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‘Don’t wait for opportunities, create them,’ says Indian filmmaker

Director Ajay Govind, who is set to release his second independent feature film Madappally United in July, reveals where the idea came from and his experience of creating this film



Director, producer, screenwriter, Ajay Govind wears multiple hats. Lately, the alumnus from Apeejay Institute of Mass Communication (AIMC) has also been focusing on conducting workshops on filmmaking for aspirants who wish to pursue a career in this field. Till date, the filmmaker has written and directed over 60 commissioned documentaries, line produced 2 and directed 2 feature films, 5 shorts films and 6 music videos. And now the award winning director is all geared up to release his second independent feature film Madappally United in July. In this candid interview, Ajay shares interesting facts about the new upcoming movie and more. Read On:

Your upcoming movie ‘Madappally United’ is all set to release next month. What is the narrative?

At the heart of it, Madappally United (MU) is about how children, left to their own devices, understand and resolve problems, and especially in contrast to how adults approach it. Cricket, as it happened, was just incidental to the story. Since the film tackles such weighty issues, it was important to pack them into a simple story about a group of kids going out to play with a new cricket kit. And that journey itself is filled with comic moments, challenges, confusions, and different interesting forms of narrative.

From ideation to the release of this film, please tell us about your journey?

The project came together as a result of multiple factors. But it definitely began with meeting an inspiring group of students in the Madappally government schools. The NGO named UL Foundation was working in this community and with the school children. I already had a story idea and transposed it onto this coastal village. After securing the funds through some co-producers, the next critical thing was collaborating with casting director Rajesh Madhavan. He discovered MU XI (the 11 cricket players) and the adult cast members as well. Even the senior actors in the film like Srikant Murali, Sibi Thomas were really impressed with the kids. Cut to 2022, after over 15 festival screenings and multiple awards we have a hybrid release planned. The film is going to travel to over 10 cities – where we will have a mix of a theatrical release as well as screenings in schools and screening venues.

Will this be released in other regional languages as well? Can we also expect it on
any of the OTT platforms?

We are definitely keen on doing a remake by situating the film in a different geographical space and therefore socio-cultural context. But that’s a later stage plan. The current focus is our upcoming release and of course a subsequent OTT release.

From scripting to releasing, filmmaking is an elaborate process. How do you stayorganised and prioritise tasks?

That’s a great question. But I am not sure if I have a very clear answer for this as I don’t have a method to it, except being persistent. The challenge is this is independent filmmaking – so you are constantly looking for potential collaborators, partners, funders, etc. I don’t hold back, the conviction that one is trying to create good quality work keeps me going. The belief that it must be done and the hopes and ambitions of team members engaged in the project keeps me going. The struggle is very real. In practical terms, it helps to write things down, have a team to jam ideas with, delegate as much as possible and take enough breaks. These are some ways in which I manage, I think.

You have been in the filmmaking journey for some years now. What inspired you to choose a career in filmmaking? 

I developed an interest in filmmaking after attending film appreciation/history workshops at the School of Media Studies (St. Stephen’s College). Prior to this, my first outing with films was a one-week Summer Workshop on ‘Deconstructing Cinema’ while in school. My childhood and home was generously filled with film viewing and film-based references and that has certainly contributed. In terms of role models, I am greatly inspired by the work of some Iranian directors like Abbas Kiarostami and Jaffar Panahi whose work is simple, layered and impactful. Cinema that never overtly states anything but gets you thinking about issues that are personal and social.

How did your breakthrough in the film industry happen?

I started my filmmaking career working with development organisations like Sesame Workshop India, Save the Children, HOPE Foundation and shooting various commissioned documentary films for projects funded by USAID. The films were initially made under the banner of my creative agency – Words. Rhythms. Images (WRI). The transition from documentary to fiction happened with the production and subsequent theatrical release of my debut feature film After Third Bell in 2014.

How did AIMC help you with this journey of filmmaking?

I think one of the important ways in which any education helps is to create an environment where learning can happen – ideas can flourish, be honed. My memory of AIMC was the access to people and equipment that allowed me to experiment. You have to remember that often one’s most original or even absurd experiments happen in a film school. AIMC let me do that. I used to go out with my classmates, who are friends to this day, and played around with the form. That was exciting! I know a lot of other film schools don’t do that. And you really don’t get to do that in the real world. I also distinctly remember a guest lecture by Professor Pushpesh Pant that I really enjoyed.

For those wanting to pursue a career in filmmaking, your advice?

Don’t be in a hurry to achieve milestones, because it’s a very haphazard industry. If you get too caught up trying to make it to one thing and in one way, you may lose out on other possible ways of getting there. And especially if you are an outsider, remember there’s no formula to it. Also, don’t wait for opportunities, create them in whatever little way you can, and find a set of people who are willing to stand by you and your vision. And most important of these are – be grateful to the people who help you even in the tiniest bit in your journey. Because the reality of it is that you will notice more people trying to pull you down, than pushing you up. So as you move along, you will need that tribe of enablers to grow.

Harshita is Assistant Editor at Apeejay newsroom. With experience in both the Media and Public Relations (PR) world, she has worked with Careers360, India Today and Value360 Communications. A learner by nature, she is a foodie, traveller and believes in having a healthy work-life balance.