Indian audience ready for dark cinema since Guru Dutt's time: 'Gali Guleiyan' maker
New Delhi : His maiden feature film "Gali Guleiyan" is a Hindi psychological drama about a man trapped within the walls and alleys of Old Delhi. Los Angeles-based Dipesh Jain says the Indian audience has always been ready to watch dark movies, but they have been denied such content, perhaps due to "risk averseness" which continues to exist.
A look at the trailer of "Gali Guleiyan", starring the widely acclaimed Manoj Bajpayee as a shopkeeper living in self-imposed isolation within the walled city of Old Delhi, can tell you it's a film that will immerse you in the maze that it sets out to explore.
"I think the Indian audience has been ready (for dark dramas) since Guru Dutt's time. They have always been ready, but have been denied it. It's not a problem of choice, it's a problem of providing that choice," Jain told IANS in an interview here.
"If you ask a lot of Indians their favourite films, they will say they are by Hrishikesh Mukherjee because they were good films with messages, but they will also go back to Guru Dutt... And his films weren't light.
"They were doing social commentary, but they were very dark. If we had the capacity then, why not now?"
A recipient of the Student Award by Directors Guild of America (DGA), Jain wonders why movies which leave the audience introspecting are relegated as catering to only a certain type of audience.
"We are very quick to brush films as intellectual cinema. But we have to understand these films work on an emotional level. They make you feel something... Maybe not everytime happy, but being sad is also a strong emotion," Jain said.
The filmmaker says when he took it to some producers in India, he found a disconnect in the way it was perceived.
"I should not generalise, but people asked, 'There's no song, it's so dark... Why don't you make it a little hopeful or tone it down a bit? And we didn't want to do that because there's a specific kind of cinema that we like and we want to make," Jain said.
As such, he finds "there's still some risk averseness" in Indian cinema, which is why he finds "the cinematic grammar" of films here very similar.
"Typically, you would assume the audience of our film to be A-centre, well-educated, our kind of people who watch international cinema, Netflix, Martin Scorcese, Quentin Tarantino.
"But when we did test screenings for 'Gali Guleiyan', it was very refreshing because the audience was like we never thought such a film would come out of India. It was unique for them, but it's not that they don't know about the grammar."
Alternatively, they did test screenings with the lower middle-class strata of the society too.
"We did one screening with drivers, security guards, and to my surprise, they connected with the film a lot. They came out teary because the film worked for them on an emotional level. They were not taking off a big intellectual idea of a maze... It was an emotional story of a mother and someone trying to help a stuck boy.
"I know we cannot go wide with this film for some reasons, but I am confident if we were to go wide, this film will connect with the single screen audience -- as they say -- as well," Jain asserted.
The film, releasing worldwide on September 7, is about a reclusive shopkeeper who spends his days obsessively watching people through hidden closed circuit cameras. When he overhears a boy being beaten, he begins to frantically search for the child.
As he becomes lost in the labyrinthine alleys of the city and recesses of his mind. His grasp on reality falters, until he eventually stumbles across a shocking truth.
Along with Manoj, the film features Ranvir Shorey, Neeraj Kabi and Shahana Goswami along with debutant child actor Om Singh, who is from NGO Salaam Baalak Trust, which works with street children.
Meeting Om made Jain's conviction stronger to make a film which touched upon child abuse.
"This boy was abused by his parents in Madhya Pradesh and he ran and came to Delhi. The kind of experiences he shared, I felt more confident about telling the film because at least there's one story that's close... and it wasn't like I was just making fiction."
(Radhika Bhirani can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)