Exclusive: Indian origin Singapore-based producer of Award-winning film says Mithila Makhaan is just the beginning
Mithila Makhaan is the first Maithili language film to win National Award for the Best Feature Film. Samir's production house Ashwatha Tree Pvt Ltd in Singapore provides quality entertainment that inspires and brings about social change.
NewsGram presents an exclusive tête-à-tête with the cast and crew of this year’s National Award winning Maithili film, Mithila Makhaan. In the first part of the series, Shillpi A Singh caught up with the movie’s Singapore-based producer Samir Kumar. Read on as he takes you to the magic of the moment on a glorious night, and shares his dreams of tomorrow and the wind of change that is blowing wild and free to give wings to the regional cinema, taking it many notches higher.
Ages ago, the Bard had said, “What’s in a name?” Perhaps, there’s a lot. A name adds certain qualities and values that a person inevitably happens to live with all through his life. And it is true for Singapore-based Samir Kumar whose first name when translated in Hindi means the wind. And he is living up to his name by bringing along a refreshing change in the world of regional cinema. A technocrat turned bureaucrat, he is currently an investment banker with a leading multinational bank in the Lion City.
A passionate movie buff, he has also forayed into film production. His production house’s debut outing, Mithila Makhaan, has won the National Award for the Best Feature Film in the Maithili language, a first of its kind honour for a regional language film from the twin states of Bihar and Jharkhand. Ecstatic and overwhelmed at this honour, he said, “It was great to receive the National Award. I had the privilege to speak to the Hon’ble President on the dais. I told him that this was the first Maithili film to win an award. And he politely responded, ‘Yes, I know’. The President wished me good luck. His kind words are still ringing in my ears. This recognition is our biggest motivation; it has raised the bar for all of us and we would keep up the good work in our future endeavours.”
A Good Start, A Good Beginning
Born in Bihar’s capital, Patna, Samir grew up in Sasaram, the second most literate city in the state, completing his studies till Class 12 from the state Board there. A brilliant student, he cleared the tough entrance exam and entered the hallowed portals of India’s top-notch technological institute, the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, in 1997. After completing his undergraduate degree in mining with top grades from IIT-Kgp, he was engaged as a Consultant with the Ministry of Coal, Government of India, for a short stint. From there, he moved on to pursue a management course at the premier management college, the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta, in 2002. Armed with the best of degrees, Samir was flooded with offers from companies, both in India and abroad. He chose to work overseas for a while but the best of monetary compensation could not lure him to stay there for long; he yearned to do something for his motherland. Samir returned to India in 2009 to take the Civil Services exam for he thought it would give him an opportunity to make a difference at the grassroots level. The global exposure in his previous assignments stood him in good stead and he cleared UPSC exams in the first attempt itself, but the bureaucratic tag wasn’t enough to hold him to the coveted position for long. Realising that the allied service would not provide him with the kind of opportunities that he was looking for to serve the country, he put in his papers in 2010. “The wind then moved to foreign shores, and for good,” he laughed, fondly reminiscing how he moved to Singapore after dabbling in bureaucracy for a while. Today he is the Director of an international bank in the island state.
He established his production house Ashwatha Tree Pvt Ltd in Singapore to provide quality entertainment that inspires and brings about social change. It may come as a surprise to many that the firm is owned and funded by Samir from his hard-earned income. “Every penny spent by Ashwatha Tree is well accounted. While making the film, I made it a point to keep the accounts clear by making all the financial dealings, big or small, through cheque. It was quite unusual for the industry. But that is how I wanted it. So it was,” he said.
It is the first Maithili film to be extensively shot in the US, Canada, India and Nepal. “There were certain budgetary constraints and operational challenges while making the film, but as they say, all is well that ends well. The Award has made us forget all the lows that we encountered en route our dream of making a sleek movie in Maithili,” said the filmmaker. The film has been produced by Neetu Chandraa’s Champaran Talkies and Samir’s Ashwatha Tree and co-produced by Illuminant Films.
The Dream Seller
But what prompted him to foray into films? “I am a financial markets trader by the day and a film producer by night,” he said with a chuckle. He quickly added, “I am passionate about making movies. I have been learning the nuances of digital film-making as a hobby. Nitin Neera Chandra is a dear friend. I met him two years ago. We bonded well as two of us have common interests — to do something meaningful for the region from where we hail. One thing led to another and Mithila Makhaan happened. And today here we are with the Award in our hand.”
Apart from bagging the National Award for its first Maithili film, Ashwatha Tree has also produced a Hindi film, Once Upon a Time in Bihar, which was a remake of the award-winning Bhojpuri film Deswa. Chandra directed the film starring Ashish Vidyarthi, Pankaj Jha, Arti Puri, Kranti Prakash Jha and Deepak Singh in the lead roles and it was released last year.
Talking about his association with Samir, Chandra said, “I was ready with the story of Mithila Makhaan in 2012 but failed miserably in scouting for financiers. Samir was the first one to come on-board and readily agreed to invest money in this film. I will always be grateful to him for believing in me and my vision.”
It’s Made in India
The award-winning Maithili film is an honest attempt to make a good film in a regional language that is spoken by millions across Bihar, neighbouring Nepal and many other countries of the world. “The film showcases the best of Maithili culture and encourages entrepreneurial spirit among the youth of the region and in a way promotes the idea of Make in India. The Mithilanchal region in Bihar is famous for the Madhubani paintings. It is the largest producer of fox nuts and betel leaves, and a meal for Maithils is incomplete without a generous helping of fish, all of which are an integral part of the Maithili culture,” said Samir.
Big Screen Outing
The film that stars Pankaj Jha, Anurita Jha and Kranti Prakash Jha has been written and directed by Nitin Neera Chandra and is all set to hit the theatres in September this year. About the plot, he said, “Mithila Makhaan is the story of a young entrepreneur Kranti Prakash, who is based in the downtown financial district of Toronto, miles away from his mother and motherland. On his mother’s insistence, he returns to his native village Darbhanga, Bihar, after 23 years to perform a family ritual. But he is shocked to find that a lot has changed, and not for the good. The Kosi deluge of 2008 has devastated his village. The turn of events during his stay in the village changes his life forever. It is a story of the astute young man’s grit and determination to bring a change in the region, instil pride in the younger generation and revive its glorious past.”
In some measures, regional cinema often gets a step-motherly treatment from the film-goers and filmmakers alike. The language is spoken and understood by millions, but all those people seldom watch a film in the regional language. This apathy affects the box-office collection. The returns are often minimal as compared to the investments. The lack of infrastructural support for small and medium budget filmmakers has created an unsustainable environment for regional cinema to flourish, especially in Bihar, he said. The other obstacles are online availability of films, piracy, poor marketing and apathy of multiplexes, all of which act as spoilers. But the wind of change is blowing straight into the face of time for regional films in Bihar and Jharkhand. “This movie aims to change that popular perception. It is a baby step in the right direction,” he said.
The production house is busy with Mithila Makhaan’s release later this year. “But apart from this, there are a few regional language and Hindi films in the pipeline. The team is currently working on those ideas,” he said about his upcoming projects. The filmmaker believes that things are indeed looking up for regional cinema but there is a lot of work to be done to make it popular in the country. He added, “we need good stories, catchy themes that will have an instant connect with the audience, lilting music, soulful lyrics, crisp editing and sharp camera work but all of it set against the backdrop of the twin states with an enviable star cast that will help pull crowds to the theatres.”
On an optimistic note, Samir said, “A closer look at the issues grappling regional cinema in our state can help in setting up a global film industry there. I have submitted a paper to the state government with my thoughts and I am hoping that it is being reviewed.” If it is so, then it will herald good times for regional cinema in twin states that will go a long way in creating meaningful movies from the region.
To cater to the global audience, he has big plans. “The films — Deswa and Once Upon a Time in Bihar — will be available on Muvizz.com, a platform for independent cinema and a boon for cinephiles, in July this year. Mithila Makhaan will also be available there but a little later,” he said.
Being the first Maithili film to be feted with the National Award has made people keen and eager to watch Mithila Makhaan on the big screen. “Also, the National Award and its outing at the international film circuits may bring about a welcome change in the way the masses and classes will perceive and receive it,” he said. The film has managed to create the right buzz among the Maithilis across the world. Anupama Jha Kumar, an entrepreneur, model and accomplished classical dancer, who is working for a media company in Singapore, said, “Mithila region is rich in history, customs, food, music, language, literature and art. For Maithils, life is a celebration and this film has given us another reason to rejoice. The film will promote the ancient culture by taking it to a global platform. I am anxiously waiting for its release.”
Livin’ it Up
A globetrotter, Samir has worked and stayed in different cities but having lived in Singapore for eight years now, he calls the Garden City his second home and has decided to stay put here with his entrepreneur wife Tulika and two lovely children till life takes him someplace else. He has come a long way, traversing the arduous distance from Sasaram to Singapore, but there is no resting on his laurels yet. “The journey has just started. I have miles to go.”
The winds are blowing and Samir is busy harnessing the change and ready to sail off on another adventure. Watch out, world!
In part two of the series, NewsGram catches up with Mithila Makhaan’s Director Nitin Neera Chandra, who has also written story, screenplay, dialogues for the film. Watch out for this space!
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“I am someone who is very comfortable in my own world and I know it is not a good thing. I really do not take much interest in forming an opinion on anything political because I am not inclined to that,” Harshvardhan told IANS.
Having grown up in a family of film stars and producers like father Anil Kapoor, sister Sonam Kapoor Ahuja, uncles like Boney Kapoor, Sanjay Kapoor as well as cousins like Arjun Kapoor and Mohit Marwah, Harshvardhan has seen success and failure of the entertainment business from close quarters.
Is that the reason why the end result of the film does not bother him much and he is rather focussed on the process of filmmaking?
Harshvardhan said: “No, that is not true… I do get hurt. When my debut film did not work for most of the people, I was upset but do we really know how to control the fate of a film?
“All we can do is put on hard work. In a year, only 10 films get huge success at the box office out of so many films releasing in India. And what is the definition of success?
“From childhood I have seen, there are films that are counted as most successful film and in two weeks, those films went off the people’s memories. On the other hand, there are films that didn’t work commercially, but people cherish them even today. So what really a successful film is?” questioned the young actor.
As for his “Bhavesh Joshi Superhero” — directed by Vikramaditya Motwane, he believes it has a quality of being relatable to the mass audience.
“The treatment of the film is very different. It is modern and cinematically rich. The inspiration of the core character may be drawn from the angry young man era of our Hindi cinema, but the feet are very much in today’s time.
“It is a realistic film and not a larger than life superhero film. I think the content of the film is quite accessible to the larger audience unlike my ‘Mirzya’,” Harshvardhan said.
The actor believes that the definition of the superhero is changing in Indian cinema where the story of common man is getting celebrated.
“It is the story of a young guy who was leading a regular life with a lot of complaint about the system that we all do, but we really do not do much about it.
“Then he finds himself in extraordinary circumstances and decided to make a choice… a very brave choice that a regular guy will not attempt to do. I think that’s what makes him a superhero.”
For the film, Harshvardhan went by the script and the director’s vision.
Also, being a formally trained actor, Harshvardhan’s process of immersing himself in a character is a combination of method acting and personal life experiences.
“To bring a certain emotion in a scene, I do not look out for others’ examples, but my own life experiences. Of course, I cannot live life like that character in the film, but in my personal life, I must have experienced something similar.
“Another important thing we have to keep in mind is, in film shooting, we do not shoot the story as sequentially as the audience watch on screen. We might shoot the climax at the beginning of filming.