In 1991, our then finance minister Dr Manmohan Singh presented the LPG model (Liberalisation, Privatisation and Globalisation) to encourage free trade. The model paved the way for foreign trade, and a decade later, the country was swept over by the India Shining campaign. First-time director Nicholas Kharkongor (42) sets his film, Mantra, around the same that time, when indigenous companies were being shut down, and mergers with foreign investors were common.
The film will see the light of day this month after a successful two-month crowd-funding campaign. The makers have raised over Rs 20 lakh on Wishberry, and Kharkongor tells us that more than half of the collection has come from the NRI population. “Counts as foreign trade, I suppose,” he says, adding, “People who live outside the country are more interested in what’s happening in India than the ones living here.”
The family drama, starring Rajat Kapoor and Kalki Koechlin, was written in the late 2000s, when Kharkongor was active in the Delhi theatre circuit. He completed the first draft of the story in 2007. But it took 10 years for the film to release. Kharkongor is glad it took its time to develop, though. He remembers being disappointed when he approached multiple producers in 2014, only to be let down each time.
“No response was a common reaction. Eventually, I figured out the kind of film I wanted to wasn’t formulaic cinema. I gave up chasing big producers,” says Kharkongor.
By the end of the year, he had found crowd-funding. Further, Onir’s National Award-winning film, I Am (which raised Rs 1 crore online) and Kannada film-maker Pawan Kumar’s Lucia (raised Rs 50 lakh in 27 days), convinced him about the model.
It helped that Kharkongor had one crucial area already covered: a solid cast. He had assisted director-actor Kapoor on the latter’s movie, Fatso (2012), and had established a friendship with the actor. Kapoor, in turn, helped rope in Koechlin.
The film studies the effects of the changing economic policies of the ’90s, through a dysfunctional family dealing with the bankruptcy of their business. “It was an international event. We were all affected to some extent. I studied business for a while at IIM, Calcutta. Though I dropped out, I had a keen interest in studying the consequences of the reforms. This was just my form of expression,” says Kharkongor.
Nicholas Kharkongor’s debut film, Mantra, releases on March 17