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Interaction with Agneya Singh, story-teller, young visionary and, director of M Cream

M Cream was a visual delight and a moving story, unarguably among the best we’ve seen in recent times. Chances are if you haven’t seen M-Cream, one of 2016’s finest pieces of cinema, what ‘Bollywood lovers’ would at best describe as an ‘off-beat’ film, then you have missed out big!

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In a country that surprisingly polarizes subject driven narratives, categorizing them into ‘new-age’ cinema or movies made for a ‘certain kind of audiences’, films like M-Cream break established molds. M Cream definitely isn’t Bollywood but has appealed to most Hindi movie buffs. It doesn’t tread to the classic ‘Hollywoodian’ line, but would give any Westerner a brilliant two hour of enthralling and fascinating movie-watching experience.

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A film as much about the journey of a happy-go-lucky but promising bunch of youngsters from Delhi who thankfully don’t yap like a typical Delhi-ite but are in fact, attuned to exploring some of their vices in the form of a mythical recreational drug existing up in the hills was subject strong enough to explore and, a movie hard to ignore. That M Cream was also about its leading voices finding their own voice in the process of undertaking a soulful journey was depicted with a mature undertone of subtlety and skillfully depicted charm and erudition. It has a bit of everything, truth be told, in its visually-enchanting sojourn to the Himalayas- music, poetry, self-deprecatory humor, love, silent-feelings, the sense of powerlessness and the much-awaited feeler of retribution.

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That it has a cast that isn’t replete with ‘starry’ performers rather actors who’ve got theatre in blood and other experimental outlets of expressing their creative lens helps. That the storyline was oriented, orchestrated and evolved, by a strong youth presence gave M Cream, more than just India’s first trippy movie, an air of staid invincibility.

Picture Imaad Shah in lead role, drifter, musician, actor and for most unaware of his burgeoning talent, son of legend Naseeruddin Shah. Picture a cast that is replete with outstanding young performers including Auritra Ghosh who stoked an air of reassurance and chaos thanks to a bratty albeit interestingly funny character, a poignant and charming Ira Dubey supported by ever dependable, including Tom Alter and Lushin Dubey. It isn’t much of a surprise that M Cream swept a host of international film festivals, rather is a testimony to the booming success to the tapestry of young, avid and articulate film-makers and actors who present exciting, consumable subjects riding on both entertainment and novelty of subject, the latter being a ‘missing’ item in much of Indian movies.

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What’s Up Life were glad to catch up with Agneya Singh, the man who deserves the credit for bringing the elusive M-Cream and it’s creamers to the big-screen in what was a pleasurable and exciting free-wheeling chat.  Excerpts from our interaction:

  1. What prompted you to become a film-maker?

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I’ve always been fascinated by cinema ever since I was a kid. I got my first SLR way back in the ‘90s when I must have been around 10 years old. Not long after, when I was in high school, I remember saving up to buy a shiny camcorder. I almost pity all the kids today who strut around with their smart phones. It’s almost too easy to shoot video or take photographs nowadays; film is an art form at the end of the day and I think that despite all the benefits of the digital age, it’s lost that sacred edge. I don’t know what else to say except that I’ve always had the urge to communicate and the medium of film provides seemingly endless possibilities to do so.

  1. How long have you been behind the lens?

In one-way or another for most of my life, I would say. I picked up the camera when I was very young and experimented with photography and video throughout my school days. I think a filmmaker needs to be both observant and imaginative. There is, of course the lens of the camera but more importantly, there is the lens of the eye itself. This means that you’re constantly assessing, analyzing, dissecting and reinventing your environment. I’ve been doing that ever since I can remember.

  1. Did you study professional film-making?

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Yes. I studied filmmaking at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and it was an amazing experience, to say the least. Film school really gives you the time and space to think like a creative being unrestricted by commercial considerations; a luxury that is often hard to come by in the real world. It truly was an enlightening experience and the exposure that I received towards diverse forms of storytelling was tremendous. Heck, just waking up every morning in New York City was an education in itself!

  1. What are the professional challenges of being a young film-maker? How did you cope with those?

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When I started working on my first feature film I was just 22 years old. At the time, I thought I knew it all like most 22-year-olds do — but in retrospect, I knew very little about the real world. At meetings with potential producers or actors, the question of my age would invariably arise. I realized that once someone knew how old I was, they stopped taking me seriously. I can’t really blame them I guess but ultimately I had to start lying about my age. That went on for a couple of years until I predictably reached a somewhat respectable age. That being said, while being a young professional throws up it’s own share of troubles, I think that all first time filmmakers undergo a trial by fire. It’s incredibly difficult to get a film made and it takes a lot of hard work and passion to see it through.

  1. M Cream, has been an incredible journey, as also understood by its felicitation at various global film festivals. How did the idea come about?

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M Cream has been quite the adventure, indeed! The film is really an exploration of the myriad realities of rebellion indicative of contemporary youth culture. I grew up in the ’90s at a time when commercialism and materialism reigned supreme. Fortunately, in the last decade or so, we’ve witnessed a backlash against the cult of conformity. It’s probably the first time since the 1960s, that the youth movements are gaining traction on a global scale. “M Cream” was really inspired by the wild antics of my own peers and contemporaries as well as byour shared radical dreams. The global recognition from the film community has been overwhelming and the film has garnered ten awards and has been screened at over thirty film festivals across the world. It’s been incredible to say the least.

  1. What convinced you about its lead actors- Imaad and Ira to be drafted into the roles they’ve so nicely done in M Cream?

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Both Imaad and Ira have grown up in the theatre and exemplify a real commitment to the craft. After I had written the script, I realized that Bollywood stars could never do justice to the story. What we needed were character actors who were unafraid to take a risk. The film is pretty understated in a way and there’s a lot of subtext in the dialogue. Naturally we understood that only a character actor would be able to bring out the subtext and thereby complement the subtleties of the script. Moreover, I would say that “M Cream” blends elements of realism and poetry and, thus, the performances require a unique and balanced treatment. I think the role of ‘Figs’ — a dopey cynic — came fairly naturally to Imaad who, I think, had an innate understanding of the character. Whereas with Ira’s character Jay — a wide-eyed idealist — I remember we did a lot of work in terms of creating a back-story and character sketch since Ira was essentially playing against type. Needless to say but worthy to mention, audiences have absolutely loved and even freaked out over both characters and their on-screen shenanigans.

  1. Who are your inspirations in life?

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I find a lot of individuals and ideas to be inspiring; these range from the small but courageous acts of my own peers and contemporaries to the daring exploits of rebels and mavericks throughout the ages. If I were to look at the cinematic world, I would be remiss not to mention Jean-Luc Godard, Federico Fellini and Satyajit Ray. In terms of politics and philosophy I often turn to Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Che Guevara. In terms of poetry and literature — the works of beat writers such as Allen Ginsberg hold a special place. When I was 18 years old and living in New York, I met the beautiful singer-songwriter and revolutionary Joan Baez, who’s grace and commitment has stayed with me for a very long time, and who continues to inspire me to this day.

  1. Which actors would you like to work at some point time in your career?

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In Indian cinema, I would probably pick Konkona Sen Sharma, Abhay Deol, Ranbir Kapoor, Sonam Kapoor, Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Om Puri.

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From the West, I’d like to certainly work with Ian Mckellen, Jake Gyllenhaal, Rachel Weisz, Cate Blanchett, Robert Downey Jr., David Duchovny, Alyson Hannigan and Ro

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Dev Tyagi

Dravid, Black, Lara, Rajasthan, Raikkonen, Finland, Tea, Deserts, Morrison, Espionage, World Peace and disruptive ideas.

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