'Scam 1992' writer Sumit Purohit talks about being selected for the BAFTA Breakthrough India initiative

The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) has made its first launch into India via the global expansion of its Breakthrough Initiative. The jury of British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) has selected talent through a cross-industry jury of leading professionals. Writer, editor Sumit Purohit known best for the critically-acclaimed web series, Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story, Bangistan and Footfairy talks about what this could mean for independent filmmakers in India.

Tell us about BAFTA Breakthrough and how it is going to help you?

BAFTA breakthrough is a year-long mentorship and career development programme supported by BAFTA. It’s a wonderful opportunity for upcoming talent in film, TV, and gaming to get guidance and mentoring. And with an organisation like BAFTA backing you, it also opens doors to take your projects global and get a chance to collaborate with talents from around the world. What I really hope from this programme is to find and develop my individual voice as a filmmaker. Until now opportunities in the commercial space for the kind of films I want to make were limited, so I had to pick up from whatever came my way. This leads to compromising on the narrative style and craft. As a result, stories that are more personal to me have been taking a backseat. I am sure mentoring through BAFTA will give me the confidence to explore these stories and help me put together some of those projects.  

You received commercial success in 2020. Does it put you under pressure to meet those expectations all the time?

Commercial success has never really excited me. There are many factors that decide how a film does at a box office, but most of these are not a true reflection of the quality or craft of filmmaking or storytelling. Even on an OTT platform, you can only get a sense of how popular a film or a series is. You never really get to know the actual number. Yes, critical acclaim and appreciation from the audience is always gratifying, especially with a show like Scam 1992, which went beyond the formulaic storytelling. It’s kind of a project that will be termed “risky” by most. It’s all credit to the producers and director Hansal Mehta that they believed in it and gave us the freedom to tell an uncompromising story. And the love it has got only proves that if you challenge the audience, they will respond. It gives you confidence to explore fresh narratives.

Is this a good time to be an independent filmmaker?

In India, we never had a rigid studio system like the one that exists in Hollywood. Throughout the history of Indian cinema, most filmmakers have put together their films independently even if the storytelling was mainstream. So, in the context of India, independent film needs to be defined by its spirit rather than how it was produced. In the 1950s-1960s, there was the Indian New Wave Cinema pioneered by filmmakers like Satyajit Ray and Ritwik Ghatak. Between 1970s to 1990s, we had a strong parallel cinema movement in Hindi as well as regional film industries. Some of these films and filmmakers are what defines Indian cinema. I am sure it was not easy to make these films. And it remains the same even today. Yes, there are more avenues, the process of filmmaking has become easier. But every time you decide to make a film, which is a little more personal, that doesn’t fall in the parameters set by mainstream narrative, you are going to face resistance. But you need to find joy in that process because to me that’s what truly makes it independent filmmaking.

Has OTT affected the filmmaking process, from a technical point of view?

Yes, with the kind of reach OTT has and with the content going global, there are certain kinds of technical benchmarks all filmmakers need to meet. So, you are constantly pushed to upgrade your filmmaking craft. Also, with so much of the content being made, we are seeing new kinds of workflows and technologies that makes the process faster and smoother. I was quite fascinated by how The Mandalorian used and incorporated gaming engine technology to create their virtual sets. And with OTT producing and collaborating globally, I realise that we can have access to the same tech here in India.

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