Tungrus : An Interview with Director Rishi Chandna
27th March 2019 by Will Stewart
The musings of one family’s love hate relationship with their rather unusual pet rooster.
We got in touch with the talented Rishi Chandna to ask him some questions about Tungrus. If you’d like to see your film on MadeGood.tv, then please feel free to make a submission.
MadeGood – How did you build a relationship with the family in the film? It didn’t seem like they had the chicken for that long before you started filming, so it appears you have built a good level of trust with them all very quickly.
Rishi – I feel that some documentary subjects can be eager to tell their story, it is a form of catharsis. The Bharde family was genuinely troubled by their situation with the chicken, and they were perhaps looking for an outlet, a kind of therapy if you will. So that would have played a part in letting a film crew into their lives.
We got really lucky with finding this story, or rather with this story finding us. My co-producer was working in the same office as the younger son in the film, Sameer Bharde, and they were friends and colleagues. One day over lunch, he brought up the situation at home with the chicken and with his dad wanting to eat it. They’d had the chicken for 6 months already by then. She met me the same day and it came up as casual conversation. I was immediately keen to meet them and see if they would want to work with me on telling the story. Sameer was already on board and he did most of the convincing of his parents before I first them.
They are an intelligent progressive family and it didn’t take them long to understand and trust me that I would tell their story in a creative documentary that would be worth remembering, and also something that they could laugh at each time they saw it.
MadeGood -I think the real charm of this film is the subtly varying levels of affection each of the family members have towards the chicken. Did you know before filming that it was going to work as well as it did, or did it just kind of evolve nicely as you were in production?
Rishi -There was a sense early on that this was a very dramatic and absurd situation for any family to be in. I knew we’d found something unique in the subject matter itself, which if told in the least melodramatic tonality would have the greatest connect with the viewer. We set out keeping that in mind, and ofcourse many things evolved and developed during production as well. For e.g.: we didn’t know that there was a chicken shop visible from outside their living room window where the chicken would spend some time each day, and where Mr. Bharde would actually buy his chicken from. These were revelations to as, and each day of shoot only added to our confidence in the story.
MadeGood – As far as I can tell this is your first film- what an achievement! Were you working in the film industry before turning your hand to directing, or was this literally a completely new direction for you?
Rishi – I’ve been producing and directing commissioned work for some time now – digital commercials, corporate films, videos for NGOs, etc. Whatever helps pay the bills and survive in Bombay. But that kind of work can often be draining, sometimes soul crushing, and I was burning out. I was already very eager to do my first independent project, I’d even saved up some money for it, when the chance to make Tungrus came along and I jumped at it. It was a new direction in the sense that I got to create something with complete creative freedom which also made me the owner of my own work.
MadeGood – The film has won lots of awards and got some really good exposure. How did you go about promoting the film?
Rishi – I wanted Tungrus to be a global film which will do well on the festival circuit, win accolades, get lots of press and critical acclaim, and wanted it to reach a broad audience globally eventually by licensing it to major broadcaster. And we’ve been very fortunate with the journey the film has had thus far. But it took a lot of hard work to get it out there and seen as much as it has been seen.
When I was finishing the post, I realized that I wasn’t just the director here, I was also the producer, which meant that I would have to figure out my own festival distribution, be my own publicist, sales agent etc. With the film not having proven itself, there wasn’t anyone really reaching out to help me. And having never done any of this before, I set out trying to learn and do as much as I could.
I worked on a solid festival strategy and once we got into out first few major festivals (visions du reel, hot docs, Palm Springs), it became possible to reach out to journalists and publications to write about the film. We also built a strong social media profile and kept making our announcements, sometimes influencers would help us out by sharing our news. More festival selections started coming fast with lots more press attention, and soon we were winning awards. I also made it a point to keep in touch with the people I met on my festival travels and shared news of awards with them. And when we were ready to broaden the audience further, we licensed the film to New York Times Op-Docs, where it has been seen and appreciated widely.
MadeGood – What are you working on next?
Rishi – Having won at Slamdance 2019, Tungrus is now an Oscar qualifying short documentary. So I am figuring out our Oscar campaign plan in the run up to 2020. It’s a long shot but we want to give it a good chance. Besides this, I am developing my next project, which will be a feature length fiction film that talks about the intoxicating impact of excessive wealth on the human spirit.
MadeGood – Thanks Rishi. Good luck with the Oscars, and I can’t wait to see your next feature film!