From his upcoming movies to the evolution of content amid pandemic — filmmaker Kushal Srivastava gets candid about his journey and the film industry
Kushal Srivastava has had a fascinating journey from the Air Force to Bollywood. He was barely 11 when his uncle Raju Srivastava took him to N Chandra’s film set in Mumbai. That’s where he saw a shot being canned for the first time in his life and that image has stayed with him till date.
After serving in the logistics department of the Indian Air Force for about a decade, Srivastava made a foray into the world of filmmaking. His formal training began under filmmaker JP Dutta, whom he considers to be his film school. Subsequently, he also assisted Anurag Basu on a few projects. He finally made his directorial debut with the 2018 film ‘Vodka Diaries’, starring Kay Kay Menon and Mandira Bedi. His next feature film project ‘Golden Arrows’ is a war film based on the life of Wing Commander Dhanoa.
In this interview, Shrivastava talks about ‘Golden Arrows’ as well as his upcoming short film ‘Speed Dial’ starring Shreyas Talpade and Aksha Pardasany, the creative freedom associated with the short film format, the growing popularity of his debut film ‘Vodka Diaries’ since its OTT release after an underwhelming performance at the box-office.
Tell us about your upcoming short film ‘Speed Dial’. How did you conceive the project?
We all have to face the daily grind and the struggles, especially since the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic. One can only hope to look around and find that glimmer of magic. That’s when I thought what if one finds a magical mobile phone and each call made from this phone is like an answer to all your prayers. A call can change your life for good. I am glad 8 PM Premium Black Music CDs trusted my vision and gave me the creative freedom to make ‘Speed Dial’. I was delighted to have Mr. Shreyas Talpade and Ms. Aksha Pardasany on board for this film. We all know what an amazing actor Shreyas is and it was lovely to work with Aksha and other talented actors as well.
Prior to ‘Speed Dial’ you made another short film titled ‘Love Birds’ with Adhyayan Suman and Sneha Singh. You have also produced a short film called ‘The Job’ starring Kalki Koechlin. What makes the short film format so appealing to you?
‘The Job’ was abstract and experimental whereas ‘Love Birds’ was a mainstream romantic-comedy film. The fact that I have the freedom to explore any kind of genre and treatment with cinematic liberty is what draws me to the format. One can go on making several stories with an infinite number of ways of treating them and the films can also be viewed quickly. Both of these short films were nominated for Filmfare Awards (2019 and 2021 respectively). Also, my first short film ‘Kaafir’ which I made during my college days received an award from Mr. Aamir Khan. I would love to explore more such films in the future.
Your debut feature film ‘Vodka Diaries’ almost enjoys a cult status today but it went unnoticed at the time of its release. How do you explain its growing popularity?
I am elated by the love and wishes that I receive even now for ‘Vodka Diaries’. Most film audiences believe that a film should be set/fit in a certain mould and if the film offers something unexpected, they are unable to connect with it. I believe we should keep setting the bar higher and challenge the fixed views of the viewers, which thankfully the OTT platforms appear to be doing now. ‘Vodka Diaries’ was one of the few films to be streaming on Netflix and Amazon Prime at the same time and is currently available on the latter. Once ‘Vodka Diaries’ started becoming available to people right in the comfort of their homes many watched it and loved the experimental side of it.
Your upcoming feature film has been facing delays due to Covid-19. How disappointing has it been for you as a filmmaker? What is the way forward according to you?
During the lockdown, we utilized the time creatively and worked on the script of ‘Golden Arrows’, fine tuning it further. We had video calls with few fighter pilots, which I believe strengthened our research.
Now, OTT has emerged as a strong pillar of support for our industry. Audiences’ taste is evolving which makes content very important now. Only those can survive who can evolve and keep enhancing their content. More people watched ‘Vodka Diaries’ during the lockdown which was also good for the film.
‘Golden Arrows’ is said to be based on Wing Commander Dhanoa. These days we see a lot of films based on the lives of our armed forces. What according to you would make Golden Arrows stand out?
In Indian cinema, we have not made any war film yet which is based on the real-life air warfare of the Indian Air Force. My film is about the toughest air war ever fought in the entire world. It is based on a true war the Indian Air Force fought with exceptional courage. As viewers we have seen and connected with the ethos and laurels of the Indian Army for which we are deeply indebted to them but don’t know much about the Air Force. India’s war films have never showcased the perspective of the Air Force, its bravery and glory. We all know about the courage of the Army during the Kargil War, what we do not know is that it would have been extremely difficult and perilous for us to win had it not been for the contribution of the Indian Air Force. The brotherhood between the Army and Air Force was exceptional during the war; together they made our nation proud with their victory. Having served in the Indian Air Force myself, I know that the life of fighter pilots is very different. It’s high time we introduced our audiences to the world of our air warriors and their brotherhood with the Army too.
Also tell us about the research that you have done on the project.
We were given a list of all the war heroes (fighter pilots) who fought in the Kargil War. Some were based in Bangalore, some in Hyderabad, Pune, Chandigarh, Guwahati, Delhi, among others. We met all of them for our research. Being a filmmaker who is an ex-soldier, it’s my duty to strike a perfect balance between drama and authenticity. I want to make sure there is full attention to detail. Retd. Group Captain Tarun Kumar Singha is onboard as a supervisor. I have had several meetings with Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa and his wife Mrs. Kamalpreet Dhanoa. They have given us many insightful details about their lives. Dhanoa Sir explained his day-to-day routines at the Srinagar Air Base and the challenges they had to face while fighting.
We have had detailed discussions with Air Marshal Vinod Patney, who spearheaded the war. Mrs. Alka Ahuja has been very supportive and the information she shared about our hero, Squadron Leader Ajay Ahuja, has been so helpful that it helped us create a vivid picture of him in our minds. We met other fighter pilots of Golden Arrows (No. 17 Squadron IAF) along with fighter pilots of Mig-27 squadron and Mirage-2000 squadron, one of them being Air Marshal Nambiar. His inputs have enhanced the story. I am thankful to each of them for helping me through this research.
I also went on a recce to an ordnance factory in Jabalpur with Mr. Sabu Cyril. He’s so kind and has been tremendously supportive.
Do you have any other upcoming projects?
8 PM Premium Black Music CDs wants to come up with quality content on a large scale for which we will be working together on more such films. Meanwhile, apart from my war film project ‘Golden Arrows’, the producers of ‘Vodka Diaries’, Vishal Karkera and Atul Pupneja, wants me to get started with a thriller web series by next year.
(Cover: Filmmaker Kushal Srivastava / Credit: Twitter)
Murtaza Ali Khan has been a film critic since 2010. He has curated and presented retrospectives and film festivals for various embassies and high commissions in New Delhi. He has also served on the jury for a variety of film festivals. He tweets at @MurtazaCritic