Posted by Vivek on April 25, 2010 | No Comments

A couple of months back, Siddharth Kumar’s Semshook, played to critical acclaim at the San Jose Film Festival, Cinequest. Siddharth had earlier made the very likeable and different, Let’s Enjoy. Here we catch up with Siddharth, his wife, actress Roshni Chopra and the writer of the film, Sudip Sharma.

What was the motivation for making this film, an Indian living in Bollywood, making a film which is neither totally Indian in subject matter, nor Bollywood?

The primary motivation is, we are always talking about the Tiger going extinct, and here there is a culture (Tibet) that is going extinct. India is uniquely placed in that we have given shelter to this culture. At the same time, we are also contributing to the process of eroding it, cause when Tibetans come and live in India and see the opportunities that we as Indians have, the economic boom that we are in the midst of, they want to participate in it. When they do so they lose a part of their culture. So Tibet is really trapped between the cultures of India and China. Given that, it is not very long before, as a culture, they go extinct, hence the desire to tell their story. I also work as a D o P in documentaries and I was in Dharamsala to shoot a Tibetan boy, for a documentary, which never got completed. That was about 6 years ago and the story has since remained with me. So that’s how we came upon this idea.

You do realize that a film such as Semshook, is not your typical Bollywood film and there are going to be challenges and despite that, you probably knowingly took this path…why?
See I do have a Bollywood career already, I’ve signed a couple of Hindi films, I’ve made one, which was slightly off Bollywood, I do a lot of Television and am working with Yash Raj right now in Television, that being said, I studied film, to tell stories that have resonance, not just to Indians but around the world. And I think this is a story like that. It’s a universal theme. It’s really a spiritual film which mirrors the life of the Buddha, of going for the search of himself and divesting himself of all the possessions in the process. In the film too, the protagonist, to discover who he is and his Tibet, has to leave everything behind and he ends up with not even a piece of cloth on his body.

The Bay Area has a huge Tibet support group. So what motivated you to select the Cinequest, San Jose festival, as the one you wanted to showcase your film?

We are completely maverick filmmakers in that sense the producer pretty much used his own money, we don’t have any Sales Agent or any Hollywood backing so we would probably have got lost in the bigger festivals. And for a film such as this, we needed to build better traction, amongst friendlier festivals and given that Cinequest in one of the top ten festivals in the US, and it’s also known as being a really friendly festival. The founders and organizers are here all the time, and that’s the kind of handholding that we need at this stage, with a film that is so sensitive and so small.

Since Let’s Enjoy, where have you disappeared?
Let’s Enjoy was also made with a maverick manner. The movie was made on a very limited budget with basically all my friends. Since I was living in Delhi at that time, I didn’t understand anything about Bollywood, back then. Two years after that I moved to Mumbai and have been working on cracking the system, knowing that it’s a very tough system to crack. There are certain zamindars whose families are in charge and to crack that system it takes a long time. So I’ve had a couple of abortive attempts at film and now I’m working with the biggest production house in the country, so I will be making something sooner or later, but have done a lot of Television in the interim.

Let’s Enjoy had a freshness of characters not seen in Bollywood, as you become a part of Bollywood how are you going to retain your freshness?

My primary purpose is to be an artist, to express myself through what I’m given. Bollywood very often, you don’t have complete control over your script. If you get a call from the top guy and are told to direct a script of their choosing, you can turn it down, but it would be stupid to do so. After that your job is to sit with the writer and fuel your artistic personality into the script. So if you do see my work as a Bollywood feature, you will probably see something original. How original not sure, there will be so many cooks in that broth, it’s going to get a little like a khichdee.

Roshni, what was the struggle as someone involved from outside, in the making of the film?

The struggle begins now, to get it out there, to get people to support it. While making the film, we all totally believed in it.

Roshni Chopra is your typical mainstream television, good, bad or ugly, Semshook is not, so how come the decision to come out and support it, glad that you are putting your two cents there, but is it going to cause any confusion to the audience, thinking this is a mainstream Bollywood film?
I think whatever fills the seats. It’s all for a good cause and as long as the intent is good, that’s what matters.

Questions with Sudip Sharma, the writer of the film.

From Superstar to Abbas Mastan, to Semshook?
Always wanted to do different kind of stuff. I am a MBA by education and was working in Sales and Marketing, somewhere down the line realized this is not for me and I switched to cinema, which in Mumbai means Bollywood. Like to believe that I am a world cinema buff so would like to operate in that field and not restrict myself to Bollywood. I do enjoy Bollywood cinema and am working on the remake of the Italian Job for Abbas Mastan. Will also be working on Siddharth’s next film. So looking for a balance in the kind of scripts that I write and do.

As a writer for Semshook, how much of it was picked up from the real world and how much is make believe?
A lot of it was real because the genesis of the story is from an activist and poet in Dharamsala called Tenzing. So we had the sniff of his story from him and his book of poetry. So the idea was to take it to another level and make it cinematic, so not stopping at where his story stops. A lot of it is real and a lot of it is also from the experiences we had in Dharamsala. The window that opened up to me, when I was in Dharamsala, have been incorporated into the film.

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