Lootera and Udaan filmmaker Vikramaditya Motwane’s list of movie recommendations spans films he saw as a kid, as a teenager and others he saw more recently. There are those he saw at screenings, at single-screen theatres, and those on DVDs he watched at home. The one thing they have in common? “There’s something very magical about all these films. This is what films are supposed to do – help you step into another world.”
He clarifies that these aren’t films that can or should be reduced to critical blurbs, he’s simply talking about what they meant to him and how they influenced his works. In no particular order:
Rear Window (1954), Notorious (1946)
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
With Hitchcock’s Rear Window, I was blown away by the story, the characters and the emotion. How was Hitchcock, in 1954, doing something we struggle to achieve even today? Notorious I saw on a DVD in my house. It has the vibe of suspicion, the spy world and yet there’s a love story there. There is so much love and finesse in it, and great technical ability – and it’s not like Hitchcock is showing off. The key shot, for example, is one of the greatest things I have seen.
Sunset Boulevard (1950)
Director: Billy Wilder
I was lucky to see Sunset Boulevard on screen in New York as a 23 year old. The feel of it stays with you. In both Sunset Boulevard and Notorious, you’re just drawn into that world so seamlessly and so beautifully and I don’t know if it’s because of the black-and-white effect, or if it would be the same had these been in colour. That’s what makes a director special – they draw you into that world and let you completely immerse yourself in it. Sunset Boulevard makes you step into the world of that Hollywood diva, into the point of view of the man who is dead in the pool.
Director: Akira Kurosawa
The thing that I love about Kurosawa is that he’s the master of the samurai epic but he has also made a film like Ikiru, which is a very personal film about a man who has got cancer. He’s also talking about society in general, about Japanese society and about people in general. There is this garden in between all of this. You’ll notice its influence in Bhavesh Joshi Superhero, which was about a piece of land surrounded by water. A lot of that came from Ikiru and its sheer passion and love.
Seven Samurai (1954)
Director: Akira Kurosawa
I remember watching this film at home, it’s a three or three-and-a-half-hour-long film. In one scene, you’re like, ‘What’s going to happen next?’, in the next scene, you’re halfway through the film and in the scene after that, you’re done watching the film. Kurosawa is a complete magician because he takes you on a three-and-a-half-hour-long journey. I saw it again onscreen, it screened at a film festival in Mumbai. The print was upside down when we started watching it, but even during that second time, I was blown away by his skills and his sense of storytelling. Seven Samurai set a template for action – people coming together for a cause. The Avengers and Sholay take that template.
Wild Strawberries (1957)
Director: Ingmar Bergman
I loved the emotion in this film. I love old man characters. I loved the way Bergman’s done nostalgia. I got into Bergman because there was a director I was working with who had the screenplays of Bergman and Woody Allen films. I remember taking the whole bunch and reading them and being especially blown away by Bergman’s work. When I saw the film, I felt like he’d taken the screenplay a step further. Just that feeling of loneliness and mistakes being committed. It had that nostalgia to it which is captured beautifully.
La Dolce Vita (1960), Amarcord (1973)
Director: Federico Fellini
When I started discovering Bergman, I discovered Fellini. The beauty and gorgeousness of his films is just amazing. You can’t put a finger on it but he draws you into the story even when he really doesn’t have a story. It’s like you’re going on this journey with these characters. If you ask me what the story of Amarcord is today, I won’t be able to tell you. It’s just the way you go from moment to moment. The beauty of his films is unmatched.
Dr. Strangelove (1964)
Director: Stanley Kubrick
I saw this film with a friend at the very first MAMI screening in 1997-98. They were screening Dr. Strangelove and Pyaasa back to back, which is a very weird double bill. Half the audience was packed with people who had not seen the picture and it went above everyone’s head. I and a guy who was sitting with me were laughing throughout the film and it was not just laughing, it was rolling on the floor laughing. So it was the first Kubrick film I saw.
Director: Emir Kusturica
Like Dr. Strangelove, in Underground too, you see humour in serious situations like that of a war. And the humour is borderline slapstick. At no point do you actually feel that you’re not watching a war film and are not fearful of what is coming at the end. It’s just masterful. I was blown away by the attention to detail, and again, the visuals are amazing.
The Killing (1956), Paths of Glory (1957)
Director: Stanley Kubrick
I saw these around the same time I saw Dr. Strangelove. I loved it, so I wanted to watch more of Kubrick’s work. I loved these for their look. With Kubrick you almost feel like there is some sort of perfection to his films which is difficult to explain. I was very drawn into their stories.
Director: Guru Dutt
Pyaasa was part of a double bill with Dr. Strangelove at MAMI. It was really funny because there’s this South Mumbai audience at a film festival, they’re anxious people and they’re excited for Dr. Strangelove because it’s Kubrick and suddenly, 90% of the audience leaves for Pyaasa. I was watching Pyaasa with the kind of audience who looked down on desi movies and got annoyed when a song started. I was just blown away by the film – the gentle poet wondering what’s wrong with human beings and the world and with people. Pyaasa was one of those films that made me really appreciate the Bollywood format. Earlier, I’d think that the songs and dances were there as window dressing, but when I saw them in Pyaasa, they were completely functional and necessary. The thing with Guru Dutt’s movies is that you could see that they were made with so much love, for cinema and for the characters.
The 400 Blows (1959)
Director: François Truffaut
This is very special because of Udaan connection – they’re both coming-of-age films. The end frame of Udaan is taken from The 400 Blows. It’s a full tribute to this film. I love its naturalism, which makes you feel like, ‘Oh these guys are shooting wherever they feel like, following that one character and creating scenes out of nothing.’ When he’s walking on the street and smoking and then going inside that bar, you’re seeing that style of cinema for the first time, you’re seeing a part of the characters’ lives. Then you read about it and learn it’s the natural style of shooting, which is the New Wave. The scenes of Udaan are very inspired from The 400 Blows. There’s that freedom of being able to make a film about a kid’s life and yet have it work and feel so natural and informal. When you are grown, you’re used to watching a lot of formal films. When you see these films, they break you away from the formality you’re used to watching. Fellini’s films are so liberating because there is no structure to them. You may find a structure, but that is an analytical thing after you have watched the film.
High and Low (1963)
Director: Akira Kurosawa
It’s amazing what he does with the concept of rich and poor. It’s a very theoretical film. He has made a film based half in an apartment and half based out in the slums. You think, ‘How are they going to make it work?’and they make it work. He says a lot of things about society in Japan. It’s magnificent that he’s so brilliant as a technician as well.
Charulata (1964), Jalsaghar (1958)
Director: Satyajit Ray
I discovered Ray because my mom is Bengali so there was this whole conversation around him being The Great Satyajit Ray. I never got into his films until I saw Devi for the first time, when I was with Sanjay Leela Bhansali doing research for Devdas. I was in this very anti-Bollywood phase in the 90s because I was like, ‘The whole world is making films like Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs and we are making DDLJ.’ No disrespect to these films but when you’re an urban kid who is growing up, you’re like: Why are we making such films even now? So I was in an anti-Bollywood phase at that time but when I started working with Bhansali, I started caring about Bollywood again. After Devi, I started watching Ray’s films when I was in the writing period for Lootera. Just the world that they created in both the films – the house, this girl inside the house and her relationships inside the house is amazing. The same thing with Jalsaghar, I even went to the location where this film was shot.
Director: Ken Loach
Again, a massive inspiration for Udaan. I saw this film when I went to Cannes and Devdas was screening. I saw Sweet Sixteen and coming from Bollywood, I was like, ‘Why can’t we make something like this?’ I was playing with the idea of a film about a father and a son. After watching Sweet Sixteen, I came back and looked more into who this director was because I had never heard of him. With Kes, there was just something about that kid’s face. It just makes you fall in love with the film. It’s all about this industrial small-town kid being a guy who is so different from everybody else, a loner. That really drew me into the film. If anyone wants to learn filmmaking, watch Ken Loach’s films. My cinematographer and I watched them because he is so simple in the way he makes films. I came from learning under Bhansali, where there is formality, to watching Ken Loach, which was like there was no formality.
Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
Director: Sidney Lumet
This was the first Lumet film I saw. The rhythm of the film is something that I still remember clearly. I was so drawn into the story of these two shy guys who were robbing a bank and being confused by what they were doing. The way this story expands outside towards the end, especially with Al Pacino’s character and how he ends up getting more empowered by what he is doing and then the big twist of why he is doing it in the first place has a sort of unbelievability about it. It makes you think: Should I laugh here or should I not laugh here? The ending is shocking, but I remember watching the film and feeling like I was watching a documentary.
Director: Ramesh Sippy
I grew up with Sholay. Everyone grew up with Sholay.
Amar Akbar Anthony (1977)
Director: Manmohan Desai
I’ve seen Amar Akbar Anthony 50 times and I can still keep watching it.
Ram Lakhan (1989)
Director: Subhash Ghai
Ram Lakhan is that indie-commercial film where you see how Subhash Ghai uses music, how he uses big emotions, he makes your hair stand up. When I saw it, there was something wonderful and magical about it.
Back to the Future (1985) and Die Hard (1988)
Directors: Robert Zemeckis and John McTiernan
This is big-budget action cinema at its finest. I saw Back to the Future when I was 12 or 13 and Die Hard when I was 15. I have seen both multiple times. A couple of months back, I saw Back to the Future again and it still holds up, it’s still so much fun and so modern. It’s like the perfect Hollywood film for me. Both have become movies that are referenced. People say, ‘Why can’t we make Die Hard?’ which is like a one-man hero going on a journey.
Mean Streets (1973), Goodfellas (1990)
Director: Martin Scorsese
Mean Streets was special because it was the first buddy-type film I saw at a time when I was really influenced. There is a lot of that influence in Udaan. The red bar, the buddies in the car – all that stuff is very Mean Streets. I love the nature of the film, the way Scorsese shot it, its language and the sudden usage of opera songs vs the bombs going off. You’re like, ‘Wow how is this guy doing it?’ He’s changing language and there was no formality to it. He has done it all his career. His music and visuals are probably the best in the world. They still are and they have always been. How he uses songs is just amazing. Mean Streets is about absolutely young guys, Goodfellas is about middle-aged guys and The Irishman is about the old guys so it’s like they need to be watched together.
Goodfellas is a true epic. The opening, the freeze frame, the voiceover out of nowhere, all of it draws you so into the story and his editing is just magnificent. The way he just moves forward just propels you. It is very dynamic. The sound of the car and the title in Goodfellas is now the car in The Irishman where the title comes. So there’s that connect, which I noticed when I saw The Irishman for the first time.
The Lion King (1994), Finding Nemo (2003) and Monsters Inc. (2001)
Directors: Rob Minkoff and Roger Allers, Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter
They’re just something that moves you at that point of time and makes you feel like you’re watching something special. In the case of these animated films, there’s a huge surge of emotion that comes with them. I was just gobsmacked by Finding Nemo’s visuals, I’d never seen something like that. The end of Monsters Inc is the most magical end I’ve seen in a movie.
La Haine (1995)
Director: Mathieu Kassovitz
It is the angriest film that I have seen. I just love that anger. You see camaraderie and you see camaraderie go wrong, and I saw the sense of friendship and betrayal in La Haine. You’re watching a movie but you’re not watching a movie about the underserved, the marginalised in such a way that you’re supposed to feel sorry for them. You’re made to feel angry instead. That felt very relevant when I saw it and it’s even more relevant now. Its music and the black-and-white effect and the shots expose you to a world you have never seen before.
Seven (1995), Fight Club (1999) and Trainspotting (1996)
Directors: David Fincher and Danny Boyle
I watched Fight Club at Anurag Kashyap’s house for the first time. Seven and Trainspotting I saw by myself for the first time. These guys were using colours properly, they were using sound properly and they were using background score properly. And it wasn’t just one director doing it, like how in the 70s, Kubrick was the only master of his art. The way these guys were making films in the 90s was very modern. You’re watching these supercool films which are so accessible to your 20-year-old brain that you’re just loving that world. Especially Seven. When you watch it for the first time, you’re shocked. I saw it again and I was still shocked.
Kill Bill Vol 1 (2003)
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Kill Bill 1 is more fun than its sequel. I’ve seen Vol 1 and 2 a lot of times and 1 is the better film. You saw Tarantino’s language in Pulp Fiction, in which he took three stories and put them into one nonlinear film which seemed so fresh. Kill Bill 1 is that, taken to the power of 10, where you have this nonlinear structure, the voiceover, it’s almost like breaking the fourth wall without actually doing it. To top it off, it’s this beautifully shot martial arts action film and there’s black and white but you never leave the core emotion of the story. When you come out of the film, you feel like you’ve seen these amazing things but you were with the emotion always. I love open endings and I wish to do that in my films as well.
Kung Fu Hustle (2004)
Director: Stephen Chow
Kung Fu Hustle is one of the best films to ever be made purely because it is so much fun but it also follows the character’s heroic beats perfectly. From a guy who is total doofus (which you almost don’t like because he breaks the girl’s lollipop) to him becoming this serene master of sorts. The character arc is something else. The way he has done that on a writing level is brilliant. You realise there’s something inside him waiting to come out. He’s taken the fairytale and turned it into a completely fun ride. Moments like the knife scene make me stop and laugh. Creating these moments of fun needs work.
Black Friday (2004)
Director: Anurag Kashyap
Of Anurag’s films, this is more personal because I’ve seen him go through the process of making it. It was supposed to be a series, a film and was shot in multiple parts. I remember reading the script, it made no sense to me. Then I saw him shoot the film and do all those crazy things. The way he brought humour to a lot of those scenarios and the way he made those people actual people as opposed to terrorists was amazing. He made them actual people you could touch and feel. I saw the first cut, which was 5 hours long and didn’t make any sense. How he hammered away at that film and made it into something else completely is just commendable. I really feel it’s a modern masterpiece which is so relevant today.
Lage Raho Munnabhai (2006)
Director: Rajkumar Hirani
Lage Raho Munnabhai is the perfect Bollywood film. I saw this film at Chandan Cinema with the audience completely loving it. It’s a movie which makes you laugh from start to finish and you’re also crying at the right moments. He’s also making statements about Gandhiji and his philosophy. I love the way Raju Hirani packaged the film. It’s much better than 3 Idiots. It’s philosophical but in such a great way, with great characters, great one liners and great comic setups.
There Will be Blood (2007)
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
I saw it on a screen and I remember somebody asked afterwards, ‘Did you like it?’ I told them, ‘I cannot answer this today.’ It’s one of those things where you have to go home and assimilate the film because it’s much more than a film. All the guys are so incredible and have brought it to life in such a way that you feel like you’re a part of it. It’s tough to explain why that film is special – it’s everything, from the music, the sound to the concept of good vs evil. It’s one of those rare films which need time to settle.
The Dark Knight (2008)
Director: Christopher Nolan
This film was a very big inspiration. Whenever I’m stuck on something like writing or editing and I need to watch something, I will watch this film. Nolan shows you the biggest film on the biggest screen. His big vision comes through in his films. There is a huge influence of The Dark Knight on Bhavesh Joshi Superhero. I’m a bigger fan of the first half of Batman Begins than the second half. The first half is so magnificent. What he does in The Dark Knight, with those discussions of good vs evil and power, was he really tapped into the questions that you ask yourself on a daily basis. Besides that action, the philosophical questions that he asks in the film are amazing.
Fish Tank (2009)
Director: Andrea Arnold
Fish Tank has to be the only film by a woman on this list. That is our sad history. Andrea Arnold is a stunning filmmaker. This is a film I was very influenced by and I saw it after Udaan. The super intimate, natural way she shot the film is brilliant and I think I have a thing for rebellious characters. I love watching those kinds of films and those kinds of people. I love the world that she created, those relationships and the characters. The way it was shot makes you wish you could go inside the world and touch it.
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Director: George Miller
Mad Max is probably the coolest film of the past decade. I stopped breathing when I was watching that film because I got so caught up in the action of the story. It is probably one of the greatest action films ever made. Mission Impossible 6 is also amazing in terms of action. So is Edge Of Tomorrow.
The Handmaiden (2016)
Director: Park Chan-wook
I love this film. The twists and the turns are just amazing. Yet these twists are all hidden under a level of sex. This shock was amazing and I was like: How is someone able to do that? At the top level, it’s a romance, and it’s a very luscious romance. Beneath that, you have this whole world he has created and it is masterful.
As told to Gayle Sequeira