Rajat Kapoor is a screenwriter, actor and filmmaker (most recently RK/RKay) known for his role in carving out an independent film industry in India. Ironically, in the midst of writing a film about authorship, after years of attempting to receive financial backing through traditional means, Kapoor took control and financed RK/RKay through crowdfunding. Kapoor reflects on his work to break out of a traditionalist film industry: “To accommodate a pan Indian audience, these films chose a cinematic language that would appeal to everyone. This is Bollywood, and it has been the norm for more than 95% of the films we make every year. This is the cinema of passive consumption, that does not ask the audience to intervene, to participate in the viewing.”
Here, Picture This Post (PTP) talks to Rajat Kapoor about the Indian Film Industry, his process developing RK/RKay and his background in the industry.
(PTP) Can you please share with our readers the structures and conventions of the Indian Film Industry in comparison to the US Film Industry?
(RK): There are many film industries in India, since it's a vast country with many languages and regional preferences. When sound came to cinema each industry slowly worked out its own visual code that defines their cinema.
These regional films have a huge hold over their audience but reigning over it all is the Hindi film- since Hindi is a pan India language (more in the north of the country than south). Hindi film industry is often called Bollywood since it is largely based in what was called Bombay, now Mumbai.
To accommodate a pan Indian audience, these films chose a cinematic language that would appeal to everyone. Music became a big part of what could appeal to a diverse audience, and that is why these films came to rely upon music to such a large extent.
This is Bollywood, and it has been the norm for more than 95% of the films we make every year. I believe that to a large extent even Hollywood suffers from this idea of making a film that would please everyone. In trying to reach a wider audience, film making is often reduced to a template- thus making things predictable.
We know what is coming next, we anticipate it- and we receive it. That can be emotionally rewarding, in a passive way. This is the cinema of passive consumption, that does not ask the audience to intervene, to participate in the viewing.
There are differences of course- American films have generally better writing and a keener visual sense. Hindi film industry preferred to go the musical way.
The two mainstream industries are attempting the same thing- to reach out to the lowest common denominator.
What is your background in the film industry?
I went to study filmmaking when I was 24- to the eminent Films and Television Institute of India (FTII) in Pune. Besides the regular classes and learning, we were fortunate to have two of the greatest Indian filmmakers come and teach there as visiting faculty. They were Kumar Shahani and Mani Kaul. After my course at the FTII, I came to Bombay and worked with these maestros as an assistant- for three years. Not only did I learn cinema from them, but something more important- the value of artistic integrity. Three years and the FTII, and my training with Kumar and Mani did the needful. I have been making films for the last 25 years now.
Can you please share with our readers the premise of and your experience working on your latest film, RK/ RKay?
Luckily, writing happens before the making of the film- so that was out of the way. I have acted in some of the films that I directed, and really, it's not really an issue.
In this film, however, it was tougher - because I was playing the lead. Not just once- but twice over. So well you rely on your instinct- and the support of your crew, and you hope it will carry you through.
The film is about RK who is a filmmaker and is in the midst of shooting a new film. He is also acting (as Mahboob) in the film he is directing. The shoot gets over, editing begins - and things are not going well. RK has a sinking feeling about his new film.
And then, Mahboob runs out of the film. He is not in the rushes of the film anymore- he escapes the film and lands up in the real world. RK must find Mahboob and send him back to the film so that the film can be completed in time for release. This is the premise of the film, if you want. RK is a filmmaker, but he could also be a novelist or a playwright whose character goes missing. To me, it’s an argument about free will vs destiny. If everything is written for us, do we still have the freedom to act? That is the defining thought behind the film.
How did you come to believe that RK/RKay did not fit within the typical structure of Indian Cinema and to find a different source of funding?
Very simply, most mainstream films in India work with stars- actors who are popular enough to bring in an initial. And that is just the first step in a series of decisions that takes the film to a comfortable zone of the familiar viewing.
Rk/Rkay is my eighth film. They have all been what one would call indie films, without the backing of any big studios for production or distribution. and without the star power to propel them. In fact, most of these films have been produced by independent and brave producers- often their first production venture- as it was for Sunil Doshi for Mixed Doubles, Manish Mundra for Ankhon Dekhi', Dinesh Kasana and Nikhil Chaudhry for Kadakh, and now Harshita and Priyam Srivastva for Rk/Rkay
What was the process of crowdfunding to achieve support for RK/ Rkay?
Crowd funding is hard, and it’s a process on its own. But you know it does something strange. I believe every contribution brings into the film a positive energy, and all of that positive vibe went into the filming. It was not just the money these friends and strangers sent- they sent along their heart.
The film has its own life, its destiny.
We'll watch as it begins the journey now..
Read how filmmakers make their magic— in their own words. Read “FILMMAKERS SPOTLIGHT— Meet Filmmakers Picture This Post LOVES!” and watch this video for a story preview —
Photos Courtesy of Rajat Kapoor