Interview with a graduate: Tanmay Dhanania
With the second series of Indian Summers recently broadcast on Channel 4, and his film Brahman Naman set to be imminently launched on Netflix worldwide, we caught up with Tanmay Dhanania about making the film and particularly his recent experience of going to the Sundance Film Festival.
Tell us about making Brahman Naman?
Well it just came out of the blue last year. I sort of knew the director of the film who pushed me to audition for it, and when I got the role he wanted me to set up some acting workshops because he knew about my training at RADA.
We worked with these young actors and had this wonderful six week period before filming where we were all staying in this big house outside of Mysore with hardly any facilities trying to recreate the setting of the film, which takes place in India in the 1970s and 80s and that was a wonderful experience. Then, when we shot the film it was crazy – it was very low budget and we worked really long hours. There was a thirty-eight hour shoot followed by a ten hour break and then another thirty-four hour shoot. We had this train sequence to shoot but we only had the train for two days. Half the budget was spent on hiring that train. But, I had the most fun doing it.
The film is about these four boys in India who are quizzers. Quizzing is like a sport in India, people take it very seriously and it really took off in the 80s in Calcutta and Bangalore, which are the two cities represented in the film. For this experience I had to learn to drive a scooter (during the process I crashed four of them). Health and safety is a bit different in India, so my lessons were like: ‘here is the bike; off you go in the busy Indian traffic’. You learn pretty quickly. There were points when the camera man was hanging off the back of the scooter filming so his life literally depended on me.
Then I left the film alone and went off and did Indian Summers for a season and forgot about it. Indian Summers was a completely different experience – they don’t want you to be too adventurous and they are concerned with consistency. Then after doing that I was back in India and my director called and was like "we’re going to Sundance".
Tell us about the experience of going to the Sundance Film Festival?
That was a terrific experience, we went there and the film was very well received. We had five screenings and they were all sold-out. We also did these Q&A sessions and what was really nice was that people were asking really pertinent questions, because as well as being funny the film shines a light on the caste system and sexism in India – these are young boys who feel they can do anything, because being young and male in India you are encouraged to think that, but the women aren’t. So it was great that audiences picked up on that.
I met my idol Werner Herzog at Sundance – he was getting a salad. I have only gone up to two people I respect in my life, the other one being Martin Freeman at the National, but I had to go up and say I’m a big fan. He was so wonderful, he’s got this warm energy and he wouldn’t stop talking to us, he said we should send the film to his brother. We were talking to the LA Times at the time and had to get our pictures done and he photo-bombed us! After that I was like, ok I’ve met Werner Herzog – I can die happy now.
Sundance is pretty Hollywood-y now, and you get schmoozed a lot, but you also get to meet the independent film community. I met some wonderful people who had done some amazing work there, and just like in RADA, you form connections which organically last. When you’re there you think you should go out and introduce yourself to everyone. But you quickly see that if you are just there, spending time in a bar or whatever, you start talking and meeting people and it happens anyway.
That’s how I got my US manager. I didn’t jump the gun and sign with him then – I went to LA to meet him. He’s great – I was in New York for a week and he set up some amazing meetings and auditions. That part is just opening up for me again because I used to be in the States. I did Nuclear Engineering many years ago in Berkeley in California. And so, that was the Sundance experience – it’s bizarre, it’s minus twenty-eight degrees on top of a mountain in Mormon country - the strangest place in the world to have a film festival! But it’s just amazing.
Brahman Naman is scheduled to be released on Netflix worldwide on 7 July 2016. You can catch up on Indian Summers here.