An interview with Vinod Kapri at the Second Haldwani Film Festival by Suchitra Awasthi
“I was quite satisfied with my career as a journalist, but Journalism somehow did not satiate my hunger for creativity. I have always been a person who has yearned for creativity”
Suchitra Awasthi: I would like to begin by asking you about your early life and your career as a journalist?
Vinod Kapri: As my father was in the Indian Army and was posted at various places across the country, I completed my education at various Kendriya Vidyalayas in states like Andhra Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh.
I began my career as a journalist by working for the Hindi daily Dainik Jagaran. It was a brief stint with Dainit Jagaran as I was there for just three months. Thereafter, for two and a half years I worked for Amar Ujala. Zee News, the channel I worked for nine long years, was responsible in establishing me as a media journalist in many ways. After leaving Zee News, I worked with Star News and during the last leg of my career as a journalist, I headed the India TV news channel.
Suchitra Awasthi: Which were the most challenging stories covered by you over the course of your 23 long career as a journalist?
Vinod Kapri: All the stories that I covered were challenging in their own way. But the most challenging ones for me were the 13 December 2001 Parliament attack and the 26/11 Mumbai attack ones.
As a journalist I also ventured into documentary film making. I made documentaries on His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the Aghori sadhus of Haridwar, the Doms of Benaras, Homosexuals, Euthanasia, to name a few, which were equally exciting and I really learned a lot during the making of these documentaries.
Suchitra Awasthi: After such a lucrative career in Journalism, what made you venture into the world of films?
Vinod Kapri: Although I was quite satisfied with my career as a journalist, but Journalism somehow did not satiate my hunger for creativity. I have always been a person who has yearned for creativity. As a school going boy I created stories of my own. I also got published in magazines and dailies back then too. My first story was published in Amar Ujala when I was in standard eleven. However, Journalism mainly confined me to fact based stories which impeded my creativity in a way. Hence, I started contemplating on making films. Besides this, through films you contribute in a lasting way. Journalism based stories are transient, they fade into oblivion as soon as the issue stales away. However, the movies that you make stay with you for a lifetime and people remember you through them long after you have gone.
Suchitra Awasthi: How do you choose topics for your films?
Vinod Kapri: You see, if you have worked as a journalist for twenty three odd years, there is no dearth of topics for you. As a journalist you deal with the real world where facts and truth counts. This thing has stayed with me as a film maker also. I have a strong urge to make films on issues that matter. Social issues, I feel, should be taken up by film makers to drive home profound messages to society, which I do through the medium of my films. The first thing I contemplate on before making a film is the reason behind the making a film. This acts as my first filter. If the film has a message to convey, I go ahead with it.
Suchitra Awasthi: As a journalist you broke new grounds when you launched Laxmi Saa, an acid attack survivor as an anchor for a TV show. Thereafter, you launched Kamal Prajapati, a visually impaired youth as a TV host. What inspires you for such innovative projects?
Vinod Kapri: Well, I always believe in challenging myself. My life has all been about pushing myself to my limits and discovering new horizons. I experimented with Laxmi and Kamal when people in the television industry were auditioning for attractive faces for their television programmes. My experiment was successful as I garnered full support from public. It was also quite an opportunity for differentially abled people like Laxmi and Kamal. Furthermore, these experiments also drove people towards accepting some civic responsibility.
Suchitra Awasthi: Could you shed some light on your journey as a film-maker?
Vinod Kapri: My debut feature film, Miss Tanakpur Haazir Ho, which is a socio-political satire was well received and was also a hugely critically acclaimed one. Before Miss Tanakpur Haazir Ho, I had made a documentary film Can’t Take this Shit Anymore, which talked about the issues relating to open defecation. This film won the National Film Award for the year 2014 and was also screened at the 12th Indian Film Festival at Stuttgart, Germany. Another documentary, Achoot Kanya, traces the disillusioned lives of the rape victims years after the tragedy and glimpses at the predicament faced by those innocent girls who are not just scarred physically and psychologically for a lifetime but are also doubly jeopardized as they also face ostracism from society. I also made a film on Shaktiman, the gutsy Uttarakhand police horse, who succumbed to his injuries after the BJP protest in Dehradun. The film also traces the unusual relationship between animals and animal lovers. Last but not the least, I am currently working on Pihu, a feature film which will be released this coming September or October. The treatment of the film is unique as it has only one character, a two year old girl named Pihu. Such an endeavor has never been carried out in the history of film making.
Suchitra Awasthi: Do you have any future projects on Uttarakhand?
Vinod Kapri: Hailing from the hill station of Berinag, I have always been fascinated by the hills. It is my dream to live and work in Uttarakhand and bring to light the issues of Uttarakhand through the medium of my films. Uttarakhand has tremendous potential for film-makers and film-making alike, but unfortunately these potentials have never been exploited. A handful of people have touched upon a few themes but a lot needs to be explored still. The simplicity, honesty, innocence of the people of Uttarakhand strikes a chord in my heart and I wish to bring all these things to the fore through the medium of my films. I would also like to explore novels of some eminent writers from the region like Batrohi ji, Shailesh Matiyani ji, Manohar Shyam Joshi ji for my future films. I will be truly grateful to god if I ever manage to accomplish this dream.
Suchitra Awasthi: Does that mean that Uttarakhand has a bright prospect in films?
Vinod Kapri: To speak honestly, at this juncture, I do not see much future that way. I would like to ask a question, how does cinema evolve? First of all it needs an audience. For audience you need good theatres. Uttarakhand does not have any good cinema halls. With the exception of a few big cities, there is a dearth of theatres in the rest of the State. First of all, good infrastructure needs to be developed for cinema viewers, only then the rest would follow suit. Nonetheless, there is a good scope for cinema making in the State, which I have already talked of. I see Uttarakhand as one of the most fertile lands for film-making. However, I get extremely disheartened and appalled on seeing that nobody has ever brought the issues of Uttarakhand into the limelight.
Suchitra Awasthi: You are indeed a trail blazer and a trend setter for a lot of budding film-makers. What message would you like to convey to the youngsters who aspire to enter this line?
Vinod Kapri: The youngsters of today have tremendous scope in film-making. However, it is my observation that the youngsters of today live in haste. They shy away from taking big challenges in life. They don’t wish to undertake the journey of their lives themselves. They seldom read and explore things for themselves. They want all the information at the click of a button. To be a film-maker you have to study life and people and also read a great deal of literature because as you start reading, a whole new world starts opening up in front of you. You get ideas and you start painting your own canvas with those ideas. Observation too plays a key role and to hone your observation skills, it is imperative for you to interact with people. Once you start working in this direction, you will find a lot many opportunities waiting for you at your doorstep.
The youngsters of today are very fortunate. Today one doesn’t have to market his or her films like the bygone times. The smartphones now-a-days come with sophisticated technology and one can shoot quality films with them, upload them on you-tube and if the film has substance, it will find its own market. Today’s cinema and audience are mature. Earlier the movies were picture-perfect. Today realistic films are in vogue. Off-beat films like Nil Battey Sannata, Masaan, Paan Singh Tomar, Aankho Dekhi and Mis Tanakpur Haazir Ho are rubbing shoulders with mainstream cinema. So if the youngsters work on all these areas, they sure have a great career in cinema today.
Dr. Suchitra Awasthi is Assistant Professor of English at Uttarakhand Open University, Haldwani