[This article is a part of our series Off the desk, where we feature unconventional jobs that go beyond the corporate]
Abhaya Simha is one of Kannada cinema’s brightest young stars. He burst into the the limelight in 2008, when his debut movie, the critically acclaimed Gubbachchigalu, won the National Award for the best children’s film. Since then he has directed Shikari (2012) and Sakkare (2013), which starred Kannada superstar Ganesh. The 33 year old talked exclusively to OfficeChai about his life as a film director.
1. Why did you get into filmmaking? How did all of this start?
I was quite a late entrant into movies. I hail from Mangalore, a coastal city in Karnataka. It’s a small place – there wasn’t too much exposure to filmmaking growing up. Things have changed since then, though. (laughs) I went on to study Journalism and Literature at St. Aloysius College. In college, I happened to help a friend of mine to make a documentary. That was my initiation into this medium. I was instantly hooked. By the second year of college, I was almost sure that this was what I wanted to do with my life.
2. How did you go about this? Was your family supportive of your career choice?
I had no godfather in the industry. I had no clue where to begin. But fortunately, my family was okay with my decision. My grandfather is a writer and my father is a bookseller. My family is no stranger to unconventional career choices and I never had to convince them. I told them that I wanted to become a filmmaker and they were very supportive. But they didn’t know anyone who worked in this field. They did support me financially, but back then we had no idea where this was going.
3. You later went on to Film and Television Institute of India(FTII), Pune to study direction. What was that experience like?
FTII was amazing. I’d entered with an idea of wanting to make movies, but I had no idea what it actually takes. At FTII I realized how vast the field was. I had an opportunity to meet the best brains in the industry and get to learn from them. Those 3 years were a real eye opener. They strengthened my conviction to become a filmmaker.
4. What was the film industry really like? Was it hard to find a producer for your first movie?
After graduating, I moved to Bangalore to assist a friend who was working on his first feature film. But six months down the line, we realized that that movie wasn’t happening. So I was jobless. During that period, I started writing my script. I finished the script and soon a producer was ready. It was pretty straightforward. We went into production straightaway. I’d graduated in 2007, and by January 2008 we had begun shooting.
5. That movie was Gubbachchigalu, which went on to receive the National Award. What was it like to be so successful with your first movie? How did it impact your career?
Oh it helped a lot. While we were shooting the movie we had no idea it would reach such heights. We were passionate about making that movie and just did the best job we could. When we saw the end credits roll and saw our names there, the realization that we had indeed created a film dawned upon us. The memories of film school and all those who helped us reach that stage came flooding in. Our eyes welled up and we were numb.
The National Award changes things. You get to meet a lot of people now, and they listen to you a lot more seriously since you’re a National Award winner. These things really helped with my career.
6. What’s your typical day at work like?
When I got into filmmaking I thought it was like a freelancing job, and I could take leaves whenever I wanted. But that never really happens. You’re either working or you’re looking for a job. Filmmaking is almost like a startup, you do PR, you try to find new work – there are many hats to wear.
There’s no typical day at work. When I’m writing a script, I don’t leave my house for weeks. When we’re casting or doing a location recce we have to remain outdoors for long periods. We have no fixed office. With each new location and each new movie you have a new office and new people. Every year or so you need to start all over. That is quite challenging. You need to have a strong core team or it would come apart.
7. What are the challenges that a new filmmaker in India today? Do you think it’s a field that young people should enter?
I don’t know if it’s a good field to enter. But it’s a field that they should enter, because it’s ultimately they who will be watching movies. And if young people don’t start making films, we’ll remain stuck in the old school ideas of filmmaking. And now thanks to the changes in technology, everyone can become a filmmaker. It’s become very accessible. Our requirements and viewing habits changing. Technology also changing the visual grammar very rapidly. It’s an exciting time to be making movies.