Q’s films have revolted and intrigued the populace in a myriad of ways.
Known for his eccentric vision and filmmaking techniques, Qaushiq Mukherjee, better known as Q, states that his films often arise from a “scar”, which he intends to deal with from an artistic perspective. Q’s films such as ‘Gandu’ and ‘Tasher Desh’ have shocked Indian audiences due to their graphic content, to which Q says that he does not care for reaching out to a wider audience, or delving into mainstream advertising, as that would “fuck up” his “case”.
His latest venture, ‘Garbage’ premiered at the 68th edition of the Berlinale, on the 21st of February. When asked about the project, and his own interests in it, Q replied:
“It was something of a disease that I had to get out of my system. A couple of years ago, I wasn’t in the greatest of states; not to mention the incidents happening in my own country. It bothered me to a great extent. And the kind of violent society that we are living in right now, and consecutive deaths of two very close individuals, all of that came together in one basic idea that encapsulated what I was thinking. Everything that I had carried on in my mind and what I was going through – made their own expressions in ‘Garbage’. It was similar to how I felt when I made ‘Gandu’. It was less of a carefully thought out plan, rather than a personal throw-up.”
It was something of a disease that I had to get out of my system…Everything that I had carried on in my mind and what I was going through – made their own expressions in ‘Garbage’.
Q’s eclectic understanding of the world of cinema, coupled with his precise goal has helped him make films which would cause a disturbance in the mind of non-consumers of alternative cinema.
‘Garbage’, he believes, is the culmination of the mess that he was trying to understand and comprehend. Yet, simultaneously, Q states that it can be an organized form of self-expression.
“I think that because I was confident of the fact that it was ‘Garbage’, we found beauty in it. Considering that the movie is something that is very much a part of our nature, and lives. Goa seems very pretty but at the same time, it isn’t. There’s a lot of ‘Garbage’ in Goa – both metaphorically and literally. When we started the process of filmmaking, it was like a cathartic exercise for me because I tried to make sense of what was going on. Everything that I was going through in the last one and a half years, was brought onto the screen, and that helped me gain a sense of clarity; putting all the chaos into the film. I let the film suck the chaos out.”
Q’s filmmaking capabilities can be assessed simply by understanding the sheer amount of metaphors that he uses in his films. ‘Garbage’, he says, was a major departure from his usual repertoire due to a couple of reasons.
“One of the major things that have happened in the last three years is that I stopped making films in Calcutta and in Bengalee. That was a conscious decision and that takes out a lot of language from my raconteur. So in this, there is a straight linear narrative story; something that I have not delved into before. Until now, my work had been strictly non-linear. ’Brahman Naman’ was a movie in which the linearity of the story was cut off as well. So, these two were big departures in terms of form and language. The third important thing was the fact that I was collaborating with my partner Hina Saiyada, who was also the editor of the film. She designed the film with me and gave the film a rhythm that I wouldn’t have been able to achieve. She gave a very different spirit to the story. I think these three things were completely different and that is why ‘Garbage’ is a stand-alone film.
Considering that a majority of his films were shot in and around Calcutta, mirroring the lives of the city’s outcasts, his decision and reason to leave Kolkata was a rather controversial one. Q stated that the city’s intellectual and aesthetic scene was on the decline and that his artistic sensibilities were no longer being challenged; a sense of negativity in the air which he no longer wanted to tango with.
“There is an exceedingly large percentage of Bengalees right now, especially in Calcutta who are in that myopic zone that the entire country is going through. I was also quite fatigued by Calcutta and its noise. I worked with that noise for so long. Secondly, I did not think that I had a good enough peer group for me to remain there. It wasn’t relevant. If I remained in Calcutta my reference point would start shifting because the people I meet on a daily basis need to challenge me regularly. That’s how an artist remains relevant. People who I really liked and who inspired me were also quite fatigued by Calcutta. People like Nabarun Bhattacharya and a few other people that I admired were dying. It was in a very grey mode that I left Calcutta in. It’s only now that I feel that it was indeed the right thing to do.”
Clearly, Q has no regrets about leaving the city he called his home for quite a many years. His move to Goa, on the other hand, seems to have inspired him and challenged his artistic vision to a greater extent.
“Goa is very jolly. So far I have had a lot of clarity here. It has a combination of rural and civilized society. I’m ecstatic about my peer group here, being surrounded by people who are far more intelligent than I am. I think that half of the time, with the kind of people that I associate with in Goa or people in my vicinity, they are all doing stuff that is difficult to understand and analyse. I am quite aware of the fact that there is a lot that I need to learn. They do great work and this is what I wanted to do for a very long time. Like a festival. Berlin is the most interesting city because it has all kinds of artists. There are a lot of people who do eccentric work, so I find a similar atmosphere in Goa; there is a similar vibe.”
the compulsion to watch my films is a completely different compulsion. I’m completely okay if people walk out. Or just shut it down. I create films to trigger other emotions.”
Q’s kaleidoscopic identity has won him the attention of the audience or idea that he has targeted so far. Known to be more than just a filmmaker, his rebellious attitude towards life in general, and as a god of eccentric artistic output, it would be quite a surprise to know about his own personality.
Confronting the mundane, the touch of the ordinary, which would conflict with his alienated visage in the filmmaking industry, would place things into perspective
“I made very clear demarcations between them, by naming different aspects of my personality and by cutting them off from my personal side of things. It helps me draw a balance between how people look and how I project things to them. It gives me a completely new perspective. This perspective helps me see different sides of a personality. Filmmaking is about communication and so for me, one of my biggest responsibilities is communication. That is a very dangerous and important idea. So I am extremely conscious of it on a daily basis. The identities that we all have professionally are all conscious personalities, so it’s like dividing yourself and detaching yourself at the same time. You’re dividing yourself and are being multiple beings; at the same time, you’re being vocal about it. So I always thought of this as a core central idea and it’s something that I see collectively, in my personal day-to-day life.”
Films like ‘Gandu’ and ‘Ludo’ have been noticed by mainstream media due to their departure from the formulaic creations of Indian cinema. Q says that this is not just an expression of his visions and ideas, but also a conscious decision to stand apart from the crowd.
dark thoughts are something that has always surrounded my life from a very early age.
Q’s filmmaking and personal lives, as stated earlier, do not intertwine. This ensures that he remains secure on both levels. However, akin to every other person, Q believes that his paranoia as an artist drives him, instead of making him insecure. His films were never meant to be profit mongers.
“I am always paranoid but never insecure about what is happening to me and my immediate surroundings. That paranoia drives my life and my work. Paranoia fuels the activist nature of work, which is why I make films; not for profit. So there’s no idea of this that exists in India. I don’t think my life has meaning otherwise, and whatever meaning that I have is through the work that I do.”
This seeming lack of insecurity, coupled with a search for meaning makes Q confident about his capabilities as a content creator. He is confident to the point to which he states that he would not bother going back to the past, to change anything about his life.
“I don’t want to go back in time, ever. Moving forward is far more important. In memory, you shape your experiences because you are actually controlling your memory. You choose to remember what you do and that becomes an experience. It might’ve been a completely different experience in reality, but nobody knows reality after it’s done. So things are transient.”
Q has never limited himself when it came to his work. ‘Gandu’, ‘Tasher Desh’ and ‘Garbage’, all three quite clearly belong to different sub-genres of alternative cinema. This sort of experimentation has enabled Q to challenge himself on each of his projects, searching for meaning.
“Genre jumping is a very crucial part of the entire process of filmmaking because I was just trying to learn things at the beginning and the more forms, the better. Function, to me, was irrelevant earlier. I think I’m now getting to a point where form and function will play an equal role. But the major kick I get is from the form, which is why I keep jumping genres. This is why the next thing that I do will be completely different from what I did in the past. At the same time, I still have to keep a vibe that will flow through all the work that I do.”
The filmmaker stated earlier that the time of production of ‘Garbage’ was quite a difficult one for him, emotionally. This is when and how Q incorporates those emotions into the screen, using his aesthetic vision. Certain scars that are left behind fuel his creative senses.
“I’m not an emo kind of person. Emotional things that happen to me are very deep and dark. They are not even manifesting themselves in the first place. I can go on about my life like nothing has happened. But few things do scar you or they do leave imprints. Perhaps, just dealing with them will put you in a better chord. That is important. A certain drive from within that increases your narrative. I don’t like being angry, but dark thoughts are something that has always surrounded my life from a very early age.”
I’ve always said I like pornography, so I’m flattered. What I want to say is, most of the brilliant works that I admire have been taken from porn. I am not making films to please people.
The director leaves it up to time in order to find out whether such emotions could hamper his work.
A director’s main job is to ensure that the actors working with them have understood the roles that they are portraying, the characters to be played. Q, so far, has had little to no difficulty in finding actors who perform their tasks brilliantly, finding the perfect balance between talent as an actor, and the relationship with the directors. In fact, some of his co-workers have been his lovers, as Q so nonchalantly points out.
“There are very few actors who want to work with me. So, I work with the people who want to work with me. It’s very simple. People don’t want to work with me, and neither do I want to work with them. So then they’re limited in number and I have a narrow range to choose from. We have limited money, limited resources, and we shoot on very small cameras and keep a low profile. I like that. I like that limited approach. It makes my work honest. Most of the people are my friends. They’ve been my lovers, they’ve been very close associates over time. I have very few actors who come and go out of a project. If we like each other, we tend to keep holding on because directors and actors need to support each other. I probably have not been able to log in to the whole system of “acting” that exists in the country. So it keeps my task maintained. We’ve also been functioning as a theatre unit for a very long time. So I keep repeating people who make us into a team. I’ve worked with a team that I’ve collaborated with for over seven years in Calcutta. Like a theatre group, fully functional. Now in Goa, there’s another team. I’d work to do few more projects with them.”
The true value of a film can never be analysed just by discussing the aesthetics of the film. It must be able to subvert the predominating notions of society, in order to showcase different perspectives. On this, Q replied:
“Telling a compelling story is a commercial endeavour, which is mainly aimed at getting as many people relate to the story as possible. That’s the exercise. I fundamentally disagree with this. I am of the opinion that a film is a medium that can be used for various purposes. To narrate a gripping story is just one of the components. The fact whether I want the audiences to agree with me or not, well, different directors use different filmmaking techniques and manipulate people to agree with their individual point of view. Like, when you feel for a character of most films, I find it a little manipulating for the audiences to spend money. If I cut out those factors, my films don’t sell in India. I don’t get money from here. So the compulsion to watch my films is a completely different compulsion. I don’t want them to agree with me either. So I’m completely okay if people walk out. Or just shut it down. I create films to trigger other emotions.”
Marketing strategies rob the essence of filmmaking. Films should only say what they want to say… know I am a niche filmmaker, and I want to be that niche filmmaker. I don’t want to reach a larger audience because that will fuck up my case. I will get head fucked, everyone else will get head fucked and it’ll be a complete disaster. That’s not why I want to make films.
Bearing in mind the fact that Q does not believe his films to conform to an Indian taste and sensibility, it could be possible that his films belong more to the international scene.
“There is no other kind of cinema for the Indian audience, as a reference point. I never liked films before the progressive digital movement happened. It was at that point that I got interested in films because of the kind of films that were being made. We never really got to create that sort of revolution, and things related to it, like the musical revolution. We know very little about progressive music. Progressive music is followed by a very elite small bunch of people. I fancy that small-street egalitarian form of art that is being enjoyed by a privileged bunch. It is indeed true that I make films for an international audience but at the same time, I don’t believe that art is governed by a geographical form. I want people who like such films to watch my films. If you’re not into it, you’re not into it.”
Q’s views on the idea of a censor board could certainly stir the waters.
Even a separate censor board for progressive cinema would be unsatisfactory for him, as it could potentially destroy the meaning that he wanted to create.
“There shouldn’t be a censor board in the first place. It’s a democracy; to each his own.”
He does not care much for marketing either, as seen clearly:
“Marketing strategies rob the essence of filmmaking. Films should only say what they want to say. I’m not here to sell my films. As for how wide is my reach? I know I am a niche filmmaker, and I want to be that niche filmmaker. I don’t want to reach a larger audience because that will fuck up my case. I will get head fucked, everyone else will get head fucked and it’ll be a complete disaster. That’s not why I want to make films. I want to be the opposition. I do not want to run the government.”
The graphic sex scenes in ‘Gandu’ definitely riled up quite a large part of the audience; labelling the film, and Q’s subsequent films, as pornography. However, Q does not seem to care.
“I’ve always said I like pornography, so I’m flattered. What I want to say is, most of the brilliant works that I admire have been taken from porn. I am not making films to please people.”
MY upcoming action series is called ‘Zero Kilometres’ that has mixed martial art action. It has Naseeruddin Shah, Tanmay Dhanania and Tara D’souza. We had lots of fun doing this after ‘Garbage’. It’s something funny and exciting.”
Since his controversial take on Indian cinema, it was imperative that Q succeeded in collaborating with an international distributor for his films.
“I have developed an international network over the years. They are interested in our kind of films. So there is a whole world out there that functions in a very different manner from the Indian system. So they chose to take and showcase my film.”
As a director who constantly keeps challenging himself, there’s no doubt that he could venture out into something new. When asked about his upcoming series on Zee 5, Q had this to say:
“It’s an action series called ‘Zero Kilometres’ that has mixed martial art action. It has Naseeruddin Shah, Tanmay Dhanania and Tara D’souza. We had lots of fun doing this after ‘Garbage’. It’s something funny and exciting.”
For the alternative cinema lovers in India, there might still be hope for a commercial release of his films, sarcastically, of course:
Perhaps, if the government foes through a transformation. If there’s a fantastic revolution sort of thing, and everybody’s free.
You can watch the trailer here (NSFW)