Our acquaintance goes back ten years. Anurag Goswami was studying Direction at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune back then. The Lucknow-based engineer, who gave up a lucrative career in Singapore to pursue film studies, has been off to a steaming start. His diploma film won the Satyajit Ray Foundation’s short film Award in conjunction with the London Indian Film Festival in 2013.
Today, Anurag Goswami talks to me about his decision to give it all up to feed his passion for cinema, his years at FTII, preparing for the exam and more! If you’re an FTII aspirant or someone deeply inspired or driven by the world of film-making, don’t miss this one.
When did you figure your love for the medium? Do you remember the first film you saw?
It was Chandra Barot’s “Don.” This was way back, sometime in the mid-eighties on Doordarshan. Around the same time my elder brother and some of his errant friends dragged me to the theatre (my first) for Raj Sippy’s “Loha.” So yeah, the beginnings were rather, well, peculiar. Love for the medium happened much later but we have always been a family of avid moviegoers. The weekend films on Doordarshan were always a big event. Watching them on the single-screens was a badge of honour.
What got you interested in filmmaking? What were you doing at this point?
There wasn’t any one particular moment of epiphany. A slow-burn rather. I discovered the magical, hidden world of cinema over the years while trying to escape the drudgery and discontent of a few of my life choices.
I was pursuing software engineering from the National University of Singapore. They made me write a hell lot of code which I realized, rather late, didn’t exactly set my heart on fire. Then I did 3 years at a management consulting firm as an analyst. They made me wear suits in peak summer which I didn’t appreciate much. That’s when I thought ki aise toh nahin chal payega (It’s not going to work like this). I was already a part of our University’s theatre group which was doing some really good work.
The National Library of Singapore is a mammoth treasure trove of films, music and literature from all around the world. Whatever little I was able to explore there ended up changing quite a few things for me. That place introduced me to this alternate reality where a few lucky people were making films. So I thought I want to do that.
You studied Direction at FTII. What was your experience at the institute like?
Let me put it this way. FTII was a rebirth, a revival. It transformed, challenged, overwhelmed, confirmed, denounced, disrupted pretty much everything I knew, or thought I knew, about, well, everything.
Your short “Kaun Kamleshwar” won the Satyajit Ray Foundation short film award at the London Indian Film Festival in 2013. Tell us about the film.
It was my diploma film, shot at the end of our three-year course. It’s a journey of two brothers in their quest for revenge. We shot it over a period of 14 days and a budget of Rs. 1 lakh (the usual for all diploma films of our batch). Most of the actors were Acting students from the Institute. So I had a personal, long-standing relationship with each one of them, which really helps when you are fighting against the entire universe to make your film.
How did you prepare for the FTII exam?
I had a vague idea about the pattern of the question paper but there isn’t much one can do with that. I watched films. Whatever I could get my hands on. Read about them on the internet, discussed and argued with fellow believers, a few books here and there. Actually, just fed my curiosity.
Would you like to share some tips with our readers on how they can prepare?
Just watch films. Make a note of your reactions, experiences, the goods, the bads of each one of these. Dig deep. Figure out why you respond to certain films over the others. Share your ideas and rejoice everytime they don’t conform. Form opinions. Hang out with people who share your fervor. Read about filmmakers, their life stories. Strengthen your relationship with nature, with the world around you. Travel. Or you may choose to ignore all this gyaan and still make it.
Any books/reading material you’d want to recommend to aspiring students?
Maybe ‘In The Blink of An Eye’ by Walter Murch and ‘My Last Breath’ by Luis Bunuel. Watch films. Of all kinds, of all times, from all over the world.
What is the selection process like, after you crack the written?
First of all, you are required to throw a big-ass party.
By the time you sober up, the Institute will invite a select bunch (about 40 per stream during our time in 2006) for a 3-day orientation and a round of interview. The panel consists of professors, filmmakers, maybe a psychologist, bureaucrats and a couple of inconsequential people whose only job would be to stare you down and intimidate you. Don’t fall for it. Don’t try to second-guess them, don’t try to outsmart them (there’ll be enough opportunities later) and don’t try to bluff them. There are no wrong answers and as tired, boring and cliché as it sounds, being honest is your best bet.
What films/projects are you working on currently?
I’m writing a web-series which is to be shot soon. I’m also trying to get my feature film off the ground. It’s a pseudo-murder mystery set entirely in a corporate office, plays out through a Friday night and involves a disgruntled pen-pusher, a few eager-to-please overtimers, a paper-cutter and an unfortunate boss.