Making the cut
Film-maker Anupam Sharma, named among 50 top film people in Australia, speaks to RAJNI ANAND LUTHRA
Anupam Sharma was only in high school when he decided his life would be devoted to films.
In fact, he can still remember the exact moment when this realisation dawned on him.
“I was walking out of the cinema having just seen Mahesh Bhatt’s Saaraansh, and I knew where my destiny lay. I was certain I would grow up to make movies”.
The iconic film changed Sharma’s life, just as it did for his namesake, the lead actor of the film Anupam Kher.
A little-known theatre actor, Kher has since grown to become one of the Hindi film industry’s most accomplished actors, having purveyed an enviable variety of roles in every possible genre. One non-film role however, was to mentor the young film buff Anupam Sharma, who has himself now carved a niche for himself in the world of cinema, in a land far from home.
In many ways, the guru and shishya are both true to their name Anupam – the Hindi word for ‘incomparable’.
Last month, Encore magazine, a monthly publication covering the Australian screen production industry, listed Sharma as one of the top 50 movers and shakers of the industry in Australia.
“Yes I’m quite proud,” Anupam said when congratulated. “Particularly because not too many Indians have been on such industry lists”.
And yet he was quite pragmatic about it all.
“Being on Encore’s Power 50 is not necessarily going to fund my next film, but you know, it energises my efforts. It’s a great morale boost, a good adrenaline rush”.
He added, “I know it sounds clichéd, but I do sincerely hope it will encourage more multicultural participation in the entertainment industry here. There’s certainly plenty of talent – and passion – out there”.
The Australian link to contemporary Indian cinema
Anupam Sharma worships cinema. He says so, loud and clear, on his company stationery.
Which is probably why he was miffed when I referred to him once, nearly ten years ago, as a ‘film buff’.
“Surely after all that I’ve done, I would be more than just a ‘film buff’,” he chided me gently.
It’s true. Not only had he completed by then a Masters degree in film making (with a thesis on Indian cinema), he had also founded a film production company, and had begun to market Australia as a suitable filming locale to high profile film-makers in the Mumbai industry.
Starting with the legendary Feroze Khan, whose made-in-Australia film Janasheen launched his dashing son Fardeen, Anupam has brought to Australia Rakesh Roshan’s Filmkraft (for Hrithik’s launch vehicle Kaho Naa… Pyaar Hai), Dharma Productions, Yash Raj Films, Harry Baweja’s SP Creations, and a whole host of ad companies, southern films and TV shows, including the Reality TV show MTV Roadies.
These projects took to Indian viewers stunning images of Australia – and probably played a part in turning this country into a favoured travel destination among upwardly mobile Indians, as well as an education destination for students of India’s bulging middle-class. Additionally, these projects brought in to the country tidy sums of money in business investments. Government ministers (such as the previous NSW government’s Minister for the Arts Virgina Judge) put out happy press releases every time a Bollywood unit dropped in to film here, citing impressive dollar values that would accrue, and often even making a visit to the film sets. (Some of these netas even became abhinetas themselves, bagging small roles in the films, such as Judge and SA Premier Mike Rann).
For opening up this ‘entertainment corridor’, Anupam began to attract a fair deal of media attention here, and became known as the person to contact for Indian-Australian productions. When he wrote the first-of-its-kind Guide to Filming in Australia, film bodies in every state endorsed it, and it was so successful that an updated version was produced a few years later.
In the Indian industry, meanwhile, word spread about his company Films and Casting Temple as the choice production services supplier, and repeat clients became the norm.
And in the Indian-Australian community, he became sought after too: not just by star-struck females who pestered him every time a Bollywood actor was in town, but by many wannabe-actors (of all ages), script-writers, and hundreds of others who wanted to work on film sets.
AFI: Beyond Bollywood
Yet it was not only his pioneering and substantial work in developing Australian film links with India that found Anupam in the annual list of film professionals “who have achieved new heights in 2010/11, whose decisions influence and shape Australia’s (film industry), and whose work has stood out from the crown”. An interesting new initiative launched earlier this year impressed Encore just as much.
Working with veteran Australian film critic Peter Castaldi (with whom he shares his spot in Encore’s Power 50), Anupam founded the Australian Film Initiative (AFI), “to market, promote, and distribute Australian films in non traditional and emerging markets” such as India.
“Australians are pretty modest when it comes to marketing their own films,” Anupam observed. “We have German, French and plenty of other film festivals in Australia, but we don’t have such festivals of our own films in other countries. There are embassy road shows and sporadic delegations, but no major platform to promote our films”.
And so AFI was born.
Its first event, a festival of Australian films in India, was held in late March over five days in collaboration with FRAMES 2011, India’s most prestigious annual convention for media and entertainment. Current titles such as Samson and Delilah, Blame, Bran Nue Dae, Red Hill and Kings of Mykonos were screened, as well as a retrospective of director, producer and screenwriter Bill Bennett’s films, such as Spider and Rose, Two if By Sea, Kiss or Kill, In a Savage Land, Nugget and Tempted. The films were picked to showcase a rich sample of Australian culture to Indian audiences.
As well, the festival saw invitation-only roundtables on investment and distribution; Australian speakers, and a selection of best graduate short films from AFTRS and VCA.
“The festival received widespread support from government as well as the private sector,” Anupam revealed. “We stated off with the social media to reach out to the younger audiences, and then the momentum began. FICCI of course had said we would love to have you. DFAT and the Australian High Commission in Delhi came on board. They were thrilled at the kind of media all this was generating, after months of negative reportage thanks to the students’ issue. Then support began to pour in from the private sector – Cinemax, Viacom, Marriott hotels – we were pinching ourselves to see if it was all true! The Australian Consulate in Mumbai offered to host a cocktail, and the who’s who of the entertainment industry in India turned up. And by coincidence Hugh Jackman was in Mumbai, and when he heard of us he said I’d love to support you. He was only there for a short while, but agreed to a photo session and to be a chief guest at a screening – an early film of his, Paperback Hero was part of the line-up. The snowball effect was simply astounding, and Peter and I were absolutely thrilled!”
With the inaugural event so successful, next year’s event is already planned out. All Anupam will reveal for now is that Baz Luhrmann has agreed to a retrospective of his films in 2012.
“Also, the AFI is not restricted to India alone. We’re looking at South America, South Africa, the Middle East and northern Europe”.
Besides planning more AFI events, Anupam is getting on with his own film-making too.
“There are three projects in the pipeline,” Anupam revealed. “One is on honour killings; a second script has just been read by two top actresses from Bollywood, and a third involves a leading Aussie actress”.
His plate is quite full, but there is no other way he’ll have it.
“Films are a passion. You know, the only thing I pray for my kids – and I’ve just become a father second time around – is that they find a passion in life. A life lived with passion, is a good life”.
And no, the passion hasn’t waned a bit, ever since that day he saw Anupam Kher’s first film in Dehradun, India.
“When I finished school all my mates were scrambling for IIT and AIIMS. My dad was like, so, will it be engineering or medicine for you? But all I wanted to do was make films. My grandparents were in Australia, so I came out here, to study computer engineering, but moved to a Bachelor in Films degree. My folks said go for media studies, because at least you can become a media analyst. And when I enrolled in a Masters degree, they were happy because, they said, at least you can teach!”
So what is he most proud of, when he looks back at his career?
He ponders for a while before answering, “I think the fact that I chose to study films rather than just jump into it all. People said to me, ‘Paagal hai (are you mad) you’ve spent five years studying films’. But I am glad I did, and thankful that my parents supported me”.
“I’m also proud of the fact that the first few people I worked with, were all A-level legends. Feroze Khan, Yash Johar, Rakesh Roshan, Anupam Kher, all mentored me”.
He added confidently, “And very soon, I’ll be proud of the fact that I’ll have produced the first feature film in an Indo-Australian collaboration!”