Kunal Kohli is a Hindi Film Director and Writer. He has made films like ‘Mujhse Dosti Karoge’, ‘Hum Tum’, ‘Fanaa’ and ‘Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic’. He started out as a film critic in the late nineties and hosted the show "Chalo Cinema" on Zee TV. He also directed about 24 Music Videos before finally giving up Video and Televison for films. He started his production house Kunal Kohli Productions in 2007 to make films for himself and launch new directors.
Kunal Kohli began by stating that he came from a regular Indian middle class family, which made his journey into Films a difficult escapade, explaining this he said, “I’ve been in this line since 1990 and it takes a lot of time and a lot of struggle… that is why I chose TV first… because I knew it would be more difficult to break into films…” He elucidated that to survive in this industry all one needs is passion and the willingness to fight for that passion. Another thing he believes is that learning Filmmaking is the same as learning to live, which is why honesty is a key quality that any Filmmaker should possess.
Talking about his film ‘Mujhse Dosti Karoge’, he said, “Mujhse dosti karoge didn’t work simply because it wasn’t from my heart… I had a film which had all the elements of a hit film, but what was missing was the most crucial element, the director’s soul, I was trying to be someone else and so I was rejected, because originality always succeeds and to know whether you are being yourself or being someone else you have to treat your thoughts with honesty and it is difficult to do that…” His disappointment with ‘Mujhse Dosti Karoge’ led him to understand that being afraid of failure is the first step to failure and thus he decided to make a film that he believed in, resulting in the hit film ‘Hum Tum’.
Describing the difficulties he came across while making ‘Hum Tum’ he said, “It was a very difficult film to make… I was ready to accept any failure that would come my way and so I gave it my best… when I was in doubt I asked myself if this is the film I want to make and if I felt convinced about it then I would do it passionately…” A three-hour film allows one to narrate a story that can take place in an hour, a few years or maybe even across centuries, but how one uses the time is what matters. While writing a script, he advised all the students to write each scene as if it were their last, making sure that every scene has a moment.
On the clichéd and formulaic nature of Hindi cinema, he said, “I love Hindi cinema, I’m not embarrassed by Hindi films nor do I have a problem with being ‘filmi’ in certain realistic parameters and that’s the beauty of Hindi cinema, that some clichés work and sometimes some don’t, but at the end its your conviction that makes it work not your calculation…” Commenting on contemporary films he said that today’s protagonists have interesting jobs and are well defined, whereas earlier they used to be vague. This trend has made writing a script easier, especially because characterization has taken an important role. On this topic he said, “When you write about a character you have to know everything about him…from what he likes to eat, how he speaks, what he likes to wear, to what his interests are, you should have at least a 3 page character sketch… In fact when I think about the characters in my films I don’t think they are fictional, they in fact will live longer than I will… I mean look at Gabbar Singh’s character from ‘Sholay’, he is still alive and kicking!”
Mr. Kohli attributes all his knowledge of Filmmaking simply to watching films an innumerable number of times, especially movies by filmmakers like Vijay Anand, Manoj Kumar, Ramesh Sippy, Raj Kapoor, Guru Dutt, Bimal Roy, Raj Khosla and many more. He feels that as students of Filmmaking it is important to study a filmmaker’s body of work.
In Filmmaking problems relating to weather, lighting conditions, crew, production, equipment etc always exist, but to be a good director it is important to have man - management skills, to be able to handle people and to be able to inspire the crew, including the light boy sitting up on the rafters despite these problems. Describing his process he said, “I plan my scene at the location, then call my actors and show them what I want… at this point my actor’s suggestions are taken into account and they are sent for their make - up etc, here I watch the entire scene like it were a play after which I discuss the whole thing with my DOP, who gives me his inputs about how to shoot the scene and we gradually breakdown the shots…” On set he never says ‘Cut’ as soon as the desired scene is done, because he likes to wait awhile to let something magical happen. He explained that Filmmaking is a lot about being fluid, allowing things to happen on their own and ‘going with the flow’ while always having a plan. As there is no perfect way to shoot a scene, it is mostly about what the Director is convinced about.
On being asked about his stint with Film Criticism he said, “When I couldn’t make films I decided that since I love films so much I might as well talk about them and figure out what people like and dislike… the best way to do this in fact is to see a film with the public and you can tell if the film will work or not… In that sense I was a strange kind of film critic…I wasn’t too concerned about my own viewpoint, you could say that I was a populist kind of critic or reviewer…” In the field of Television he learnt how to work within a time constraint and a budget, and turned out to become very disciplined. With these events in his life he illustrated that everything can teach one something but only if one is open and willing to learn new things at all times, which essentially is the only method to learn Filmmaking, since it is all about taking things from life and becoming a Director hardly stops that learning process. He advocated exhaustive scheduling and planning, as that is a very crucial part of the process of Filmmaking. Finally, without any prolific parting words and with a courteous thank you he concluded the lecture and wished the students good luck.
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