Vasan Bala: Showing his wares
From Mumbai to Cannes with a debut feature called Peddlers, Vasan Bala was pinching himself when he heard that his film had been selected for the Critics’ Week 2012.
Bala managed to get over his surprise, get on a plane and look perfectly cool in the 100 percent-filled hall when Peddlers premiered.
Bala worked in banking before getting into the film business, and started out by trying his hand at writing. He then worked with Indian producer/director/writer Anurag Kashyap, who co-produced Peddlers (he also raised money by crowd-funding on the internet), and with British director Michael Winterbottom (as assistant director on the film, Trishna) to make his bones.
Peddlers’ shows Bala to be a young man with a skill for writing and handling his characters.
“I refused to audition anyone to put them into a scripted situation, so they would play on their instincts. A low-budget film demands improvisation.”
The film hangs on a story of terminally-ill people being used as “drug-mules” and shows a certain social awareness. All this wrapped up in a large dose of very violent behaviour, especially from a corrupt, and impotent cop who starts out as a ordinarily sympathetic.
Bala admits to having been a “geeky type who fantasised at school about being a gangster.”
That didn’t happen, though, and he remarks that he’s “one of the last of the VHS generation, and the only films available in Bombay then, were Hollywood B-movies…” Later on, he says, “I discovered Martin Scorcese and Michael Mann.”
There’s no singing and dancing in the 116-minute Peddlers (except in a disco scene), and this is still a relatively new concept for many filmgoers today outside of India who like Hindi films. Bala is aware of being among a group of young Indian directors whose work better suits distribution circuits further afield.
“Bollywood is self-consumed. The market for that type of film is big enough in India to recover costs. For our kind of films there isn’t a venue now [in India], and there are going to be much better films coming out.”