I know the box office outcome of Chaurahen won’t be great at all: Rajshree Ojha

Rubina A Khan

Feb,29 2012 16:30:49 IST

In an age where numbers determine the success of a Bollywood film, independent filmmakers can only be described as brave, filming stories on budgets that otherwise constitute costume allowances in big, Bollywood films for stars like Katrina Kaif and Kareena Kapoor. Filmmaker Rajshree Ojha relies on an able cast, a good script and some very generous creative help from Gulzar and Resul Pookutty in her next outing, Chaurahen, made in a paltry 1 crore, 80 lakh budget. The film hits theatres on 16 March.

Chaurahen also marks the Bollywood debut of Pirelli calendar model and actress Kiera Chaplin, the legendary Charlie Chaplin's granddaughter. Harsh reality of filmmaking aside, she dreams of winning an Oscar for India someday soon.

In an interview with Firstpost, Ojha talks of her upcoming venture:

Raju Shelar/Firstpost

Chaurahen is your first film, even though your first release was Aisha. How did that happen?
I studied film at NYU (New York) and at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles, after which I came back to India, brimming with ideas to make films about us Indians. Indian films seemed to be changing and I came with a film in hand — Chaurahen. I wanted to do the film and go back to the United States to join my friends who make films there. But Chaurahen faced a lot of problems as far as funding went. No one was buying into the idea, so I stayed back in Mumbai and it took me three years to finish the film. I completed the film in 2007 and had started pitching myself to get a foot in the door, so to speak, in the film business. So I conceptualised Aisha, a romantic comedy based on the book, Emma, by Jane Austen, my favourite character being Emma.

Having my work speak and no contacts took me another few years to get Aisha started. Chaurahen was doing the festival rounds and I started pitching Aisha. In 2009, I met Sonam Kapoor to cast her in the film and then, her father Anil Kapoor and sister Rhea came on board and decided to produce the film. It took a year to get the film started and that’s how Aisha came about! Aisha being a commercial film was a sure-shot release compared to my small independent English language film, Chaurahen, made with family money and a whole lot of goodwill. Chaurahen has no huge film star in it, so it was always going to be a difficult release. But now, it is ready, and I just hope it works.

What is the story of Chaurahen and what do you expect from the film?
The story of Chaurahen is about love and how we have to forgive and move on. To let go is one of the most difficult things for human beings and my film talks about letting go, forgiving and moving forward. Chaurahen consists four separate stories set in three different cities in contemporary India. The vignettes present snippets of everyday life — a troubled, adulterous affair in Kolkata; a family dealing with the loss of a son in Kochi and a young man in Mumbai dealing with memories of his ancestral home. I expect people to see me in a different light. I hate the perception that once a director has made a certain genre of cinema, then he or she is only good at that. I just want people to see my work in its entirety and not judge me only on the basis of Aisha. It has a very interesting ensemble cast: Soha Ali Khan, Ankur Khanna, Victor Banerjee, Roopa Ganguly, Zeenat Aman, Shayan Munshi, Karthik Kumar, Suchitra Pillai, Arundathi Nag, Nedumudi Venu and Siddharth Makkad. It also marks the Bollywood debut of the legendary Charlie Chaplin’s granddaughter, Keira Chaplin in the film.

How did you cast Keira Chaplin?
I sent across the script to Kiera and met her subsequently in Los Angeles to cast her as Lea in my film. Kiera had seen my short film, Badger (2002), which had won me the American Film Institute’s Spirit of Excellence Award for Outstanding Direction. The Directors Guild of America had also honoured me as a new Asian Voice soon after. Kiera came on board because she liked the script of Chaurahen and the fact that we were shooting in India. She plays Lea, a young girl who comes to Kolkata to find herself. Having seen my earlier work, she had great confidence in me. She did not charge me any fees to work in the film and shot without having a trailer too. Chaurahen is her first film in Bollywood.

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Chaurahen is a Rs 1 crore, 80 lakh film, a truly independent film. How did you source the funds with no support from the Bollywood funding machinery?
From family and friends… I begged and borrowed! Chaurahen is truly an independent film, no backing from any production house whatsoever, made in a very small budget with a lot of goodwill and support from actors who believed in the script. Oscar-winning lyricist Gulzar lent his poem for a song and Oscar-winning sound engineer Resul Pookutty has composed the background score of Chaurahen, without charging a fee. The constant excitement on set was that we had no money, no fancy food to eat, no trailers for most of the cast…most of the actors worked without charging their fees.

Chaurahen poster.

How did PVR step in?
A friend of mine mentioned PVR Director’s Rare and told me to get in touch with them and I did, and the next thing I know… we were on and releasing the film! It’s been a dream come true. Really! PVR starting this distribution network is like a boon to Inde filmmakers who have a voice and have something new to tell. The audience will get to see films that a few suits rejected because they thought it was not box office viable. So kudos to PVR and Directors Rare for giving a chance to filmmakers to showcase their films and caring damn about the suits! Let the audience decide!

Is your next film dependent on the outcome of Chaurahen at the box office?
Now that's a question only a producer can answer! I know the box office outcome of Chaurahen won't be great at all! Come on! It's an English language film dealing with relationships with no song and dance routines…but I am hoping people like it and see me more than just a chick-flick director!

But if you already know Chaurahen will meet a dismal fate, why make it?
I made Chaurahen because I wanted to make a good film and make money, too; that's why I kept the expenses to a bare minimum, but only now do I realise that only stars sell in India, not good films.

So does the casting couch work for female directors like you?
I wish the casting couch worked for women directors! I wouldn't be single then! Just kidding! I don't get the casting couch as a phenomenon in this business because no one holds a gun to anyone’s head to do what they do and it exists everywhere. It's choices people make, so live with it and move on and rock the world!

What is your dream?
To win a Palme d’Or and an Oscar from India without lobbying!

Updated Date: Feb 29, 2012 17:07 PM