The much-awaited Australian and New Zealand premiere of Udaan is a highlight of the 2011 Indian Film Festival. Produced by Anurag Kashyap, Udaan is the debut for director Vikramaditya Motwane. When I spoke with him it was days before the Indian theatrical launch of his new film. The director's feelings of first time nerves were compounded by the intense national and international expectations attached to his remarkable achievement—Udaan is the first Indian film to have screened in the official competition at the Cannes Film Festival since Murli Nair's Malayalam language film, Arimpara was selected in the Un Certain Regard section of the festival in 2003. Udaan has since scooped the pool of Indian film awards, winning for the major categories of best film (critics), screenplay and story, music, cinematography, sound design and acting at the 2011 Filmfare Awards as well as Annual Star Screen Awards.
Literally translated as “take flight,” Udaan is a coming-of age drama set in the small, industrial town of Jamshedpur, in the state of Jharkhand in India's east. After spending eight years in boarding school, 17-year-old Rohan (played by newcomer, Rajat Barmedcha) finds himself back at home under the strict watch of his authoritarian father, Bhairav (Ronit Roy), and discovers a younger brother he didn't know he had. Rohan is determined to be a writer, despite his father's desire that he study engineering. The story is not autobiographical although Motwane admits, “As a first time writer there was a lot that I took from my own life, in terms of certain themes and references, with observations of friends.”
Motwane's vision for Udaan was a labour of love. When he first penned the script in 2003 he was working with fellow Hindi film director Anurag Kashup directing song-and-dance sequences for Paanch (2003). “Anurag wanted to produced Udaan for a long time,” says Motwane. “When I wrote Udaan I took it to him to read and he said that he would produce the film. At that point in time he was in no shape to do it but eventually he was and he did!”
Over the years the pair forged a strong partnership. Motwane first met Kashup while working as a choreographer for Deepa Mehta's Water in Benares in 2000 and eventually co-wrote the script for Kashup's acclaimed Dev.D in 2009.
Motwane admits that he had become desperate at times during the seven-year wait but stopped short of making too many scripting changes. “The final version of the script is a combination of first and second drafts,” he says. Udaan was produced as an entirely independent feature, with Kashup together with Sanjay Singh producing before UTV Motion Pictures came onboard as co-producers and distributors. The in-house nature of the production gave Motwane complete freedom, allowing him to make the film “exactly how we wanted to make it.”
Udaan was shot on location in Jamshedpur over 42 days with a crew that was keen to support the first time director. “That was one great way of keeping the costs low,” Motwane says, “keeping the crew very passionate about the film!”