Runjiv J. Kapur is a filmmaker based in Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania. His body of work encompasses more than 150 ad films, documentaries, shorts, infomercials and public service advertising and films. He has produced and directed current affairs shows, fashion and sporting events. His hard-hitting short film “Colorless” which exposes the sorry plight of Albinos in Tanzania – who are killed for their ‘body parts’ as superstition leads many to believe that killing albinos will make them rich! – recently won the Juror’s Award for the Best Short Documentary at the Chashama Film Festival (2011) in New York. Says Runjiv: “It’s indeed gratifying to have your work appreciated. But my intention was to highlight a brutal practice that has no place in today’s day and age.”
Runjiv hopes that the documentary will go some distance in changing the lives of the Albinos whose victimization has pushed them to the fringes of Tanzanian society and are living in dire poverty. One of the Albinos whom Runjiv interviewed for his short film, broke into an impromptu song that he had himself composed on the community’s plight.
Runjiv has an enduring passion for Indian films. And like many aficionados of Indian movies, he considers the term “Bollywood” demeaning: “The Indian film industry has its own identity. By calling it Bollywood, we are only latching on to Hollywood’s coat-tails. What’s worse, it smacks of a lack of creativity.”
Having earned his spurs as a filmmaker under the tutelage of master filmmaker Asit Sen and later Mahesh Bhatt, Runjiv has imbibed their radical approach to filmmaking. Reminiscing about the 1980s, when he assisted Bhatt on his pathbreaking film Arth (1982), Runjiv says: “Those were difficult times for filmmakers. Making a film meant making all kinds of creative compromises. Though Kuldip Pal, the Nairobi-based producer was an excellent producer and had complete faith in Bhatt, during the post-production, he was swayed and wanted to add stuff that then were considered to be necessary for delivering a successful, so-called ‘mainstream’ film. Bhatt, however, stuck to his guns. That had a huge influence on me.”
Runjiv wanted to make films on his terms. But the Indian film industry of the 1980s neither offered the opportunities nor the professionalism that he desired. “I craved the kind of sensibility that Hollywood productions had to offer.” He reminisces about the time when he had worked on a Hollywood production – Sea Wolves – featuring greats like David Niven and Roger Moore. The entire approach to filmmaking was an eye-opener for the young Runjiv who had seen Indian film stars behave like errant school kids and get away with it. It was de rigeur for a big film star to report 8-10 hours late. The entire crew would be cooling their heels and the producer would have to bear the losses with a grin. So impressed was Runjiv with the American crew’s dedication to their work that he sneaked up to Gregory Peck during one of the shoots and confessed to him that that it was the first time he had seen an actor come so prepared to the sets. An amazed Peck shot back: “But that’s my job.” When Runjiv told him that in Bombay, the dialogues would be written on the sets, Peck “freaked out”. Recalls Runjiv: “He called out to David Niven and asked me to repeat what I had told him.” He adds: “That’s what I wanted the Indian film culture to be…the same level of dedication and professionalism that I had experienced on the set of Sea Wolves.”
The dismal state of the Indian film industry drove Runjiv away from Bombay to Dar-es-Salam. As he puts it, he had “gone for three days but that stay has extended to 11 years”. However, his dream to make movies didn’t die. For years, he has “scouted around for the story that would resonate with me”. The day he read about a feisty Indian woman who had the commitment to fight a long and hard battle against a corporation and won, he knew he had found the story that he wanted to tell.
Runjiv’s journey back to Bombay – and yes, Bollywood – has begun. “The kind of films that are being made today gives me confidence that there is a market for different kinds of movies in India. As long as we have entertaining and sensible cinema, there is hope. And that’s not such a difficult combination.”
Runjiv’s first feature film has gone into pre-production and he is targeting to get his film made in 2012.