Miriam Chandy Menacherry
Founder, director of Filament Pictures. Has had the experience of writing and directing for several international channels including the National Geographic Channel and BBC World. Her film `Robot Jockey’ won the Asian Television Award. ‘The Stuntmen of Bollywood’ was nominated for the most innovative film at the Showreal Asia Awards and her popular series `Back to the Floor’ won the Indian Television Awards for `best business series’. Her socially relevant brand of programming has won critical acclaim. Following her post graduation from the AJK Mass Communication Research Centre, New Delhi she worked for two years as a correspondent with CNBC.
The Rat Race is her first independent full length documentary. It weaves together the narratives of rat killers in India’s commercial capital. Winner of the Mipdoc Co production Challenge 2010, Cannes, supported by the Jan Vrijman Fund 2011 and official selection at IDFA 2011.
Synopsis of Rat Race:
Ganesh pays homage to Mooshik,the sacred rat before setting out with a torch and stick to kill 30 rodents every night. He reports to his boss, Behram Harda, who once dreamt of setting the silver screen ablaze with his boogying skills, but ended up maintaining records of the 2.8 million rats killed by his department over 35 years. 2000 young men compete in tests of speed, strength and accuracy to land one of the 30 job openings for night rat killers in India’s commercial capital.
The Rat Race winds its way through the grimy underbelly of Mumbai, through dimly lit alleys, crowded markets and overflowing garbage bins to tell the story of the city’s rat killers. Through their tales of love, sacrifice and survival, one glimpses the human face of development, amongst the rough and tumble of a rapidly changing metropolis, a valuable glimpse of India at the crossroads.
An exclusive Interview with Miriam
What triggered the idea for The Rat Race?
A small ad in the newspaper that said the municipality was conducting auditions for rat killers as 2000 people had applied got me thinking. When I met Behram Harda, the longest serving Supervisor (at the Municipal Corporation, Mumbai) who told me he actually wanted to be a dancer but then ended up counting the carcasses of rats and I met the rat killers who reported to him who were all educated...I felt there was a bigger story about Mumbai and the struggle to earn ones livelihood and chase ones dreams.
What were the best and worst experiences during filming?
Every shoot was different and a revelation from the spaces explored to situations and the people. The filming was truly an eye opener, even to me and my team who had never experienced this side of the city that comes alive...as the rest of the city sleeps The bad experiences were when we tried to shoot garbage dumps round the city and were denied official permissions to shoot at Deonar, the largest dumping ground where the rat carcasses are disposed. When we shot smaller grounds, my crew was roughed up and footage deleted...I feel I missed the last shot of my film which connects garbage and rats...because of a form of `state censorship'.
In your website you have mentioned that the screening of the film in multiplex theatres would help to 'take the documentary genre to mainstream audiences'. How did this come about? What was the involvement of IDF and Trigger Pitch (IFFK)?
The Trigger Pitch is a wonderful forum where one makes a wish list for the social outreach of your just completed documentary film - it is organised by IDF and KSCA during the International Film Festival of Kerala. On the panel are key corporates who can boost the visibility of your film through their CSR initiatives. There were 6 documentaries with different visions of how they can make their films have a bigger impact; mine included a screening for the BMC and a theatrical release.
PVR cinemas and Big Cinemas felt they could collaborate on a theatre release for The Rat Race. We managed to create a buzz around the film with a lot of well known icons coming out to support the release. Critical reviews have been very good, rating The Rat Race even higher than some of the Bollywood releases that week! The response from Bangalore where the film is now running its second week has been especially encouraging.
What was your reaction to the crowd funding plan initially? Did you expect the success?
Crowd funding the film was a necessity as we had touched rock bottom after we had made a trip to Cannes. We won the co-production challenge in Cannes with our proposal and trailer but were inexperienced and unable to get an international co-producer on board the project. It is then that I asked my producer Aruna Balkrishnasingh to attend a session by Onir and Sanjay Suri who were crowd funding I Am and we drew up a scheme of how people could contribute to the film and we in turn could give them ways to be a part of the film from credits to freebies.
The people who pitched in were mostly known family and friends but there were also people from the industry who contributed their equipment and their skills. I could then make a 25 minute cut of the film and secure international funding from the Jan Vrijman Fund in Amsterdam.
What is the next step for you and Filament Pictures?
I am already working on my next documentary that is going to be an Indo Pakistan co-production, which I am very excited about because it is a young very edgy film with a lot of appeal to people on both sides of the border. I also have a feature film script based in Kerala that I am going to be actively looking for financing soon.
Could you give us five points that every independent documentary filmmaker should know about?
* Technology is accessible and inexpensive today but don't jump headlong into shoots, spend the extra time sorting out your concept as this is the strength of a film.
* Give yourself time as a good documentary always evolves through the people in the film, the situations one has access to and the filmmaker who keeps adapting and growing through the process, so the process and time become paramount.
*Budget is an issue but don't let it stop you...there are always ways
* International co productions and sales are ways to recover ones costs but it is equally important to get ones film seen here in India from free film forums and screenings to theatre release and DVD sales.
* It is an exciting time to be an Indian documentary filmmaker, there is a growing acceptance for independent films here in India as well as abroad where channels want documentaries from India.