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Exclusive! Vasan Bala on the success of 'Cinema Marte Dum Tak': It's a huge pat on the back for the team

Vasan Bala's docuseries Cinema Marte Dum Tak is getting amazing responses from the masses and the critics.

Exclusive! Vasan Bala on the success of 'Cinema Marte Dum Tak': It's a huge pat on the back for the team
Vasan Bala/Instagram
  • Aishwarya Vasudevan

Last Updated: 12.50 PM, Feb 01, 2023

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It's been more than 10 days since Prime Video dropped a surprise with the docuseries titled Cinema Marte Dum Tak. Vasan Bala, whose brainchild this series is, is about four unconventional directors of the golden age of pulp movies. The series shows how this gut-wrenching, tear-jerking, shriek-inducing low-budget genre film was made. Just a few days after the release of Cinema Marte Dum Tak, OTTplay got an opportunity to catch up with Bala, who was in a jovial mood after getting amazing responses for the series.

In a quick chat, the filmmaker spoke at length about how the filmmakers who make underground cinema are an inspiration and where the pulp genre stands now with the rise of social media. Bala also said that he wanted to be a filmmaker because of Mani Ratnam and that Anurag Kashyap is his guru.



With your movies, you have paid homage to the 80s and 90s eras of cinema. How did you decide to bring back the genre with a documentary from that era in the 2020s?

Your work is really subconscious; you don't really consciously decide to do things. I think it gels well because it is subconscious and not like an afterthought or something that is forced. This is an era that I have grown up in and that I love, so probably that automatically reflects in the films that I have tried to make or the stories that I have tried to write. So there is really no grand plan; it is the way it is.

They were the underground cinema, which had a fan base in its own way but was also a money-making genre with no commercial value. Has it been kind of an inspiration for filmmakers too?

Absolutely. I believe that anyone who perseveres, works hard toward a dream, and has the desire to tell a story will always be inspirational. So, regardless of the budget, where it is distributed, or where it is shown, I believe that if there is an honest struggle and a need to tell a story, it will always resonate and somehow connect.

I think the decline must have happened due to multiplexes. But do you think it's a kind of cinema that will get back the audience it had?

Now you can watch everything on your phone, so there are so many avenues that have been opened up. Also, if you look back, there was a certain amount of thrills and erotica in these narratives, and previously, the avenues to watch them were very limited. Either you had magazines that were smuggled, or you had VHS parlours, or you could go to the theater; you couldn't watch it at home. But now you can watch it at home or anywhere. So really, the very primal need for it has been fulfilled. But maybe for the artistic ones, whenever they're made on the big screen, that just can't be the reason to go and watch them.

What was your takeaway from Cinema Marte Dum Tak, now that it's out and has been getting great responses?

The takeaway for the entire team has been that all their hard work over the past three years has been validated, and it was worth it. The entire team stuck together and persisted through so many uncertainties. So it is a huge pat on the back for the team, which really stuck together to kind of bring this out.

At this point in time, there's a section of the audience that finds offence in everything, including the rise of social media. So where do you think the pulp genre stands in terms of that?

The genre is always there. I mean, action is there; horror is there; and erotica is there. So it's always there. Whether social media was there or not, the people and the mindset remained the same. So social media is just another way to talk about the same things. Earlier, they could probably have been meeting at a barbershop and discussing the same thing, and now they are putting it out there. So the conversations will be the same, no matter what. It is just that we feel the amplification a lot more because of this. But not all conversation is good conversation. As long as it's about the people and it will lead to different opinions, there can't be one opinion, right? So it is good to have diverse opinions, discuss them, and see where they stand.

The reason for what we have done is that we have tried to put them in the foreground, and now it's up to the people to accept them in the way they want to. We shouldn't be forcing any sort of judgement or pressure on them to accept it or not; it is completely up to the audience, as always and more so now. The audience's surely showing that no matter how you want to kind of attract them with budgets, colors, or stars, they decide what they decide, and you can't really push them.

You swoop in with your cinema and let people do the talking about everything, from Easter eggs to storylines. Does it ever occur to you to write a better story than the one before it?

As the struggle has been so long, this just seems like a breath of fresh air, which is nice. But then after that, you have to go back to the table and start working as you did before. So the work process remains the same. But other than that, you have to go back to the process; nothing changes there.

What's the kind of cinema you grew up watching, and how did that shape you as a filmmaker?

So I grew up on everything; I grew up in the golden years of Doordarshan also, and Manmohan Desai films are playing in the cinema halls, and Doordarshan is curating the best of everything from Japanese to friends to Hollywood to Bengali regional cinema from Kerala and Tamil Nadu everywhere, right? So on a Sunday afternoon, you put on a movie and had the best of films; then you had theatres and VHS. So we had a kind of eclectic mix of films to be exposed to without really having an algorithm telling you what to watch. It was an interesting time we grew up in, and that is what has shaped my voice as a filmmaker in that sense.

The first filmmaker whom I saw and thought I should become a filmmaker was probably Mr. Mani Ratnam. When I grew up on his films, I saw Nayakan, Anjali, Agninakshatram, Thiruda Thiruda, Roja, Bombay, and Iruvar, and the germ somehow came in that I wanted to become a filmmaker.

And you also collaborated with Anurag Kashyap...

He will always be my guru. I learned whatever I had to learn from him. Only from him did I learn about the realities of filmmaking on the ground.