April 10, 2010 (Calcutta Tube): Filmmaker Maneesh Malhotra talks about his upcoming English movie ‘English Butler, Masala Chai‘ that has a star-cast by Tara Joshi, Geoffrey Hymers, Sachin Sharma, Richard Young in lead roles. The movie will be released in Toronto on April 30th. Read the exclusive interview at CalcuttaTube.
CalcuttaTube: English Butler Masala Chai is your first movie as a director. It is also the first full length feature film for actors Tara Joshi, Geoffrey Hymers. How was it working in the film?
Maneesh Malhotra: It was actually great and everyone got along extremely well with each other. Now Tara and Geoffrey have done many projects, but when we shot the film two years ago they were newcomers. For Tara Joshi, Geoffrey Hymers, and Sachin Sharma, this was the first big project. Sachin is also the the co-writer and the co-producer of English Butler Masala Chai. It was a learning experience, a bonding experience and we all felt like a new family. We spent a lot time together and got to know each other.
We shot the movie in a red camera that uses a digital technology and shoots with a digital sensor, without any films being involved in the shooting process. But at the same time it has the quality of the 35 mm film. When you shoot with a film, you have to wait a day or so till it gets processed in the lab. Only then you can see how it looks and feels. But with digital technologies you can check at the very moment the theme of the film. So, I did not have to worry about how things would look like, as I could see them instantaneously. On a low budget film like ours, it is helpful, especially when we do not always have the option to go back to locations for retakes. A lot of Hollywood films are actually going with this route.
CalcuttaTube: Tara Joshi is also a dancer. So did you exploit any of that talent in the film?
Maneesh Malhotra: Sadly no, as we did not have any dance scenes in the film. Though ‘English Butler Masala Chai’ is an Indian movie, it does not have the Bollywood aspects in the sense that it does not have any dance numbers. The movie is shot in a North American or Hollywood style.
Tara teaches dancing, as well. In my next project she may do a few dance scenes. I was talking to her about it and she is rather excited. I did not even know she was a dancer till half way through the movie.
CalcuttaTube: Is the film totally complete?
Maneesh Malhotra: The film is totally complete. I am just working on the end credits. We are going to release the film in theaters on April 30th in Toronto. We are really excited about the theatrical release as there are not many independent films see the light of day. They just get to release on DVDs or shown on the television. I also hope that we can take the film in all the cities of North America as well as in India.
CalcuttaTube: You have co-written the story of English Butler Masala Chai with Mr. Sachin Sharma. Was it difficult for you to share the story with your co-writer since a film is mainly a director’s vision?
Maneesh Malhotra: Though a film is mainly a director’s vision, I still feel that having two heads are always better than one. I was not writing something personal and hence did not mind working together at all. The story had commercial and romantic aspects and was also dealing with social issues.
The idea of the story came to Sachin bhai, who is more like my elder brother. He invited me over to India to work with the script. We further studied about how North American culture is becoming popular in India and how people react to them. We have tried to deal with those issues in the film. Writing the story together was challenging, as well as a collaborative effort, and it enhanced the story itself.
We have already started working for our next film and I hope that we keep writing together for many more years to come.
CalcuttaTube: English Butler Masala Chai is a comedy which is a very delicate thing. How did you handle it?
Maneesh Malhotra: Our main focus was to keep the movie family oriented. The story is about a father, his daughter and his future son-in-law who is a British and the father is not aware of it. The film looks deep into very intricate social cultures. There are social and cultural satires in the film and I felt that the subject would be better dealt with comedy since it would make the film more approachable and light hearted. When somebody is talking about racism in a serious tone, people may think he is portraying an opinion. But if you say the same thing in a comical approach, people would take it for the comedy that it is. The comedy part makes the film even more entertaining.
CalcuttaTube: What is the best thing that you like about the film?
Maneesh Malhotra: English Butler Masala Chai is my first film as a director and I have spent already two years working on the film. So there is nothing that I do not like about the film. When you put your heart and soul into something that is to be proud of, you basically like every aspect of it. But the thing I admired the most was that all the cast and crew were very cooperative. When you work in a small budget film, you need a lot of collaboration from your team members. Everyone put their best into this film and worked so honestly. That is what I love about this industry- people are so passionate about their works and creations which is an art on its own.
CalcuttaTube: Is there any scene in the film that you like to retake given a second chance?
Maneesh Malhotra: Definitely. When you look back at your works, you always feel there are certain things that you could have done better. The film had a small budget. Hence, we could not afford to have all the luxuries to make everything go that totally perfect. We had time constraints, as well as financial issues. We had to complete the entire shooting in 19 days. It was very difficult especially as we had to go to new locations everyday. There were times when I wished I had a few more minutes to re-shoot a scene. I think that all my actors and crew members think the same way. But the most important thing for all of us is that we have put our collaborative effort to create something that we can be really proud of.
CalcuttaTube: Where was the film shot?
Maneesh Malhotra: The film was shot in Toronto and the greater Toronto area (GTA). The whole cast and crew of the film is from Toronto and everything we shot was within 30 minutes drive from here. It a complete Toronto film in that sense, though the story itself does not always take place in Toronto. There are scenes that would look like in happening in rural India or in Oxford, UK, but all were done right here. We used a matte painting of the Oxford campus and a green screen to portray rural India and then worked on them with visual effects and post production techniques.
CalcuttaTube: You have come across so many different cultures since you grew up in Indian, Nigeria and Canada. So how does it help you as a filmmaker?
Maneesh Malhotra: Coming across different cultures has always helped me as a human being, as well as a director. I have seen many different areas of society and so many different parts of the world. India’s culture is so much different from that of Nigeria in Africa and that is again so much different from what we see here in the North America. And just being able to experience those things is a blessing on its own. It gave me an insight into different people’s lives and how they think which helped me in character creations.
I intend to travel more in the coming years. I have been to different places in Europe but I have never been to the South America or China. I would like to know about the lives of people in those parts of the world. Knowing about all the cultures and people in other countries makes a person more humble. For example, when you see the poverty in Africa, you naturally feel more humble for the amenities and comforts you are blessed with in North America. And it is true for anyone from any profession.
CalcuttaTube: Please say something about the target audience of English Butler Masala Chai.
Maneesh Malhotra:Our target audience is everybody and of all generations. The film is a very multicultural one and has characters that are Caucasian, Indian, Italian, etc.The story is a family-oriented comedy and deals with social issues in a humorous tone. The film is neither too dramatic, nor too abstract. It is rather simple and straight forward and transcends culture. So anyone who understands English would enjoy the film. It has a mass appeal.
Prejudices have existed in societies and still do. That is what we have tried to show in the film and resolve the matter bringing out a positive message. So the film can appeal to anyone from any sections of the society.
CalcuttaTube: What is the relative position of the Canadian film industry in respect to the American film industry?
Maneesh Malhotra: The American Film industry operates more in term of business and commercial aspects and is the largest film industry. The Indian film industry is also commercial and makes a lot of movies. The Canadian film industry is different in the sense that the films produced by our government are more artistic and deal with personal stories and artistic issues. And there is nothing wrong about it, too as there will always be an audience for every kind of film you make. The French Canadian films have a different kind of perspective and have a more commercial appeal. They are very popular in Europe and places that speak French.
But the English Canadian cinema has not really demonstrated a huge commercial aspect. There are very few English Canadian films that are made for the sole purpose of commerce or as a business. There are no studio systems in Canada as such. I feel studio systems encourage filmmakers to make more meaningful films. If Steven Spielberg would not have made Jaws or Jurassic Park then we would not have had opportunities to make films like Schindler’s List or Catch Me If You Can. He had made commercial cinema which brought him further scope to make films that are based on personal stories and rich in artistic values.
In Canada, filmmakers are encouraged to make films that are like Schindler’s List, The Pianist that have more artistic values. That is just a difference between the industries. Again we do not have a huge film industry here. So, we need to wear different hats when making films in Canada, since the budget is not always sufficient to hire a big crew.
CalcuttaTube: How difficult is it to make cross cultural films in Canada?
Maneesh Malhotra: It is actually not that hard to make cross cultural films in Canada as it is a very multi-cultural place. Toronto is the most multicultural city in the world, if not the most. Here you will find talented people from every origin with great multicultural backgrounds. So, making a multicultural film in Toronto is ideal and the audience is so, too. Everyone is supportive which makes it even easier to make cross cultural films in Toronto.
I think that Hollywood has also got into this trend. We see a lot of multicultural people in the TV series these days. So it no more a problem nowadays to make films that transcend cultural boundaries.
CalcuttaTube: Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
Maneesh Malhotra: I will be making films. My aim is to take on a project every year. We are also exploring the web as a medium for distributing films. In the next 10 years I would like to be in a position where I can make the kind of films I like without worrying and work with the people I want to. There are so many talented people out there that you can only feel worthy of working with once you yourself have reached the same level. There are geniuses like Robert De Niro, A R Rahman, whom I have always admired. In the upcoming years I would love to be able to work with talents whom I have idolized and looked up to in this industry.
CalcuttaTube: You have donned so many different hats in ‘English Butler Masala Chai’. Have you ever thought of acting?
Maneesh Malhotra: Oh no! I am very shy in front of the camera. I am more than happy being behind the camera. Acting is a craft on its own and it is not something that I have been trained into. However, I would like to learn the craft so that I can communicate more with my actors and they understand me better. But I still would not want to be in front of the camera. I have never been passionate about acting.
There are really very few directors who can handle both direction and acting at the same time like Clint Eastwood, Woody Allen. The reason I have donned so many different hats when making my film is that I did not have to do them simultaneously. But when you are directing and acting, you have to do them both of them at the same time. I do not think I will do that in near future.
As far as the ‘behind the scenes’ jobs are concerned, I feel I take care of them really well. They are all interrelated. A good director has to understand the aspects of editing. When writing for a film, one needs to know the aspects of film making. Only in that way one can enhance the quality of writing, editing, directing. From my next film onwards I would also like to do the cinematography and shoot the film, which I have learned from this project.
Interview by: CT Journalist Shrabanti Basu