always had been San Francisco State University for a multitude of reasons and when I was accepted in Broadcast Electronic Communications Arts program I was very excited. I spent the next 5 years (I earned my B.A. and M.A.) at SFSU thoroughly enjoying every second of the experience I was going through. We had a world class faculty who were really committed to excellence and after spending most of my college years in Mumbai ‘bunking’ classes and generally sailing through the Commerce program in Mumbai it was exhilarating to be so involved in something that I was very passionate about. The Bay Area was the best possible learning ground for a young filmmaker trying to find his feet. The exposure in terms of cinema, art, the ethnic diversity, the way of thinking of the people in the Bay Area is just unparalleled compared to any place else in the world.
How did My Bollywood Bride come to you?
My Bollywood Bride (MBB) came to me out of the blue. In Dec 2004 I got a call from the Producer Brad Listermann enquiring whether I would be interested in meeting him regarding MBB? Some friends in the U.S. had recommended my name to him. After spending the last five years directing commercials and television I was more than ready to direct my first feature. My meeting with Brad went extremely well and I think because I had studied and worked in the U.S. Brad’s comfort level with me with me was pretty high. After that a couple of weeks later I was on board as the Director for MBB.
While My Bollywood Bride promised much, it somehow did not quite work as a finished product. From an audience reaction that was more to do with an average script and dialogues, as opposed to anything about your direction, what is your view on that?
My personal opinion is that the Director must take the blame if there is any fault in the film. It doesn’t matter if it’s script, dialogue, acting, score, production design, VFX or Post Production. The director gets all the praise when something works so why shouldn’t he take responsibility if things don’t work? After all he is the person in charge creatively. To be honest, I see a certain naiveté when I revisit MBB and see the way it was directed. So, if there is any blame to be meted out I should be the one shouldering it. Having said that it was my first feature and it will always have a special place in my heart and I have noticed that MBB has turned out to be one of those little films with great legs as it is still playing on cable (Showtime, Starz, etc) in the U.S. and has recently been released by (as My Far Away Bride) Vivendi on DVD in the U.S. also. I also recently watched in on Zee TV in India so I think that the India TV deal has also been recently done – so like I said, great legs!
Talk a little about The Whisperers, how it came about, what has been the global reaction to it and what was it like working with the cast and crew?
One of the Producers on MBB – Mr. Ashok Rao (a retired tech entrepreneur from Houston) was wondering what else I had on the cards after I finished MBB. As it so happened Rahul Bose and me had been working on the script for The Whisperers for a few years (in fact I had written and directed the short film version as my thesis project at SFSU) and were looking for the right kind of Producer to come along. We had offers from various production companies in Bollywood but we felt that this was a script that we were both extremely close to and we didn’t want to compromise on any aspect of the production. Based on Ashok’s past record with MBB and our need to work with a like-minded Producer it was the perfect fit.
During our window of opportunity (2006-2007) vis a vis the global festival circuit we were in serious discussion with Pritish Nandy Communications (PNC) to distribute the film worldwide. They had expressed a really keen interest in the film but one of their conditions was that we wouldn’t enter the film in any festivals before the contract had been signed. In hindsight we should never have agreed to that because the negotiations went on for more than 6 months and ultimately the deal fell apart. The biggest negative as a result of the deal not going through was that we were unable to enter all most of the major festivals worldwide and by the beginning of the next cycle of applications we weren’t eligible anymore. Having said that The Whisperers was showcased at The Houston Film Festival where it won two awards (Best Editing and Best Drama), The Osian’s Film Festival and The Pusan Film Festival where it won rave reviews.
The cast and crew both in Houston and Mumbai were absolutely fantastic. Working with Rahul and Manoj was like watching an acting master class. They are at the peak of their craft and their chemistry on and off screen was electric. The crew of The Whisperers was a mix of the best of Hollywood and Bollywood. Rosalind Robinson and Sam Gottleib who were co-producers and co-writers were onboard early in the piece. Rahul Bose who has written the original screenplay collaborated extremely well with to create the final screenplay. Our first schedule was shot in Houston and I took my core creative team of Dhimant Vyas (DP) and Shivani Virani (Production Designer) with me. The crew in Houston was flown in from Los Angeles and we had top-notch technicians working for us. When we moved our schedule from Houston to Mumbai we took Rosalind (Co-Producer), Renetta Amador (Script Supervisor) and Yehudha Mayaan (Sound Recordist) along with us. They all did amazing jobs but I think Yehudaa was exemplary cause he had the most difficult job in terms of dealing with the chaos that is Mumbai when shooting outdoors.
What are your upcoming creative projects?
I am currently shooting a commercial Hindi horror film starring Bobby Deol, Mugdha Ghodse with a special appearance by Sheryas Talpade. We have just completed a 40 day schedule in Mauritius and I’m about to begin my Mumbai schedule at the end of October.
Your take on the current state of Bollywood, is it only about the big stars and films, or is there space for the commercial, yet, subject driven, middle of the road films too?
It would be nice to believe that content driven middle of the road films are being sought after by Bollywood Producers but the simple fact of the matter is that the star is still the king and most producers in Bollywood chase the stars that can open a movie. Even today for every Iqbal or Dor Producers are more much more interested in making a Singh is King or Wanted, Kambhaqt Ishq, etc.