With his debut film, Shuttlecock Boys, Hemant Gaba has portrayed the ambitions of four young men looking to live their dream – a theme that resonates with most Indians. Through his realistic treatment, the director has shown that you don’t need a big budget to make a mark, all you need is a big connect
DIVYA M. CHANDRAMOULI
“If I had worked at a startup, things might have been different,” says Hemant Gaba, debutant film director who worked in the software industry for seven years before switching to pursue his passion – films. Indeed, if Gaba had worked at a startup, he might have never taken the direction that led to the creation of his Hindi debut film, Shuttlecock Boys. The film’s premise is that of four young friends (Gaurav, Manav, Pankaj and Loveleen) who come together to make something of their lives on their own terms. They endure several hardships while pursuing their dream (founding and running a catering company) but what triumphs is their spirit. By his own admission, Gaba’s own life has been a reference point for several elements in the film, including screen names, situations and the use of badminton as a bonding factor. “Those who hail from a middle class background don’t aspire to be millionaires, their definition of happiness is to own a car or a house,” he shares. So, what led to the transformation of Hemant Gaba, who left behind a middle class life to experiment with something as adventurous as films? A self-help book. At first, he laughs at his own reply but explains further with seriousness, “When I was 21, I read Dr. Wayne W. Dyer’s Your Erroneous Zones and there was this one line that spoke to me – ‘How long am I going to be dead?’ And years later, this line proved to be a major catalyst for the move I made.”
We were unhappy with the existing labels and the revenue sharing deal they were offering us so we decided to create our own label to release a DVD. This way, we are also open to helping out other independent filmmakers.
Sets vs startup
As the conversation progresses, Gaba draws a parallel between starting a business and making a movie. “If it’s a product-based business, there is always the option of improving the product based on testing and feedback but in our case, every day of shooting meant money and reshooting wasn’t an option as it pushed up costs by nearly 40 per cent,” he says. As for commercial success, Gaba says that a startup business is likely to breakeven in the first few years but one’s first film is highly unlikely to rake in profits. “This just means that we filmmakers have to persist harder and longer,” he adds. The most significant difference is the power and place of networking in the film fraternity. “In the startup world, talent has a big role to play but in the film world, networking counts for a lot. Even those filmmakers with deep pockets know the importance of lobbying,” states Gaba. In the case of Shuttlecock Boys, it took Gaba and co-producer, Pankaj Johar, over a year and a half to convince PVR Cinemas for the film’s theatrical release. “And I think we are amongst the lucky ones, there are several others whose films have been lying in wait for a long time,” adds Gaba.
In the making
Shuttcock Boys’ most attractive feature is perhaps the fact that the film is rooted in reality. “The first thing we were sure of was to keep things real,” says Gaba. The film took over two years to conceptualise and complete and was produced by Penny Wise Films (Gaba and Johar established the production house in 2008) on a shoe-string budget of Rs. 35 lakh. Clearly, a small budget production also meant that there would be no trappings that are typical of films that get made under big banners. Be it actors or technicians, the production house could only afford to hire first timers. After nearly 200 auditions, the production house found its four lead actors. For locations, the makers used the homes of family and friends. Also, unlike most other film sets, Gaba ensured that they dispensed with hierarchy. “We wanted to respect every person who was involved in this project,” he adds. He also reveals that the evening before shooting for the film commenced, he personally invited his crew home to dinner and forged a personal bond to bridge the ‘economic’ gap. “It’s these small things that made a big difference. We didn’t have money to fly in our actors or technicians, but the personal relationships we created while making the film made up for everything that our budget couldn’t provide,” says Gaba.
However, despite the challenges they faced, the makers of the film planned ahead to avoid chaos and confusion on the sets. “As we were working with several first timers, we held rehearsals for a whole month and took feedback from our artists and technicians, which we incorporated during the shoot,” says Gaba, while adding that he didn’t encourage too much improvisation during the shoot as that would lead to delays. While this process led to the actors delivering notable onscreen performances, the technical quality of the film left some room for improvement. “I know that our film doesn’t look awesome,” says Gaba, rather candidly. Yet, he believes that even some of technical calls such as the use of a handheld camera were true to the film’s feel.
Gaba isn’t the sort to rest on what has been achieved. While his film saw a theatrical release on Friendship Day (August 3rd) this year, he’s already thinking in terms of home video distribution. “We were unhappy with the existing labels and the revenue sharing deal they were offering us so we decided to create our own label to release a DVD. This way, we are also open to helping out other independent filmmakers,” shares Gaba, adding that Penny Wise Films has already signed up with Flipkart to sell DVDs online. In the near future, the production house has plans to create a VOD (video on demand) platform for independent films. And speaking of the future, Gaba mentions that there are four scripts (three fiction and one documentary) in the pipeline. “We are also dabbling with corporate films,” he says.
As the Indian cinema goer becomes more accepting of independent films as a genre, there is great potential for the likes of Gaba to realise. As he says, it’s just a question of how long they’re willing to play the game to score a win.
SNIPPETS FROM SHUTTLECOCK BOYS
Hemant Gaba, producer and director, Shuttlecock Boys shares some of his favourites:
Favourite onscreen moment: All the actors mimicked the technicians and created a video of it that was quite memorable.
Favourite off-screen moment: One of the characters (Gaurav) faces an emotional battle as he struggles to keep his promise to buy his niece a laptop toy as it is based on the hopes he has pinned on a contract coming through.
Favourite critic’s response: When a journalist from The Tribune shared with me that his wife thought our film was better than any of SRK’s (Shah Rukh Khan) films!