Ajay G Rai and Alan McAlex have rushed in where lesser mortals have feared to tread, creating a platform where independent filmmakers can conceptualise their reel-life dreams. The producer duo, whose shelves are adorned by multiple National Awards won by Liar’s Dice and Killa in successive years and international awards such as the Crystal Bear for Killa at the Berlin Film Festival, tell Indrani Mukherjee about the Jar Pictures journey, the craft, and the potential indie cinema holds.
Edited Excerpts from an interview
Tell us about your individual journeys in the film industry. Where did it all start?
Ajay G Rai: I started out in 1995 and worked extensively as a line producer. Ventures like Anurag Kashyap’s Dev D and Gulal helped me hone my skills.
Alan McAlex: I began as a camera intern with Ashok Mehta in MF Hussain’s Gaja Gamini. I assisted various camera persons and entered production much later in 2007.
With such different backgrounds, was it difficult to evolve a working style where you synergised as a duo?
McAlex: We met for the first time while working on the sets of Harud and gelled instantly. Also, we both knew Geetu Mohan Das [the director of Liar’s Dice] and Rajeev Ravi [cinematographer and Geetu’s husband]. Our bonding was organic because we hadn’t really planned to work in collaboration.
Indie cinema has suddenly become ‘the ship of Theseus’ lately. Could you trace for us the beginnings and growth of this style of movie making in India?
McAlex: I believe independent cinema always had its own place in India. These self-financed projects had taken off much before the distribution system of corporate studios fell into place. What has changed lately is the kind of story-telling. The audience is evolving with growing exposure to world cinema. Simultaneously, you have film-makers like Anurag Kashyap who widened the audience’s horizons with his edgy productions.
Tell us what goes into the selection of indie movies in your robust portfolio. Can anybody who has a script approach you?
Rai: The strength of a movie lies in its kahani (story). The moment the story impresses us, we know that we should take up the project. With Nil Battey Sannata, we knew that the film has potential as soon as we had read the first line. What intrigues us usually is a strong connection with contemporary social reality.
McAlex: Initially, we never think about what kind of audience a particular film should aim at. We just set out to make a good film. Our judgments are largely based on our instincts as movie buffs.
How does Jar Pictures balance mainstream successes such as Gangs of Wasseypur with niche movies like Nil Battey Sannata?
McAlex: Our production interests are split two ways. On one hand, we produce our own feature films and on the other, we provide production services for big-budget films. Like right now, Ajay is working on Fitoor while I am occupied with Dangal. However, our primary interest lies in bringing unique voices to the big screen. It has become an easy balance for us, making smaller films in between the biggies.