'Noblemen addresses homosexuality, homophobia and toxic masculinity': Director Vandana Kataria
With her debut film Noblemen, life came to a full circle for writer-director Vandana Kataria, who began her academic journey in a boarding school in Dehradun. The 42-year-old, who was a production designer on Shanghai and Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye, and a second unit director on Gully Boy, has set a boarding school as the premise for Noblemen that features actors Kunal Kapoor and Ali Haji. But this all-boys boarding school is rampant with bullying, homophobia, and toxic masculinity; all of which helps in layering Kataria’s characters in this film which is themed on William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice.
Ahead of its commercial release, Kataria tells us what made her pick Shakespeare’s tragic play as the theme for her debut, challenges of making a feature film for the first time and her upcoming projects. Edited excerpts:
Q: Why did you theme Noblemen on The Merchant of Venice?
Vandana Kataria: Actually, this project came my way while I was trying to sell another script of mine that will now turn into my second film. Saregama was launching Yoodlee Films and was looking for scripts that are based on literature, and I picked up The Merchant of Venice, as I’ve always been intrigued by this play. It’s considered as Shakespeare’s most controversial play because it is seen as anti-Jew, with tons of homosexuality… And for me, personally, Shylock (the principal antagonist) is one of the most tragic heroes, and the idea of revenge was very interesting. So I dived into it and came up with a story.
Q: While Noblemen addresses bullying, there’s a brief kissing scene involving Kapoor and perhaps, Ali Haji...
VK: Yes, homosexuality is a small aspect in Nobelmen. Since it is an all-boys school, homophobia, homosexuality, and toxic masculinity play a part. There are several layers to the characters and the film.
Q: What were the challenges in making your first film?
VK: I believe that a first time filmmaker needs to be padded with maximum resources in terms of best crew, DOP, art directors, dialogue writer, production designers, etc., because the first time filmmaker is not that experienced, and a good crew can probably help shape that film better. All of this means a lot of money, but first time filmmakers get the least money and that I think becomes a challenge.
Q: Was there a moment while filming when you felt that you have made a good film?
VK: Frankly speaking, I will never be satisfied with my work. I can only see mistakes and things that could’ve been better. Also, I feel movies are probably the only form of art, if I can say so, where all of us – makers and the audience – feel that we can make it better or see fault in what has been made. Not everyone wants to improve a painting or a dance production or a song, but when it comes to movies, we all think that we all know how to shoot, edit or even act in it. Everyone feels that they know better than the makers and perhaps, they do, but it becomes tricky.
Q: You’ve been in the industry for a while, donning various hats. At what point did you decide to make a film?
VK: I wanted to make a film long ago, in fact, soon after Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye but I didn’t have the means. I didn’t know how to write a story. Slowly, over the years, I worked in more films, gained more knowledge and experience, and after finishing Detective Byomkesh Bakshi, I studied screen-writing online and it was then that I arrived at this point. I knew I could direct a shot, but I didn’t know if I could draw a performance out of it. Now I know I can write and I have a lot of stories to share. So I hope there will be many more films.
Q: Tell us about the script that you’re turning into a film with Ronnie Screwvala’s RSVP.
VK: It’s a story about a dysfunctional family living in denial. It features three generations of women in a matriarchal home in Kerala. It has songs, dance sequences, lots of drama and comedy.
Q: Any plans of making a web-series?
VK: There is a project in the pipeline, which I have been asked to direct but I haven’t signed yet. I have a concept in mind, which I have begun to develop. If it works out, I will like to start my journey of a producer with it.
Noblemen made it to these festivals
- UK Asian Film Festival
- NY Indian Film Festival
- Kala Ghoda Art Festival
- Kashish Mumbai International Queer Festival
- Chicago South Indian Film Festival