Film students must leverage global tech to tell Indian stories: Naren Kumar

Naren Kumar

Naren Kumar, a successful Film Producer, who has produced critically and commercially successful films Jolly LLB, Jolly LLB 2 and web series – Maharani (seasons 1 and 2), tells Education Post’s Tanay Kumar that the Indian film industry has the money and caliber to manufacture high-end film technologies, only intent is needed.

Question QHow did you come to be a film producer?

Before I became a producer, I had some connection with films because my father, J. Satya Rao, was an usher in a cinema hall at my hometown Kharagpur in West Bengal. I was born in a Telugu family. So, we had the privilege to watch every movie playing in that theatre free of cost and whenever I used to get good marks in school, I used to be treated to a Hindi movie by my father, who was himself a big fan of Raj Kapoor. That’s how somewhere my connection with films started as a kid. I came from a very moderate family. My mother, Ishwar amma, was a homemaker, so jobs are the first step in the minds of most people there. So, I worked with a chartered accountant in Kharagpur and then I went to Delhi in search of better future, for work there. I started working with an ecotourism company which was based in Delhi and Dehradun and the owner of that tourism company was an actor and with his help I landed in Mumbai.

I never thought of doing something in films before I came to Mumbai. I just wanted to do good in life and wanted a better life for myself and my family. After reaching Mumbai, I worked with some actors as their manager for some time to understand the industry. If you want to be a part of any industry, you must know how it functions, what are the pros and cons. Then, I had an option to work as a first assistant director (AD) as an executive producer. My own wisdom kept telling me that time that I have good experience in finance, as I worked with a chartered accountant, plus I was a commerce graduate and also worked in the tourism industry. So, I thought somewhere my profile is better suited for an executive producer than a first assistant director.

I wanted to learn the commerce side as well as the art of filmmaking. I started with television, then I worked in films. Ahista Ahista with Abhay Deol and Soha Ali Khan was my first feature film where I was the executive producer. And then you start working with people and you choose people who attract you, whose stories attract you, then from there I learned and became a producer.

Question Q

When we go to a film institute’s website, generally, we find no more than 10-odd courses, but the list of names in the end credits is massive. Why is this so?

A film institute teaches the basic technicalities of filmmaking, like cinematography, sound design, direction, editing, graphics and VFX. These are the primary aspects of filmmaking. But, the list in the end credits of any film has, on average, more than 200 people who are involved in the film. Most of them are skilled in a particular technique and it is somewhat a hierarchical process. So, the cinematographer will direct the gaffer for lighting and the gaffer will direct the light person and the lightperson will work accordingly. For instance, there are 20 lightmen at a set and the director of photography (DOP) is not going to instruct each one of them the placement of lights instead he directs his gaffers and that gaffers directs those 20 lightmen. There is no formal training for lightman in any film institute, so far at least.

Another example is that production designers will explain his vision about the design of the set and then the art directors working for him will hire a workforce like 10 carpenters, 10 electricians, other labourers to design the whole set. Again, these are skilled labour but not from any film institute.

So to answer your question, a film set is consists of many people form different departments and each one of them doing a specific job on set but not necessarily all of them have to be trained from any institute.

Question Q

If we put acting and direction aside for a moment, of the many other crucial jobs, such as cinematographers, sound artists, prop experts, choreographers, tertiary casting, what are some crew roles that are hard to find nowadays?

Surely, there are some roles in filmmaking in which people are hard to find. First assistant director is one such job as there is no formal study of infusing skills to be a first assistant director. The first AD is more like a set-runner, his job is to get the things executed on time because everything is related to commerce. A film is planned to be completed within a timeframe with the available and affordable resources, but there are always some other factors, sometimes bad ones, which affect the timing and resources as well. The first AD tries their best to work on the plan, so that the film is completed within the stipulated time frame. Today, there are only a few good first ADs in the film industry, who actually are very clear about the job.

Another role I would say is a good and proficient executive producer (EP) because they are the backbone of any film shooting. They are literally running the show. Good executive producers are rare these days. In my eyes, a good EP is the one who can deliver and good product within limited resources.

Question Q

People are going gaga over Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality. When do you think these technologies will come into play in the Indian film industry?

Very soon, without a doubt. Let me give you some examples, first is the Ajay Devgn film, Tanhaji. The whole film was shot in a studio environment and with the help of VFX. Second film is Kartik Aryan starrer, Dhamaka. Its director, Ram Madhvani shot most of the film in a hotel and most the film was done using VFX. And, we all know what S.S. Rajamouli has done. So, we are not very distant from it and the younger generation, who are well acquainted with digital technology, will only enhance filmmaking with AR, VR and MR (mixed reality).

Question Q

Related to the same question, the film industry gives employment to over five lakh people and many of them belong to Generation X who are experienced in analog technology. How was the transition of that generation, who are in their late 40s or 50s, from analog to digital?

See, change in any part of the world is inevitable. Be it any job, one has to be accustomed to the changes that drive the industry. The film industry is also contagious to that reality. Workers and staff have to learn all the necessary skills of digital tools in their particular roles or jobs.

When we were shooting for Ahista Ahista and digital shooting cameras were gradually creeping into the industry. Many people opposed this transition and were skeptical of the digital technology as digital footage might go corrupt or may get lost. But I was totally certain it will bring in change for the better. And, today, I don’t need to say that everyone is shooting their films through a digital camera or recorder.

People like me and you have seen that transition and have been experiencing it even today, but the gen-z and the generation that will come after them, are born with digitization in their hands. So, they are only going to take it to a higher level.

Question Q

So, if we take that technology into consideration, technical devices play an unavoidable role in the filmmaking process. In your view, as a film producer, does India lag behind in manufacturing high-end technical devices that the industry needs?

It is unfortunate, but yes, we do lag in manufacturing and making those high-end technological devices. Unfortunately, the Indian film industry is enormously big and honestly, we can afford to manufacture devices that are specifically designed for our film industry, in our own country. I haven’t heard from any Indian director about inventing any technology or device that can enhance or at least ease the operation of filmmaking, like James Cameron used to talk about 3D long before he made Avatar.

To add, we are ready to import technology from the West or any other part of the world, but we are not making, inventing, or even ideating them. But there is a flipside: many from the younger generation are going abroad to study and have knowledge of high-end devices in filmmaking. So, if it is not today, after some time certainly we will surely have those technologies being made in India.

One thing I would like to tell young students is to use technology from around the world, but use it to tell our own stories. They are good in technology, but they spend lots of their time on social media and the virtual world. If you want to come into filmmaking, one needs to know the masses. They need to gel with people, interact with people in reality, need to talk to them, need to have a casual conversation, and observe people’s behavior. The generation before Gen-Z, like me, has seen the masses, the herd, the people themselves. I don’t need to interact with them, I am one of them.


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