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Bijaya Jena

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The Making Of An Indian Filmmaker

Posted: 02/23/2012 3:34 pm

I am a national award-winning film maker from India who has been exposed to European cinema since I was 15 in a film school, and interacted with the world masters (Antonioni, Kurosawa, Elia Kazan, Costa-Gavras, Zanussi) who visited our school and also in film festivals. Hence, it was not surprising when I embarked on to make a film based on the story and script of one of the greatest writers of the country the late Bimal Dutt. As a very young producer, I always had financial constraints and assisted the script writer only to save money, but in the bargain, I was exposed to his huge library, his depth of knowledge, his love for Marx and Lenin, and his experience in the trade union movement before India's independence. Unfortunately he passed away soon after I made my first film and I was searching for a writer of the same depth who knew cinema as well.

I tried contacting a very famous Kerala writer but he was too busy and too far away. Then I met my favorite director, Hungarian maestro, the late Istvan Gaal who had won Grand Prix in Karlovy Vary for his first film Current, where Roman Polanski got the second award for his Knife In The Water. Gaal's Falcon is very popular in the film schools and has been one of my favorites. Gaal was a victim of the state where Istvan Szabo was the blue-eyed boy of the state. Many films of Gaal remain without subtitles to this day. But his last documentary on Bartok has received brilliant reviews in the U.S. and the critics say that he created a new idiom in the language of documentary cinema.

Needless to say, Gaal found me different from other Indian makers and agreed to advise me on my script for my second film Abhaas (Prologue). His notes on my script were so valuable that it elevated the script to a greater height. The film went to some major film festivals but could not get enough mileage for couple of reasons -- lack of funds and my choice to take a hiatus to raise my family. After that, I vowed to make a film in English for the international market, wrote a script, and flew down to Hungary for Gaal's advice.

I have been developing this project and got interest from some Oscar winners. But the biggest obstacle has been the American system. How can one write a script for the international market living in India without an American agent? In the beginning it did not seem very difficult but lately Miramax, Weinstein, and Fox Searchlight have made it mandatory to have this middleman called AGENT. I had the opportunity to attend Danny Boyle's Master Class where Steven Gilula, vice president of Fox Searchlight, emphasized the fact that Indians have not geared to tell stories for the international market -- and I got up from the crowd and said, "But I do have a script which is for the international audience and appreciated by many intellectuals in Europe and USA but the only HITCH is your American system."

He politely said that I should send him the script. But the million dollar question is can they accept my script which is registered with the Writers Guild of America with my Indian solicitorʼs letter? I have not been able to get an answer to my query either from Miramax, Weinstein, or Fox Searchlight.