A documentary set during the 2011 World Cup called “Beyond All Boundaries” is officially funded. IIF promoted the project, which was seeking crowd-funding on Kickstarter, two days ago in hopes of seeing it reach the $45,000 goal necessary to move forward. Now that it’s over, IIF got a chance to sit down with director Sushrut Jain to discuss the documentary, which is also being presented by the Big Bang Theory’s Kunal Nayyar. The film is set to premiere at a popular film festival in Los Angeles the first week of April.
IIF: So you must be a huge cricket fan to pursue this subject. When did you start brainstorming for this documentary and what inspired you to do it?
Jain: Well, basically I had gone to film school at USC and graduated from there in 2008 and made a short film in India [called Andheri], which was fiction. That film had done very well in the festival circuit and so on and I wanted to get started on another project. So I’d been working on feature film ideas, writing scripts and other things and I was getting very antsy to go back into production and shoot something. The thing with feature films, especially with your first feature that you’ve written yourself, is it’s very difficult to get it off the ground. And so I started thinking “God. When am I going to shoot things?”
Then with the world cup coming up, I sort of idly started thinking about how much fun it would be to go back home to India, watch all the world cup matches and maybe even shoot some things for fun. And I started throwing the idea around to friends of mine, who are other Indian cricket fans in the states as well, and basically what I heard back from most of them was “Why don’t you make a movie?” And I thought you know what, no one else is going to do it in this way so why don’t I do it? And literally about 3 months before or around September or October of 2010 I started to get serious about it. I put together a rough idea of what it would be and how I was going to raise money. I did a IndieGoGo style campaign at the end of the year and raised enough money to allow me to get through production. I got to India by January and hired a crew by interviewing tons of people and gathered this crew of around 6 to 7 people and we put together a plan of what we’re going to do and just started shooting.
IIF: And great timing, I mean it was the year India won in such dramatic fashion no less. It seriously became such a phenomenon even here in the states. You know its a big deal when ESPN here in America is covering cricket. Back then I even remember ESPN covering the superfan (Sudhir Kumar), who is a subject in your film. I remember reading about him.
Jain: Yeah, he started getting a little bit of coverage in the lead up to the world cup and actually that’s how I even heard about him. I was googling superfan sitting here in L.A. Then this guy (Kumar) started popping up in a couple of articles and that was it. And there were very brief descriptions of him. And I was like, you know this guy sounds real. So from there, he became one of the projects. We searched for him all over the country and eventually we decided we can’t find him and we figured he was going to show up at the World Cup matches. So we went to a world cup match in Bangalore and sure enough, he was there waving his flag and fully painted. So we went up to him and said listen we are making a movie and it’s about you. And he was really nice and that was sort of the beginning of what became a really long friendship.
IIF: Interesting. So that’s one of the characters. Tell me a little bit about how you found the other two subjects and their story.
Jain: Sure. So I was very keen on finding a young kid playing cricket. We weren’t necessarily looking for someone who was big time, we were just looking for someone who had a good personal story. So we were in Mumbai and went out looking for and interviewing a lot of kids we would find. And with many of the kids, we would go to their home with their permission and meet their parents. So we followed a lot of leads. It was like a journalistic thing almost.
But we were kind of not really thrilled with any of the people we were finding and one day we saw these girls fully dressed in white playing cricket in Shivaji Park in Bombay. They came up to us and started talking to us. They were really full of life and fun. And at that age, around 14 to 18, boys aren’t necessarily that talkative but girls are. So we got along really well with them and we decided to see what their stories are. So that’s how we found Akshaya [Surve].
In the trailer you see a Muslim girl who unfortunately didn’t end up making the cut in the final film. Her story ended up being not as interesting as this other girl, who was her best friend and so we went with the Akshaya’s story, which is in the movie. So that’s how we found the girl.
IIF: And how did you find your third subject? The boy cricket prodigy, Prithvi Shaw. (Featured in this story about India’s rising sports stars)
For the boy, I met with a lot of journalists who were following cricket in Mumbai and one of them mentioned this boy who everyone’s been talking about. They would say that this kid was going to be the next Sachin. So we met up with the boy and his dad and just thought, wow this a great story. He was a little easier to find than the others.
IIF: So you found these three people, you did the filming and now in post-production you decide to use the crowd-funding mechanism through Kickstarter. I’m seeing a lot of independent filmmakers go to Kickstarter and use this to help their project get funded. Tell me what that experience was like, especially now that it’s officially funded and fresh in your mind.
Jain: When I came back, we had exhausted all the funds shooting in India. We kept the costs really low in India so we were able to shoot for a really low amount, even though we shot for 4 months. But all the money was done and when I came back I needed to figure something out. You know post production ends up costing around twice as much as production, especially in documentaries because you have around 200 hours of footage and you’re trying to make a 2 hour movie. So that’s like months of editing. And you have a pay an editor and you have to pay them an American rate. So all of sudden, you’re dealing with huge expenses.
So I put in a lot of money personally. So after spending a lot of personal funds, we kind of decided that this is not a good way to go. So I got in touch with Kunal Nayyar of the “Big Bang Theory” mostly because I was looking for him to the do the voice over for the film. He watched the trailer and watched more and more of the film and he was just in love with it. Then we came up with this idea of a Kickstarter campaign. We threw it around for quite a while and then just decided to do it and see what happens. So that’s how it came about.
IIF: And it seems to have worked out. Did you know Kunal before hand or was he just inspired by the story itself?
Jain: Well since I work in L.A. with films and such, I know a lot of Indian actors here. And so I just started getting the word around to a few actors about needing an Indian male with a good voice who has a slight Indian accent to replace my voice over. And someone mentioned Kunal and gave me his e-mail and I just sent him an e-mail with the trailer asking him if he wanted to do the voice over. I never really expected to hear back from him. But sure enough he watched the trailer, loved it and gave me a call. And that’s how it began.
IIF: That’s awesome. Turned out to be a really good break right there.
Jain: Yeah and all along we’ve had some really lucky breaks go our way. If there’s one thing I learned, is you have to believe in your project and reach out to everybody you can and good things start to happen.
IIF: For sure. This was a story that really appealed to me as well. In fact, the concept itself surprised me. I just thought about it and cricket being so big in India, I don’t think it’s utilized enough as a subject. Why do you think that is?
Jain: I mean there is a long answer and short answer to your question. I’ll try to be somewhere in the middle. I think the problem is in terms of cinema and cinematic growth, India is far behind many countries in the world. I think there’s just not a full understanding there of the potential of cinema to be outside of what their doing right now. So the vast majority of cinema there is just song and dance Bollywood stuff with slight variations on that. And there’s just not an understanding that there’s great stories to be told among us, among the people that we are and the ones you see on the street.
I grew up in Bombay, and I’ve always felt that people are just not telling the right stories. So I knew even when I came up with the idea for this documentary that there’s not going to be a single person who will come up with this idea. Even though it’s such an obvious idea. All it’s saying is “let’s go there. Shoot India’s progress through the world cup but find some ordinary people who are also connected to the sport of cricket and I’m sure their lives would be amazing.”
And that’s all we wanted to do and we found the right people. So there’s many reasons why people aren’t making films like this and a lot of it has to do with the fact that there’s just not enough of an appreciation of the people in India for their own stories.
IIF: Yeah, it’s a certain way of thinking. Like you said, the mainstream over there is more concerned with something else. There is an independent industry there that’s growing but they haven’t figured out a way to tap into that personal and universal appeal.
Jain: A lot of the independent films start out with the right intentions but it’s so heavily influenced by the mainstream, escapist cinema that even in independent cinema, you don’t always get honesty. And they try because they are definitely doing stuff. I mean, some of the Aamir Khan stuff is among the best, I feel, in terms of independent cinema there but it’s still lagging behind world standards.
IIF: So you mention how cricket is one of the only things that unites everyone in India in the trailer. Do you want to talk about that a little more?
Jain: Absolutely. It’s a very unique situation. I don’t think there is any other sport-country combination quite like cricket in India. The reason is we are an enormously diverse country. We have 28 different languages. More languages than Europe. And we have languages that are more different from each other than like Italian and German. I mean, Kannada is more different from Bengali than Italian is from German. And so you have this huge diversity there with religion, caste and economic class.
So people don’t necessarily think of themselves as Indian first and typically that kind of thing is solved by some sport and we don’t have any sport at which we are world beaters really besides cricket. If you look at how we performed in the Olympics, I think it’s one of the worst performances on a per capita basis. So there is really no sport that we all get behind like cricket.
People also talk about movies as a uniting force but it’s different. In the south they watch movies in their own language so for them the heroes of Bollywood are not their heroes. So the only thing kind of heroes that everybody from the north, south, east and west can get behind are the guys in the national cricket team. Everybody watches that. Everybody stops what they’re doing when India is playing a national cricket game and especially when the world cup is happening. So that whole month and a half was just something to behold. That’s what everybody talked about everywhere you went and especially in the big cities like Bombay and stuff. It was just completely awash with world cup madness.
IIF: Madness might be the appropriate world. Tell me a little bit about that experience. Being there during the matches must have been something else.
Jain: Yeah, we capture a lot of the celebrations in our film actually because we were right outside Wankhede Stadium the night of the World Cup Final. There was a celebration that went on till 5 in the morning. It was a massive celebration with tons of people honking their cars, walking on the street, dancing with impromptu bands forming with drummers.
It was really cool because it was this type of celebration, which I wrote about in my blog while shooting. It was different from when I was in L.A. and the Lakers won the championship. And you actually don’t want to be outside for that celebration because there’s probably going to be a riot. People are going to break things and burn cars. And it was nothing like that in India. It was just pure joy. No one was angry. They were just thrilled and happy and they wanted to party.
You had the feeling that we had just won everything. Almost like we’d won independence or something. It means a lot to everyone there. I think because life is so tough in India for so many people that the idea that we are the best in the world at something means a lot. It means a lot more than it does in the U.S. where they are used to being the best in the world at everything.
IIF: So what are the next steps as far as distributing the film?
Jain: We are actively searching for a home for the film for distribution. We were in talks with a major Hollywood studio and that’s kind of fallen through so we’re reaching out to a couple of other studios. But because of the interest level I think people understand the potential commercial value for this film with the Indian population here in the states and obviously India as well.
Congrats to Sushrut Jain and the entire team working on “Beyond All Boundaries.” They are finishing the film during the next six weeks before it premieres at a leading film festival in Los Angeles the first week of April. Look out for more news about that and the documentary itself here at IIF.