Says Kshitij Sharma, Director of the Dada Saheb Phalke Film Festival Award Documentary, “Savoy: Saga of an Icon” –
By SIMRAN KAPOOR
Kshitij Sharma is a multi-award winning filmmaker from New Delhi. He started his career as an announcer with All India Radio in 1999 before moving on to full-time filmmaking with his internationally acclaimed film, ‘Kaalchakra’, in 2014. Since then, he has made 6 feature films. His latest release is the film ‘Devil’ (Maupassant’s Le Diable), which had a sensational film festival run in 2018 with 33 awards and over 100 screenings worldwide and is currently playing on streaming platforms in 11 countries.
Here are some excerpts from an interview with him:
How does it feel to be the curator of a documentary that has bagged 19 prestigious National and International awards?
Feels good but I try not to attach too much importance to awards and instead try to keep my focus on what to do next rather than dwell on what’s done. I’m glad that the hard work by everyone who worked on this film is getting acknowledged at a global level.
You’ve been trained in the Sanford Meisner method at the Barry John Studio and have developed unique movies like “Kaalchakra”, “Devil,” “Let’s Talk about it” and now, “Savoy’ . Tell us about your journey as a director and what drives you towards this vocation?
I’ve lived and breathed cinema for as long as I remember. There was nothing I ever wanted to do other than being a part of the film world. I started out as an actor and did some work in theatre and film but the absolute immersion in nearly all aspects of filmmaking as a director always enticed me. I was lucky to find some good mentors and a great team that helped me make my first film, Kaalchakra. I was already armed with good theoretical knowledge of the craft by reading about the technicalities involved and following the works of filmmakers I admired but by and large I picked up whatever little I know about filmmaking through trial and error. Then it became an addiction and I’m still very much an addict – a fact that’s reflected in the name of our production house, Cineddiction Films.
What has been the inspiration behind “Savoy: Saga of an Icon” and what does it revolve around?
I consider myself an adopted child of Mussoorie having spent countless days there over a span of almost 25 years. Back in college, my friends and I used to frequent Savoy on vacations. It used to be nearly abandoned and run down with half baked tales of its iconic past floating around. When it shut down for repairs for almost a decade, my fascination with the hotel only grew stronger. I knew there had to be some incredible stories about India’s largest and one of the oldest mountain hotels just waiting to be discovered and I was eager to find them. Mr Ganesh Saili’s books offered the best and the most illustrative anecdotes I could find. I was hooked to his books and a few years ago went looking for him as an eager fan, hoping to get my copy of his book, ‘Mussoorie Medley’, autographed by him, which he very kindly obliged. Years later, when Mr Saili, Mr Kishore Kaya (Owner, Savoy Hotel) and Mr Vineet Aggarwal (CEO, Savoy Hotel) discussed the possibility of making a documentary on the illustrious history of the hotel, they got in touch with me. As a filmmaker who primarily prefers fictional storytelling, I was never interested in making a documentary (and will most likely not make another one after this) but the chance to explore those lost stories of Savoy’s past and the opportunity to work with Mr Saili was a temptation too hard to resist. Narrated by Mr Saili, himself, the film chronicles the iconic past and nearly 200 years of rich history associated with the hotel.
Four days – Four people – One camera – No retakes and one legendary author Ganesh Saili – and winning 19 prestigious awards – how do you recall this magical experience of yours with your crew?
As a director, I prefer to work with small manageable crews. We only had our cinematographer Abhishek Negi, our sound engineer Bhaskar Sharma and our production manager Deeya Dey. My core team has remained the same for the past 6 films that I’ve directed. Working with them is a breezily intuitive experience as we understand each other so well. Our producer, Kishore Kaya, provided us with all the resources we asked for and was a pillar of support and encouragement throughout. The entire team of Savoy took really good care of us while simultaneously catering to the hotel guests. As for Mr Saili, words fall short. He is a real star on and off camera. He used to arrive 15 minutes before the call time every morning and work tirelessly till late evening while keeping everyone around him in high spirits. His energy is infectious, his sense of humour matchless and his talent incomparable. Working with him has enriched me as person.
What message do you wish to convey through the documentary and also to the budding film makers of Uttarakhand?
The Savoy hotel has a rich history of nearly 200 years behind it. I hope through this film, everyone will be able to take a journey back in time to rediscover some lost chapters of not just the hotel’s but of Mussoorie’s history as well. As for budding filmmakers, even though I don’t consider myself to be any kind of expert, I would just say, don’t pick up filmmaking unless you can immerse yourself completely in it. This is a profession that will break the bank and break your back repeatedly so you need to be obsessively in love with what you do. If you are that, then don’t stop for anyone or anything. Study the techniques, watch more movies, collaborate effectively with people and be resourceful. Don’t make excuses. Make your movie.
In the lockdown, while everyone is binge watching, and Netflix, Prime Video, etc., are blooming with documentaries, we are super excited at the thought of watching “Savoy” – a masterpiece born out of our land. When and where can we expect to watch it?
The film is currently only playing in the film festival circuit. Till the time a film is in its festival run, there are restrictions on making it publicly available. Post that, I’m sure the producers would plan on making it available to watch on a suitable platform.