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The last five years have not been easy: Neeraj Ghaywan

For Neeraj Ghaywan, Masaan’s success is as much a triumph for Indian storytelling as his own cinema dreams.

brunch Updated: Feb 06, 2016 19:15 IST
Udita Jhunjhunwala

The story of director Neeraj Ghaywan’s transition to cinema is no longer unique in the Hindi film industry: An engineer with an MBA who gave up his lucrative job to pursue an inherent creative passion.



Except in Ghaywan’s case, the struggle was short, as Anurag Kashyap guided him to the precipice when he took the leap of faith, quit movie marketing and joined Kashyap as an assistant on

Gangs of Wasseypur

(2012).



Five years later, Ghaywan, 35, has returned from France with two wins at the Cannes Film Festival and is warming up for the India release of his debut film,

Masaan

. Born and brought up in Hyderabad to Maharashtrian parents, Ghaywan took a pay cut of more than 80% when he ditched the corporate rat race to assist Kashyap. My parents were so upset they didn’t speak to me for seven months,” he says.



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(Photo: Vidya Subramanian)



Making a switch

Untrained in filmmaking, Ghaywan’s limited exposure to cinema included writing a column for the now-defunct blog

passionforcinema.com

and attending a course on film conducted by a Films and Television Institue of India lecturer as part of his MBA training.



“That [course] provided a foundation for a more analytical and critical way of looking at cinema.

Passionforcinema

kept the passion alive. For six years I read, commented and blogged about world cinema. There was no need to question life,” he says.



Until Kashyap called four

passionforcinema.com

writers home for a discussion. That trip from Delhi to Mumbai was the catalyst for change and disruption.



“When I went back to [Delhi], I realised I should pursue my passion so I moved to Mumbai to work in film marketing but I was miserable. From being a star performer I found myself struggling to achieve targets. During bad times I would go out of the office, cry, smoke a cigarette in the rain, listen to songs from

Udaan

(2010) and feel there was hope.”



It was during this phase that Kashyap suggested Ghaywan assist him on

Gangs of Wasseypur

. “I finished that call, walked back to my office and typed my resignation. That same day my parents had set up a marriage alliance meeting for me which I didn’t go to. I told them I wasn’t getting married, I had quit and I was joining films.”



The transition was relatively smooth. Sure, Ghaywan had moments of doubt, but he says he did not feel the financial pinch. Ghaywan counts Kashyap and Vikramaditya Motwane, who have also co-produced

Masaan

, among his mentors.



Masaan

, a colloquial word in Banaras for a cremation ground, follows four characters whose lives are connected by the Ganga. Vicky Kaushal, Richa Chadda, Shweta Tripathi, Sanjay Mishra and Pankaj Tripathi lead the cast.



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On holy ground: Ghaywan shot on location in Banaras and stayed away from mandirs, sadhus and maha aartis.



Going global

Ghaywan says

Masaan

appealed to the Cannes audience because it was “honest to the characters and true to the world we were writing about. Of course we needed film festival buzz because this is not a commercial film – but we figured we would work hard and leave everything else to the universe”.



One film old, Ghaywan admits that he is no expert of what connects globally and whether there is a formula for international success. But he does have a few theories.



“To cater to a Western or festival audience, people try to make films that are realistic [untrained actors, actual locations] but bring in a non-Indian, unrealistic grammar. If you show someone mourning a death, they won’t be staring into dead air. That is where you disconnect from the audience. Europeans are known to hide their emotions but we Indians wear our emotions on our sleeves.”



He also believes that a film needn’t always push a socio-political context. “When shooting in Banaras, you expect exotica. So we stayed away from mandirs, aartis, and ganja-smoking sadhus and focussed on the human story.”



When he returned to Hyderabad after Cannes, Ghaywan’s father hosted a party. “They realised I have talent and am not wasting my time. When I quit my job, all my relatives resented it. Now they have really come around and are happy.”



As for Ghaywan, he’s looking forward to his first vacation in five years after

Masaan

releases on July 24. “The last five years have not been easy. I have not stopped for a minute nor taken a day off. I am looking forward to disappearing for a while.”



From HT Brunch, July 5
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