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How I made it: Ranj (2020)

“Ranj” shows the struggles of a farmer’s son who involuntarily emigrates to Delhi to earn a living. Amanpreet, a young man from a village in Punjab, is forced to migrate to India’s capital city, New Delhi, for his livelihood. But he is not wired for city life and is trapped in a dead-end existence. He yearns for everything he has left behind- his carefree days, his bride-to-be Geetu, and the familiarity of village life.

His co-workers at the automobile tools shop jump at every opportunity to humiliate him, and even his boss constantly threatens to fire him. When Amanpreet cracks under the pressure of a troubled work-life, the impending wedding, and his pennilessness, all hell breaks loose.

82 Min | Punjabi, Hindi, Haryanvi | Drama, Coming of Age | 2019 | India

In its persistent mission and zeal to promote good cinema, Diorama brings you the experience of the Director of the film - Sunit Sinha

Why this subject matter for your film.

Although I have lived in big cities, Delhi and Mumbai, for more than twenty-nine years, deep inside I am still a small-towner. I have never breathed easy with this strange sense of rootlessness. I call it strange because the problem, as it may sound so, is not chronic. It’s more like a slight nagging pain which you slowly learn to get accustomed to. I don’t think I am the only one. A lot of us who have had to migrate to a metropolis feel that way. But there’s a duality in it. Moving to an economic hub to tap better life-opportunities is a norm around the world. It is viewed as a definitive sign of individual progress. It is all too deeply ingrained in our collective psyche. One is expected to chase a big city dream but what if there’s this one odd person who does not believe in that dream itself. We have explored this theme of duality in Ranj.

“A gradual build-up of intrigue, aggression and despair in a deeply personal tale.” – Tanzim Pardiwalla (Mashable India)

Where did you find the story for this film?

The idea/premise for this film came to me while I was generally sitting at home thinking of when and how I would make my next short film. I had made five already. I work on multiple ideas at the same time and jot everything down. In order to flesh out the premise into a plot and then a story, I did what I usually do, i.e. travel to the thought-out places and absorb as much as possible. I rely on my imagination only to an extent. I need to have a grasp of the village or the city I decide to set my film in. I must know how the place smells, what the people out there usually talk about, and how they behave, what they eat, and what they don’t. What occupations do they have and what their core beliefs and life-issues are. In the process, I keep developing my story. I borrow, selectively, from all that I hear and see.

What were the challenges you faced in making the film?

The two key challenges were arranging funds to make Ranj and since I was debuting as a feature director, getting the right cast in place within what our budget would have allowed. The initial plan was not to turn producers ourselves. We were in talks with an established producer from the Punjabi Film Industry. But due to creative differences and certain discomforting pre-conditions, Adesh Sidhu- the male lead of Ranj and I decided to task ourselves with raising funds through personal sources. As for pulling together a team in place, some of the known actors politely declined as they saw little money in the project. We decided then to go purely for talent. Yet, the film has some recognizable faces from the web-series and films currently streaming.

“Few films like Ranj have delved into Delhi's dark underbelly.” -Nyay Bhushan (The Hollywood Reporter)

Did you face any problems in releasing the film?

Yes, COVID-19. In recent times, for an independent film without a noticeable star cast, the chief source of revenue has been OTT platforms. But to get your film on a major OTT platform, it was often advised that we plan a theatrical release and simultaneously, create sufficient buzz around the film. We were in talks with a well-known distributor and had tentatively fixed the first Friday of June 2020 for the India release. But then the national lockdown was imposed, the theatres downed their shutters, and we had no choice but to shelve our plan. Ranj’s festival journey was also cut short as quite a few festivals got canceled for the year. In spite of all that we have had to brave in the last few months, we are quite hopeful. There’ve been some positive developments, of late.

What was your background before making your first film?

Theatre has been a constant in my life since boyhood. It’s been three decades now. I have acted, written, and directed for the stage. In the nineties, in Mumbai, when I was fortunate enough to find interesting assignments early on as an actor and was practically quite busy, I would still do plays with The Company Theatre. Much later, in Delhi, while I was part of the Advertising Industry, I, along with some equally enthusiastic people, started Actor Factor Theatre Company. That was in 2006. To date, we have produced 13 full-length stage productions. It was only around 2010 that I decided to get into filmmaking. I had started writing screenplays after assisting directors- Ramesh Sippy and Sanjay Upadhyay, during my Mumbai days, and by this time here in Delhi, I had a pile of bound scripts staring at me. I did not know what to do with them. I had approached some directors in Mumbai but nothing materialized for long. I had to take that plunge. I felt compelled.

“An assured and masterfully crafted debut feature.” – Siddharth Naidu (Voxspace)

How do you think filmmakers like you can overcome common challenges like finance and distribution?

Making a film is a very expensive affair. That’s an undeniable fact. Whether anyone, either striving for artistic excellence or commercial appeal, likes it or not, all one’s efforts are directly linked to the market. We are aware that there is a certain way the market thinks and behaves. There’s this set of norms, we see, that are being sacredly adhered to. Now, my understanding of it is quite straight forward, and I risk it being seen as my naivety or my being too simplistic about it. It’s up to the filmmaker how much she or he wants to challenge those norms, or not at all. The more one challenges the more difficult one’s path is going to be. At the end of it, it’s a matter of personal choice. Besides, my inquiry tells me that the more clarity I have on ‘film distribution’ the better I would understand the ‘financing’ part.

Interesting facts about Ranj

The character of Geetu, the female lead, in the film is loosely based on and is inspired by a real person I met, during my research, in a village in south-west Punjab. She is the daughter of a union leader. She used to sing and act in street plays championing the cause of workers’ rights and protesting against the issues affecting the small and marginalized farmers. I, in fact, at one point in time, wished to cast her in the role but could not due to various reasons.

Festivals and Awards

  1. Jio MAMI 21st Mumbai Film Festival With Star – India Premiere

  2. Nominee- Manish Acharya Award (Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival) – For New Voices In Indian Cinema

  3. 10th Chicago South Asian Film Festival – North American Premiere (Category: In Competition) – 2019

  4. 15th International Film Festival of Thrissur – 2020

  5. Nominee – K W Joseph Film Award- 7th Edition (International Film Festival of Thrissur) for Best Debut Feature Film

  6. 8th Indian Film Festival of Melbourne – World Premiere (Category: Beyond Bollywood/In Competition) – 2019

  7. 7th Woodpecker International Film Festival (Category: Indian Films/In Competition) – 2019

  8. Best Director Spl. Award (Category: Indian Feature Film) at 7th Woodpecker International Film Festival – 2019

  9. 3rd Singapore South Asian International Film Festival – Asia Premiere (Category: In Competition) – 2019

  10. Nominee – Fipresci India Grand Prix – Best Indian Feature Film – 2019


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