Tales of tinseltown

Anjali Jhangiani
Friday, 26 April 2019

Winner of the HOOQ Filmmakers Guild program, Bhak follows the adventures of two struggling filmmakers in Bollywood. We speak to the creators — Arjun Chatterjee and Shreyom Ghosh — to find out more about the webseries

Every year, thousands of ‘strugglers’ land up in Mumbai to take a chance at their dreams. Bhak takes you on a journey through passion, frustration, betrayal and the love for cinema, as two such struggling filmmakers take matters into their own hands after being pushed around by Bollywood. The show is created by independent filmmakers Arjun Chatterjee and Shreyom Ghosh, who were roommates in an engineering college and attended  New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, Asia together. 

What's the story behind the title Bhak?
ARJUN: Bhak is a colloquialism often used across the country to express displeasure, disbelief, or irritation about anything at all. From being stuck in traffic on a hot day to having a producer tell you to add an item number in your emotional film about a mother and her child. 
SHREYOM: We kept saying Bhak to each other while we were brainstorming about what the title of the show should be. The title was born out of our own frustration of not agreeing on a title, and disbelief that Bhak could be a really good title in itself.

Tell us about your personal struggle in Bollywood — what was the most disillusioning experience you had about how the film industry works?
ARJUN: It’s hard to break into this industry. Most people start out as assistant directors and work their way up the ladder over several years. Many don’t even manage. Many agencies like to work with a particular director or production house, making it hard for you to get work at all. It’s a catch-22 situation where you have to show amazing work to get amazing jobs and vice versa. And that’s just for commercials. Films and original content is even harder to break into because it’s incredibly difficult to find someone who would put their faith and money in young, unknown talent. 
SHREYOM: The only way you can survive in this brutal industry is if you are truly passionate about what you do and wait for the right time to break the Catch 22 situation. A well-known producer once told me that Bollywood doesn’t need any unique stories, it needs something that works — a story about a boy falling for a girl, a few songs and some good locations — a recipe that never fails. I remember questioning myself that night. The only thing I wanted to do was to keep trying.

According to you, what makes your story good material for a web series?
ARJUN: Bollywood is an enigma. Many people, both in India and abroad, are madly in love with the industry and curious about what it takes to make it in this big bad world. The fact that Bhak attempts to narrate some of these behind-the-scenes stories will make it an interesting watch. We have also tried to keep the show in a gritty and bold space, not shying away from the dirtiness that lies under the glitz and glam of the industry, tackling several issues including the recent #MeToo movement. 
SHREYOM: A producer who took my film school reel and used it as his own, big agency creatives asking for bribe in exchange for giving a project, big directors and producers trying to steal unknown writer’s screenplays — these are just a few glimpses into what I have seen and encountered since I moved back to Mumbai in 2014. A lot of the industry specific story-lines of Bhak are based on personal stories and grounded in reality. 

Tell us about some of the main characters in Bhak. 
ARJUN: The story revolves primarily around our three protagonists. Rahul is a struggling director, and Faizal, a struggling young cinematographer, both fast friends and recently returned from a film school in New York with a feature film script in their pockets. Their friend Shalini is an ambitious and intelligent young producer who will stop at nothing to achieve her goals. The show is full of vibrant and colourful characters such as Ramakant, a washed-up director of old who struggles to win back his fame, Ramesh, the crafty and perverse studio head, Kamini, the unassuming looking housewife who is actually a powerful gangster, Shah, the exuberant and overenthusiastic porn director, Manoj, the strange and aggressive new age director whose dearest ambition is to win an Oscar, and many more. 

What is the most exhausting and most thrilling part of being an independent filmmaker in the time of internet and social media?
ARJUN: In the age of social media, getting the word out about your film or series is much easier. It’s a filmmaker’s choice whether s/he wants to release their film online or wait to be picked up by a brand. It’s thrilling to possibly have hundreds of people from around the world watch it or at least get a glimpse of your work the night after you release it. It’s also easier to get your name out and reach out to the people you want to be associated with your film or show. Whether it be a famous actor or a school boy with a unique voice who you found on YouTube. In Bhak for example, we wanted our music to be gritty and earthy while remaining in a modern space and we wanted it to be in multiple languages from across India. We reached out on social media and found fantastic musicians and performers across the country who were willing to collaborate with us. Many of our actors, including our protagonists, were also sourced online after an intensive casting process. 
SHREYOM: We can be more experimental and more adventurous with what we write, shoot and direct. One of the best parts is working with younger, raw talent without being limited to the known faces.

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