"Seems like a lifetime, seems like only yesterday". Nagesh Kukunoor gets reminded of the opening lines of his Hyderabad Blues as he reminisces the 20 years that have gone by since the release of the film, which inadvertently jump-started the "independent movie movement" in India. Now, a prequel is on his mind.
"It seems like yesterday, but I still can't believe I have survived after 20 years," Kukunoor told IANS over phone from Mumbai.
A romantic comedy about an NRI Varun, who finds himself caught between two cultures when he returns home to Hyderabad, India after a span of 12 years, Hyderabad Blues worked with its unique vibe and relatable content.
Kukunoor even came up with a sequel in 2004.
"Hyderabad Blues 2 was technically the first sequel in the American context in India, wherein we had 2 in the title," Kukunoor recounted, adding that he made it as he had a relevant and "good enough topic to tackle".
Does he plan to take the 'franchise' further?
"I've thought about it many times, but the journey over my last few films has been extremely varied... Primarily, from a Lakshmi to a Dhanak, the shift is so radically drastic that I am not so sure if I have a proper story in me.
"And I don't want to do a part of the trilogy just to do it. When I wrote Hyderabad Blues 2, initially I said I wouldn't do anything but seven years later, it was a different Varun who was staying in India, so I felt there was something to say. Now I'm not sure what the angle should be."
He started writing a Hyderabad Blues 0 to see Varun's back story.
"But I haven't completed the script and I don't know... Sometimes, I go through these moods where I am like 'Yeah man, it will be a great story to tell', because the 1980s are now clearly the past. Two generations have gone by. So, it feels like some fun story is there to tell.
"But I am also potentially looking at it in a web series format. Let's see, I don't know if there's enough mileage, though."
Hyderabad Blues will be screened in Mumbai on July 17 in celebration of its 20 years, as part of Drishyam Films' The Masters.
Kukunoor has cemented his space in the film industry with projects like Rockford, Dor, Iqbal, Aashayein, Lakshmi and Dhanak.
"The highs and lows have been as good or as bad as anyone else. It always happens in the business. But the challenge to try and retain that indie spirit, has been taxing, and that is the honest truth.
"Everytime you go out into the market and you say there's no star cast, it is a huge challenge. But the origin of that is clearly from American indie cinema. That's what I was influenced by."
Kukunoor studied engineering in the US and worked for sometime before filmmaking caught his eye.
"I never had a clear plan of making my own film. I came here, and there's one long story about how I went to the set of TV serial Veer Hanuman and when I saw what happened on the set, I knew I would not be able to fit into the industry.
"So then, out of that hugely depressing moment and in that unhappy space, I thought maybe I should make my own film. That's how I set out to write Hyderabad Blues."
He didn't have enough money to make one. So, he went back to the US, worked for another year, saved up and returned to India again. The script was written in seven days, the shoot took about 17 days, and Kukunoor invested Rs 17 lakh, including marketing and publicity cost, into Hyderabad Blues.
"Once the film was made, I never thought it will work in India, ever. So I packed up and left for the US." But fate had another plan.
The first MAMI Film Festival in 1997 had a section called 'View From Abroad', and Kukunoor was one of the four filmmakers invited to be a part of it.
That opened the doors for the movie, and got him a distributor. Even Doordarshan 3 decided to play the movie in three parts -- something which fetched him around Rs 75,000 back then.
Kukunoor is sure Hyderabad Blues would never have been made had he been living in India.
"I was never expecting it to work in India because when I had left India almost 10 years prior to Hyderabad Blues, Indian cinema was just stepping into its worst avatar. The 1990s. That was the memory I left with. So, that horrid cinema would not have remotely cared for a film in three languages, with no known star cast, 82 minutes long and every negative in the book. So I made the film thinking it will only work for the American audience."
But it was this approach that eventually worked.
Drishyam Films founder Manish Mundra said: "Nagesh started a new revolution with this self-funded film, the fruits of which we are enjoying even today. It will be great for the audience and for us to revisit this incredible journey with him."
(Radhika Bhirani can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)