Impressionable Minds: Vasan Bala’s Take On Filmmaking

Vasan Balan

Making his directorial debut this year, Vasan Bala has had screenings for his film “Peddlers” at prestigious international film festivals including Cannes and TIFF. Not too shabby at all.

Starring Gulshan Devaiah, Siddharth Menon, Kriti Malhotra, Nimrat Kaur and Murari Kumar “Peddlers” is described as an “edgy, powerhouse thriller that exemplifies the verve and excitement of India’s new independent cinema“. Having worked as an assistant and associate director prior to this, Vasan shared with us his thoughts on being a part of the film industry, along with some insight into his film.

TamilCulture: How did you become a filmmaker?

Vasan Bala: I was a typical tam bran trying to make a decent and safe career and films were not even in remote consideration. Somehow when it came time to ponder what I would do for the rest of my life, and say some day not regret not having given filmmaking a try, I decided to chuck it all and go make a movie 5 years ago. It took time but better late than never as the cliché goes.

I think it’s like any other story of the VHS generation. Moving images have always made a deep impact on impressionable minds and some took it seriously because they were too curious or have something to say and maybe even nothing else to do. I made a choice of being unemployed and trying my hand at making a film and being a student. I don’t regret it—so one decision well made!

TC: What did you work on before “Peddlers”?

VB: I made a couple of shorts but my greatest learning came from Anurag Kashyap and I’m happy it was not limited to the film craft. It was more about being secure in one’s own skin and space and having the ability to still stay impressionable and love what brought me here in the first place.  His sense of courage and the ability to embrace and be inclusive had a big influence on me and I will consciously try and follow that.

TC: What cultural influences have played a role in your work?

VB: I love Balu Mahendra, Mani Ratnam, K Balachandar and Bala. There is something to the rhythm in their films and I was kind of rootless with my Mumbai upbringing. Not knowing to read and write my own mother tongue lead me to try and know about it more through movies if not literature. I also grew up in a cosmopolitan environment and was exposed to so many cultures and spaces.

Likewise my grandmother who did not know any language except Tamil equally enjoyed watching Marathi movies without understanding a word. So in a way movies excited me through their ability to make an impact as they did on my grandmother even when she did not know the language.

TC: Are you going to be creating any movies in Tamil?

VB: I am dying to. Fingers crossed, I hope to make one soon. Any good story or any setting that I can explore, I would love to do so in Tamil.

TC: Who would you consider the most interesting  people you’ve met or worked with?

VB: Anurag Kashyap, Rajeev Ravi, Michael Winterbottom are some of the most interesting people whom I have worked with as far as household names. There are so many more though who I meet everyday that leave impressions on me.

TC: Where can our readers see “Peddlers” outside of the film festival circuit? 

VB: Hopefully in cinema halls once the producers and the sales agents secure buyers.

TC: Why did you want to tell your story through the unexpectedly intertwining lives of your characters?

VB: I think there was no conscious decision to the structure. I wanted to tell these stories and I went with the flow. It evolved as we shot. And plus those snippets that gave you a view of the characters’ lives is exactly the way I see the city. One is never sure who one has met or what they are like. People zip past you and you hold on to memories until there is a meeting of consequence. Until then you keep moving along and the city does too, neither waiting for anyone or anything.

TC: Was it challenging finding actors considering that many of the issues dealt with in your film are considered taboo?

VB: Gulshan has been a friend and pillar throughout and a gutsy actor.  He was there from the word go. Others we found as and when we went along. We worked only with those who came with passion, without too much of a sense of security or a preconditioned mind, and were ready to evolve with the film. I was fortunate to have a great team,

TC: How were you able to raise the budget for this film through Facebook? What inspired you to even pursue that idea?

VB: Such ideas are spur of the moment. Now if you ask me, I think it was a freak incident and it happened. I can’t really put too much logic into how we went about it. Now that we look back we are surprised ourselves that we pulled it off.

TC: Many filmmakers use music to accompany their films,  but instead you made sure your film did not compromise the originality of the score. How were you able to do this?

VB: That was the idea from the beginning. By reducing the budget and making the film on a sparse note we bought our freedom and did what we pleased with the available resources. Nothing else dictated the course of action.

TC: Are you working on any other projects now?

VB: Juggling with a couple of projects. Hope to crack them soon. Can’t hardly wait to get back to making a movie.

-Images courtesy of The Big Indian Picture and the Toronto International Film Festival.

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Nivethika Thambithurai

Nivethika Thambithurai

Born in Montreal and raised in Toronto, Nive is a dreamer and writer who loves exploring how Tamil culture varies around the world in fashion, food, films and music.

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