Crazy for Cinema - Dheer Momaya and Dar Gai

Jugaad Motion Pictures was founded in 2016 by producer Dheer Momaya, Sakshi Khanna (son of late actor Vinod Khanna) and Ukranian filmmaker Dar Gai. They started out by producing television commercials and went on to create two low-budget music videos, which garnered over 1.3 million views each on YouTube. They received critical acclaim for their first feature film, Teen Aur Aadha, which was helmed by Dar Gai. The film was screened at more than 35 film festivals across 17 different countries, and has won nine awards. Their second feature film, Namdev Bhau (also written and directed by Dar Gai), is currently in the post-production stage, with music being composed by Italian composer Andrea Guera, Academy Award nominee, and Golden Globe winner for Pursuit of Happiness and Hotel Rwanda. Their next project, Nuns, is an Indo-Italian co-production to be filmed in Tuscany. In conversation with Dheer Momaya and Dar Gai…

Dheer Momaya

What’s the most interesting part of the process for you?
Most people in India believe that a producer’s job is to simply raise finances or invest his own. But the real essence of producing films is much more than that. It requires envisioning something that is impossible to achieve, and then making it happen. While developing screenplays, making initial budgets, schedules, and really imagining the execution of an idea, it really makes you understand that imagination can spread across vast cosmic scales. That is the most gratifying aspect of the cinematic art form. Well, at least for me. 

How do you deal with the stress that comes with production?
Being a producer is like doing multiple jobs across various disciplines, all at one time. Some days you must be an accountant, some days a writer, on most days a firefighter, and on some, a janitor. This interdisciplinary approach kind of balances itself, and you always find yourself in a new situation. Hence, being stressed is just not an option. 

A producer needs to be creative and practical. How do you combine both?
To switch roles fluidly between the two can be very challenging. One part of the brain floats through an imaginative dreamscape, which feels amazing. But another part must be firmly dug into the ground – keeping track of costs, schedules, contracts, licensing, sales, promotions, project work flow and daily production reports. It’s manic at times, but you must remain zen and power through it all. 

Tell us more about your creative collaboration with Dar? Is it difficult to work with someone who has a different cultural background?
I truly believe that she is more Indian than me. Most people who watch her films and haven’t met her think that she is either Maharashtrian or Gujarati. She often jokes that she is a Parsi. It’s because she brings this highly objective perspective, coupled with a deep empathy for cultural nuances. This creates the perfect balance of talents, which a director must be endowed with. Her films are deeply rooted in the heart of Indian culture, yet told through a slightly alternative lens. 

What’s your dream project?
I think most producers dream of making that 100-million-dollar Marvel/Disney film, and I cannot lie – I dream of that, too. But in reality, each project I work on is a dream for me.

Have you considered making a commercial Bollywood film?
Well, the idea of commercial is slowly changing. There is big commerce emerging around good/meaningful cinema. The onset of streaming platforms has brought with it multidimensional content forms, which can be very satisfying avenues of cinematic expression. But yes, we have two projects in development with mainstream actors, which I am really excited about. Creating a piece of art which appeals to larger audiences is something I always look forward to. 

Dar Gai

How did you discover your talent for film and video?
Since my childhood, I used to act in theatre plays. I then started organising theatre festivals and eventually directed my own plays. I was fascinated with the world of theatre, especially how the audience feels and reacts to your creation. It was the most fascinating and scary experience watching people watch your play. The film, though, has different rules. And I wanted to experiment with whether I’d be able to create the emotional journey in films, too. So without formal training in filmmaking, I directed my first short film, which won a few awards. It was then that I realised that the audience relates to my stories. It was an incredible feeling!

How did your career unfold?
After I finished my degree in philosophy, I took some time off. Around that time, I was invited to teach acting at a boy’s boarding school, Scindia. It was a very important stage of my life, where I was absorbing the Indian culture. When I found the stories I wanted to tell, I moved to Mumbai, took a short course in screenwriting, and later was invited to join Whistling Woods as faculty. Then, I started writing for different directors, made short films and commercials, and finally found my team members who were eager to make our first feature film, Teen Aur Aadha.

What inspires your work?
People, details, random conversations, colours of washed-out buildings under the monsoon rain; you know what I’m saying.

What do you enjoy most about your job?
The connection that you build with people while creating a film. 

How do you conceptualise your stories? What goes on in your mind while at it?
When I write, I try to follow the characters of my writing as if I am them, seeing through their eyes, feeling, smelling, touching and hating what they don’t like. I want to discover them as if they are live characters.     – as told to Sumana