The Real Indie Indian Cinema
“M Cream” - a coming of age film about a motley crew of Delhi University students who journey to the high Himalayas in search of a mythical form of Hashish, only to confront unexpected challenges along the way, was selected as the official closing film at the Rhode Island International Film Festival, where it won an award in the “Best Feature Film” category.
The film is the debut feature of writer-director Agneya Singh, a graduate of Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. Agneya recently recently spoke about his experience with The Citizen. Excerpts from the interview:
M CREAM is your first feature film. Could you give us a brief overview of the story?
The film follows the exploits of a band of university students who set out on a road adventure in search of a mythical, magical form of hash. Through this journey, the film explores the myriad realities of rebellion indicative of the contemporary Indian context. The story serves to portray a new generation in this country and chronicles the frustration, anger, disillusionment and confusion that affect us all. It seems we all can agree that things are not the way they are meant to be. The question is; what are we going to do about it?
Could you elaborate on some of the themes that are touched upon in this context?
What really stands out to me, what we’ve endeavored to explore in the film, is the interplay between apathy and activism. Let’s face it; we live in a system that encourages us to be passive. We are rewarded for looking the other way, for minding our own business and for doing just as we are told. That being said, it is undeniable that there is a resurgent form of radicalization particularly where young people are concerned. This isn’t unique to India; we’ve seen it in the Arab spring and during the Occupy movement in the west. Perhaps it’s a backlash against the cult of passivity that reigned supreme in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Or maybe there is a cyclic precedent when it comes to burgeoning protest movements. It does seem to me that we haven’t experienced this level of public dissent since the anarchic sixties. Whatever the reason may be, it’s encouraging all the same. India is a complicated country. Therefore it comes as no surprise that there are a host of socio-political questions that need answering. In M CREAM, we have contemplated on a number of these themes such as; the nexus between politics and religion, land acquisition, the current debate on corruption, environmental destruction, the urban-rural divide, and most importantly, the possibility of revolution, bleak though it may seem in present circumstances.
Do you really think that film as a medium can play a role in determining the socio-political reality of a country?
No, I don’t. I must say that once upon a time, I used to think that film and indeed art in general was a force to be reckoned with. However today, I find that the medium is too subservient to the dictates of commercialism. Call me a cynic but the fact of the matter is that we probably won’t overcome the odds that are pitted against us. I certainly don’t see a lot of hope anyway.
So what’s the point of trying?
Well I asked this very question to a heroine of mine, folk singer Joan Baez who spearheaded the artistic rebellion against the Vietnam War. Her response was simply, ‘little victories and big defeats’. Even though I don’t think that film or art or protest really has the conviction of will to create substantial change, I feel that I must plod along anyway. After all, moral minorities have achieved a great many things when you tally it up. Even though a large segment of my generation readily subscribes to the creed of individualism, there are those who speak out against what they believe to be unjust, unethical or plain wrong. They are the ones who inspire me most.
Getting back to M CREAM, could you tell us about the process of filmmaking? It’s an indie film in every sense of the word. I would say that the film was produced in a bare bones style and it certainly was a collaborative effort. We were lucky to get a few wonderful actors on board who happened to get the story – Barry John, Imaad Shah, Ira Dubey and Tom Alter. Also I really have to mention that a film is only as good as the team and I was lucky to have a particularly talented associate director Aban Raza, who’s never been on a film set before but knew a lot more than I did on many accounts. We also had a dedicated Executive Producer Vindhya Singh and a daring Associate Producer Mandira Nevatia who helped steer the course.
Is the film complete, what’s the response been so far and when can we expect to see it?
The film is in the final stages of post production. We should be hitting the festival circuit soon and in the process we hope to garner as much support as we can for the eventual release. We are also in the process of getting the censorship through; I can only hope that the film is viewed with an open mind in that context. The response so far has been mixed as to expected. Needless to say it’s been an absolute hit with my contemporaries who understand a great deal about what we’re trying to say. As far as the older generation is concerned, some of them seem to be unable to get past a few elements of the film, but I’ll leave it at that.
Lastly, what is your stand on the use of drugs and does the film support drug use?
In all honesty, I consider worldwide laws concerning drug use to be highly draconian. Fortunately we’ve seen a more tolerant approach with marijuana use being decriminalized in a few countries in recent times, most notably the United States. Therefore, I think that it’s high time India starts a debate on the same, particularly given the fact that hashish has been part and parcel of Indian culture for millennia. As for the film, it presents a very neutral point of view and it certainly does not glorify the use of drugs in any way whatsoever, on the contrary, if anything at all, I would say that the film seeks to protest against the rising tide of conformity rather than contribute to it.