(Left) Arjun Radhakrishnan, the protagonist of Shreelancer, during the shoot
Sandeep Mohan is a man of few words. He prefers to express himself through his films. The 42-year-old, who arrived in Mumbai in 1997 to assist Sanjay Leela Bhansali, couldn't find creative freedom in mainstream cinema, and took the parallel route. Known for offbeat films like Love, Wrinkle-Free (2011), Hola Venky! (2014) and X: Past is Present (2015), Mohan earns a living by screening his films in different cities and at film festivals. He travels by train (laptop, projector and cables in tow) to cut costs and save for his next film. Shreelancer (2017), his latest film, is currently being screened across India.
Mohan's life is close to that of the protagonist in Man With A Movie Camera (1929). The avant-garde silent classic by Russian filmmaker Dziga Vertov depicted a man documenting life in different cities with a camera hung over his shoulder — close to the Road Movie genre. Shreelancer, which traces the journey of a freelance media professional who explores India, pursues a similar design. "The film, shot over a month in 2016, covered north and south India. And I have screened the film in Bengaluru, Mysore, Kochi, New Delhi, Kharagpur (IIT), Pune (Symbiosis International University), Manipal, Chennai, Mumbai, Kolkata, Patna and New York," says Mohan.
The cost factor aside, travelling by train also helps him sketch new characters. "The idea is to meet new people and hear their stories. I once met a junkie on my way to Kochi. There is a similar character in Shreelancer. There have been people who have met me on the train and they have come for my screening the next day," he shares.
Shreelancer's nomination for best screenplay at the New York Indian Film Festival last month was a shot in the arm for Mohan. "We didn't win the award but the film was screened to a full house," he adds. He even recovered costs in the form of tickets. "My last film, Hola Venky, was made on a Rs 10 lakh budget and after screenings in New York and San Jose, I had recovered half the amount. Shreelancer is a lesser expensive film," he smiles.
A still from the film Shreelancer
Travelling by train, however, isn't enough to start production for a film. At times, Mohan's friends pitch in. He also applies for loans through fundraising sites. "There are people who pay out of love for cinema. Though I return the money once I recover the costs, there are those who don't even ask for it," he says.
Mohan also takes an organic crowdfunding route, where at domestic screenings, he tells people to pay as they like. "I specifically request people to not pay if they didn't like my film. People contribute whatever amount they can. I have had people paying Rs 1,000 for one screening too," adds Mohan, whose films have also made it to Netflix and Amazon Prime.
Despite having the logistics in place, Mohan isn't keen on making commercial cinema. "Being on my own allows me freedom. I get my funds, write my own script and cast characters I want," says Mohan, who wants to cast actors like Sanjay Mishra and Irrfan Khan in his future projects.
Shreelancer will see an online release later this year.
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