So, how much is based on real life and how much is fiction?
The situations and events in Disco Obu are entirely fictional. However, the idea of Obu’s character came from my research on people who were once popular in fields like arts, music, sports, and film, but who eventually resorted to a different life due to circumstances.
Despite some cringe-worthy, actually poignant moments, there are some very funny, yet dry moments that are reminiscent of the best mockumentaries out there. What made you work with such a genre? What were your influences?
There wasn’t a conscious decision to work with this genre. The story was born out of curiosity about what could happen if these two people were to meet under such circumstances. Normally, I would hold up a set of reference films and work with the crew. But in this case, we just let things flow organically. We had a set of ground rules for imagery and blocking, but otherwise our main job was to not let the craft interfere with the performances because we had great actors. Having said that, Searching for Sugar Man was definitely an influence. Rodriguez’s spirit had this simple, profound and positive approach to life that has, in subtle ways, informed the character of Obu.
At the same time, the lead actor’s performance is very moving. How did you cast him?
I was originally trying to get a different actor to play Obu’s part but somehow things didn’t work out and the production date was nearing. Around then my line producer, Anirudh, showed me a photo of Amjad Prawej, an experienced stage actor in Bangalore. He has an interesting face and I felt that he could fit a variety of roles with different shades. I met him soon after and realized that he shared certain things in common with Obu, such as simplicity, positive spirit, and a grounded mindset. We got along really well and I didn’t have to look any further. It helped that Amjad had previously worked with Balaji Manohar who plays Mohan in the film.
Can you tell us about your first steps in filmmaking and what other projects you’d like to work on?
My fascination for filmmaking began during my childhood days when I was brought up under the creative influence of my father, T. Hariharan, a writer, director and producer. After working as an AD for a couple of years, I decided to study film at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts Asia in Singapore. Being in a school with amazing faculty and students from all over the world was definitely a life-changing experience. I got to travel and work on great projects. After school, I freelanced as a cinematographer and editor for a couple of years before sitting down to write my thesis (Disco Obu). At the moment, I’m developing a feature idea.
Any cinematic coups de cœur in the past year you’d like to tell us about?
One of my favorite cinematic experiences from last year was Zootopia. In addition, some of the VR short films I watched definitely blew my mind.
If you’ve already been to the Clermont-Ferrand, could you share with us an anecdote or story from the festival? If not, what are your expectations for this edition?
It will be my first time at the festival. I hope to watch as many shorts as possible. I’m excited about watching my film with an audience and seeing what works and what doesn’t. It will also be great to interact with other filmmakers there. Apart from all that, I look forward to exploring parts of Clermont-Ferrand if I find time.