Films | Artist Interviews | Navdeep Singh – Manorama Six Feet Under RESURFACES

Navdeep Singh – Manorama Six Feet Under RESURFACES

Posted by Vivek on January 10, 2011 | No Comments

Navdeep got the attention of the audience with his debut film. It was the simplicity, the undercurrent of self decrypting humor and the “everydayness” of the characters, so unusual to find in a thriller, that was the most endearing part of Manorama 6 Feet Under. In an era where everyone was shouting from the rooftops of their film being different, this one WAS INDEED, different. It again highlighted the depth and the diversity of the Indian film industry, once you got off the Bollywood crust.

The other thing that comes across about Navdeep is his inherent straight forwardness, his lack of defensiveness and his ability to become totally objective about his own creations, a unique quality amongst creative people.
Here is Navdeep in his signature straight shooting style :

Yours was a case of obtaining film school education in the US and then promptly returning to India and making a very Indian (at heart) film. Talk a little about this, take from West and make for the East mindset? What did the West do in your growth as a filmmaker?

Honestly, it wasn’t that prompt – I did a stint of about 4 years directing TV commercials in the US & UK before coming to Bombay. It was when then that the desire to make feature truly kicked in and I realized that India was the place to do that.
The desire partly was to make the kind of movies one wanted to see, oneself.  I was never a huge fan of the typical output of the Bombay film industry. Given the post 70s scenario – shoddy films with shoddy technical quality there was something new in the air in the early 2000’s when I visited Bombay. ‘Satya’ and ‘Hyderbad Blues’ had released. People were attempting to move away from the old formulas. It was like a frontier town – anything seemed possible.

A Western education helped in looking at things anew. A fresh eye and a new perspective, colored no doubt by the wide exposure to International cultures that the typical Western megalopolis affords. Living in LA or London or New York suddenly puts art and culture from around the world at your fingertips if you want to access it. You begin to realize that there are multiple ways of looking at things and approaching them – It’s a certain openness of the mind.

Staying with Manorama, an amazing film by the way, you did something very unusual with the characters, including the lead pair, you made them very regular, very normal and yet very fascinating, talk a little about this unique character development in your movie?

I’ve always been fascinated by ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. The word ‘ordinary’ is such a disservice to the kind of people we meet and see everyday. Their individual quirks, their personal hopes and fears are so unique at one level and yet so universally recognizable. Different people react to different situations in different ways – the interesting bit for me is the ‘why?’
Hindi mainstream cinema has never had much of a tradition of psychologically motivated characters. It’s perceived to be a Western notion even though, for instance, the Mahabharat, is replete with psychologically interesting characters.

I was very certain that at one level ‘Manorama’ had to be a character drama. At the writing stage, a lot of people had suggested that we should concentrate on the thriller aspects of the story and drop the character development bits. I resisted that for better or worse – Honestly, I do believe that we weren’t skilled enough to seamlessly fuse the character drama and the plot imperatives as seamlessly as we needed to – hence the pacing issues that turned some people off.

The challenges faced in traditional Bollywood, as the new kids on the block aka you, make their way with your unique set of ideas?

There is an inherent ‘last Friday’ mentality (though this is not unique to Bolly) that needs to be conquered. A rom-com does well and suddenly everyone wants to make rom-coms. A rustic actioner breaks box office records and everybody wants to get on that bandwagon.

It’s also incredibly closed though Bollywood is again not unique in that regard.  However, it is unique in it’s dynastic trappings – Bollywood’s fatal flaw in my opinion. If you are going to draw from such a limited gene pool there are bound to be inbred accidents along the way.

How has your Ad filmmaker background helped you in your Feature film world?

I think the Ad film world, especially in the Indian context, has always been a better organized and planned space than the Features scene. This certainly provides one with a degree of discipline that comes in handy in keeping budgets and production escalations under control.

On the creative end of things, there’s a certain readiness to think on one’s feet, which one learns in advertising, that is incredibly useful on a chaotic film set.

Talk a little about your upcoming projects?

I was working on a thriller called ‘Basra’ for nearly two years. Unfortunately, it ran into money troubles and is currently on the back-burner. I’m currently working on a comedy tentatively titled ‘Shaadi of the Dead’. It’s quite mad yet very accessible at the same time.

I ask this from a lot of my interviewees, but since each of you is a unique perspective and each one matters to our readers, your take on “Is it about the Stars or is it about the Content and solid acting,” from an Indian moviemaking perspective?

As far as producers are concerned it’s about Stars all the way. Content has no value in Bollywood if it has no Stars attached.
The audience still has a big Star hang-up but at least they now demand Content along with that. Unfortunately, this is creating a system where over hyped mega movies attempt a smash and grab on opening weekends.

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