Candid Talk with Kenny Basumatary – an Exclusive Interview
The name Kenny Basumatary is synonymous with Local KungFu. The film has won hearts of people not just in Assam, but all over the country. But Kenny is a lot more than the extremely talented guy who acted in and directed the film. He is nothing short of a Polymath. He is a trained martial artist, has written a book, got into IIT, something that most people only dream about, and then left it to pursue his own dreams. On a candid chat with Creativica, Kenny opens up about his life, work and motivation.
Hello Kenny Basumatary. Creativica welcomes you! From what I heard, you had a gratifying childhood amongst comics. Please tell us more about little Kenny.
I was a loner as a kid, with no friends till class VI. So I used to read all the time – Tinkle, Amar Chitra Katha, Indrajal, Archie, Asterix, Tintin – whatever I could lay my hands on. Whenever I used to go to somebody’s house the first thing I used to ask was whether they had any comics. My birthday gifts also were usually books and comics.
You landed a dream seat at IIT- Delhi that lakhs of Indian teens spill sweat over, but then you gave it up with a “Humse Naa Ho Payega” attitude. Was it the pressure or that your interests were waving in another direction? Also do tell us about your opinion regarding the ‘doctor/engineering only’ option being picked by today’s teens or forced on them by their parents.
I sweated and toiled for two years to get in. When the results came out – my rank was ST-25 – I thought okay that’s it, life is made. But little did I know that I would have to grind my arse in equal measure, if not more than during the HS years. The very first textbook I laid my hands on in IIT Delhi – an Applied Mechanics text – shocked me. My eyes nearly popped out when I saw all the super long formulae. In exams, we were actually given formulae sheets but I still couldn’t apply them. I spent most of my time in music, drama etc. At the beginning of every semester I would resolve to do well, but gradually that determination started wavering and the backlog of failed courses started piling up. I must have set new records in failed courses. Looking back, since I never wanted to be an engineer anyway and always wanted to go to FTII, I should have gone to Kirorimal College instead and done lots of plays there. But at that time there was no internet, so there was no way of knowing how to go about things. It’s understandable that parents would want their children to have a safe, secure life. And it’s true that many children are forced into doing engineering, but one must also keep in mind that the kind of happy ending they show for Madhavan’s character in 3 Idiot is a very exceptional one. If a person wants to make their mark in a risky field, they had better be very very good and not just think that they’re good because of a few likes on Facebook. Otherwise, stick to a normal life path that’ll pay your rent and put food on the family table.
After this, you moved to Mumbai and Bollywood Nonsensex happened. Tell us about it. What were your other initial ventures in Mumbai?
I’ve acted in about a dozen ads till now, written dialog for Fired, a Rahul Bose horror film that hasn’t been released, done small bits in Luv Ka The End and Shanghai.
Then, in 2011, you came out with your novel “Chocolate Guitar Momos”. How did it fare?
The first print run of 5000 copies has sold out. The second run’s out now.
How is it different from Chetan Bhagat’s material? And has it really been influenced from your personal life experiences?
Why why why? Why compare with Chetan Bhagat, of all the people? If I had a couple of lakhs to spare on a PR budget and some marketing gyaan, I probably could sell some more copies too. There are several great writers in India – Amitav Ghosh, Siddhartha Sarma, Swati Kaushal – just off the top of my head. They’re fabulous writers but they don’t go about selling themselves like many of these MBA authors, which is what most people tend to get to know about. Whenever I look at the top 10 shelves in bookstores and see some books with really horrible writing and ghastly dialog, I feel like grabbing people by the collar and telling them, “These books are crap!” Chocolate Guitar Momos is almost all fictional, apart from the incident of the girl at the bus stop and a few other events.
The next step that you took, as we all know, has changed your life completely and made you a star overnight. Local Kung Fu! When you made it, did you ever imagine that the film would go on to become such a cult among the Assamese movie going public? Tell us about your experiences and lessons with this zero-budget film.
I did expect that the film would go on to become popular, but not to the extent that every young person in Assam seems to have seen it. I would probably have to write a whole book on the experience of making the film. But I’d like to say I’ve been very lucky to have so many things come together in my life – like having a mama who teaches Kung Fu, being friends with his students, having parents who bankrolled it and a brother who’s a professional musician, friends who guided me in technical matters, cousins who are natural actors, etc. The most important lessons that I’ve learnt are to have a tight script and to not compromise on finding good actors.
Assamese films don’t get much running time in theatres. What, according to you, is the root cause of the problem?
Most Assamese films are still stuck in the 80s. Sensibilities and techniques need to be modernized. Also, there doesn’t seem to be much support from the government. Raag, which was produced by the state government itself, was bullied out of theatres in the second week by some distributor of Gunday sitting in Kolkata. It was very surprising that the sorkar couldn’t protect its own film.
Ok. Now the last one on LKF: You have earned terrific fame as a filmmaker for LKF. You even made it to the first regional Filmfare Awards. Response from the audience had been more than overwhelming. But, it also seems that they have bracketed you within this genre only and somewhere your image seems to be stuck with LKF. Does it bother you? Or do you take it as an advantage?
I don’t have any image that I know of. I’ve made only one film.
What were your works post-LKF?
Confessions of an Indian Teenager on Channel V – 9 episodes. An educational short film for children, called Myna & Asterix. And also some music videos.
Who do you attribute to, as a source of your inspiration?
Among writers – P G Wodehouse, Helen Fielding, Frederick Forsyth, Lee Child, Steig Larsso; Actors – Gary Oldman, Boman Irani, Om Puri; Directors – Edgar Wright, Bong Joon-Ho, Jae Hyung Kwak, Spielberg, David Fincher, James Cameron, Dibakar Banerjee, Shimit Amin.
Can you tell us about your role in Priyanka Chopra starrer – Mary Kom?
I play her husband Onler’s friend Jimmy. The real life Jimmy is Mary’s manager. I’m the occasional comic relief.
Any more upcoming projects?
I’m acting in Tigmanshu Dhulia’s Yaara, starring Vidyut Jammwal, Amit Sadh, Vijay Varma and Shruti Hassan.
Team Creativica wishes you all the best!