Nagesh Kukunoor: The Indie Voice

Nagesh Kukunoor celebrates his 52nd birthday today. His latest film Dhanak (Rainbow) is a touching and fable set in Rajasthan which traces the epic and magical journey of a young blind boy and his older sister. It won the Grand Prix for Best Feature Film by the Generation Kplus International Jury at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2015.

Nagesh Kukunoor: The Indie Voice Nagesh Kukunoor: The Indie Voice Source : Drishyam Films


Nagesh Kukunoor latest film Dhanak is a delightful and hopeful film, a slice-of-life drama very much like Majid Majidi's Children of Heaven. "I wanted to convince myself more than anyone else that the world is actually not such a bad place. I also wanted to go back to the India in my head where people trusted each other," said Kukunoor. "If it was 15 years back, I may have never made Dhanak with kids. I swore not to work with children after Rockford. It's just a very different set of challenges that come with them. But the story of Dhanak couldn't be told any other way. Our daily lives here in India are built on huge amounts of mistrust, as opposed to many other countries that I have visited and lived in. We don't realise it because we have become so used to living in doubt. Children though are the only ones who trust easily. The travesty is that in most Indian cinema and television dramas, children don't act like children. They are given big lines to mouth and say things they normally wouldn't in real life," Nagesh spoke about his film.


Nagesh Kukunoor began his career with the rebellious and unique (especially during the 90s, a period where mainstream cinema was at its lowest ebb) 1998 English-Telugu film Hyderabad Blues which he wrote, produced, directed and acted in. "It is almost like how they talk about why Aradhana (1969) and subsequently Kishore Kumar set Indian cinema on fire. People realised that there was a whole generation that they weren't talking to and movies are a great way for that generation to emerge." he adds. Nagesh admits that the direction in Hyderabad Blues was far from perfect. But the film which follows an NRI boy lost in his motherland, was the ideal middle-class dream told from the perspective of the youth who were the future of that middle-class. It became the most popular indie and offbeat film of its time. Varun Naidu of Nagesh Kukunoor resonated with the non-conforming youth that questioned the unfounded culture and traditions of their society that curbed their freedom.


Nagesh credits watching Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) when he was 15-years-old as the defining influence on him as a filmmaker. He recalls the moment of epiphany: "It was the first time I consciously said, ‘I want to make films.' It crossed my mind that I could do this for a living. Not knowing if I had a filmmaker in me was far scarier than actually making a film and failing. I came to India with a little money and one simple idea, and that's all it took."


His films ever since have had a language of their own. Rockford (1999) is about teenage angst, 3 Deewarein (2003) is about the psychology of three criminals, Iqbal (2005) is an inspirational sports drama, Dor (2006) is about friendship and faith and Lakshmi (2014) is about human trafficking. Films like Aashayein (2010, Bombay to Bangkok (2008) and Mod (2011) were a disappointment from a director of his calibre. "Mostly I have made films exactly the way I intended to make them. It does take a long time to forget your mistakes. It's a slippery slope. Your sensibilities change all the time, when the core remains the same. I don't waste my time thinking if this is correct or not, because no one really knows why a film works." he adds.


About him being stereotyped as a certain type of director after the success of films like Iqbal and Dor, Kukunoor has said: They are just two in the journey of films I have made and if you look at my filmography it has been a continuous attempt to reinvent myself. Do something that I haven't done before. I have somehow taken on the champion of social causes, some beacon of meaningful cinema and repeatedly I have said that my movies are fictional. Depending on the topic I choose, depending on the genre I choose, I may insert it with a little bit of my sensibility, but the story has to appeal to me. So I view myself as a fictional film maker with a lot of different sensibilities. Hollywood is littered with examples of filmmakers who make films in all genres. Steven Soderbergh will make "Traffic", and then he will make "Oceans 11", 12 and 13 and turn around and make a two-part film on Che Guevara. No one is reviewing Che saying the degree of pizzazz that was there in "Oceans 12" is missing. I am driven by the same degree of enthusiasm that I don't want to be in pigeon holes. I want to handle this big action flick and I want to handle the small family drama."


Nagesh Kukunoor has been a prolific director, but he knows that so far the output has been mixed. He says: "I have never wanted to be a big fish in a small pond; I've always immensely enjoyed the rivers." Mayanagari- #City of Dreams is a web-series starring Atul Kulkarni and Priya Bapat which is his latest directorial announcement.


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