Mikhil Musale, the director of Wrong Side Raju (2016) and Made In China (2019) tries hard to evoke his memory of his engineering days. But he is unsure if it was the frustration of being stuck in a loop or his new-found love for movies in the second year of engineering that pushed him in another career trajectory.
However, he is sure that it was Anurag Kashyap’s compelling drama Gulaal (2009) that awakened the cinegoer in him. Awe-struck by the director’s story revolving around intoxicated power and ruthless politics, Mikhil wanted to make such soul-stirring content, too.
By his final year, he had made short films for college festivals and founded his production house ‘Cineman’ with Abhishek Jain in 2010.
But even with the production house and experience of filmmaking collected over the years, Mikhil trudged on the unconventional path with caution.
Afterall, he was a boy from a middle-class family living in Ahmedabad that emphasised on academics followed by a stable job.
So what made Mikhil, a national award-winning director, get on the uphill battle of establishing his credibility with a CV that contained an engineering degree and a few amateur movie projects?
“On the very first day of my [engineering] job, I realised this place and profession is not for me. The movie bug had already entered my veins and there was no going back. I brushed past the fact that I did not have a film school degree or any contact in the movie industry. Camera, curiosity and content got me started,” Mikhil tells The Better India.
From participating in college festivals, winning big at India Film Project (IFP), Asia’s largest content festival to getting a giant production house for his debut film and making a movie with stalwarts like Paresh Rawal and Rajkummar Rao, Mikhil shares his inspiring journey from Ahmedabad to Mumbai.
Building A Strong Foundation
Six years before his first feature film came out, Mikhil worked on several commercials and short movies that helped him learn, improvise, make mistakes and do everything experimental.
His utmost dedication towards his craft landed him several advertisements. There came a time when four out of seven oil brands in Gujarat collaborated with Mikhil and his company to direct commercials.
He also joined theatre to comprehend the nuances of acting, set designing, screenplay, dialogue writing and script writing.
“I was making short films at a time when the phenomenon of crisp and quick content was yet to take over India. I made movies on every issue, from mental health to adverse effects of smoking. The key was to let myself thrive on all kinds of content,” adds Mikhil.
One of the major learning curves came in 2012 when Mikhil participated in IFP’s 50-hour movie challenge wherein he had to write, shoot, edit and upload a film within 50 hours.
“It was an interesting concept and I was willing to try everything at this juncture. The festival was in its second edition and I had heard so much about content creators from across the country being given a chance to showcase their talent. It was challenging but equally thrilling to complete an entire movie in a limited period. I learnt so much while making the film like team management and how to quickly present a terrific idea,” says Mikhil.
His short movie, ‘Another Brick in The Wall’, won the Best Cinematography award that year.
For any newbie director, getting recognition in a film festival is a validation for their craft, skills and that their content is acceptable. It was a matter of pride for Mikhil, who would go on to apply his learnings of IFP on his huge sets.
Life came full circle when Mikhil returned to IFP in 2019 to promote his movie, Made in China along with Rajkummar Rao and producer Dinesh Vijan.
“IFP has become a global phenomenon where aspiring artists can display their years of hard work. This platform has changed the way in which content can be created and viewed. Ritam Bhatnagar, the founder of IFP, was very sure of the idea and over the years made the festival aspirational. I know of so many participants who have turned into commercial filmmakers. Platforms like these can give direction to budding filmmakers who are confused and unsure about their talent. It is an opportunity that should not be missed,” says Mikhil.
In the last 10 years, IFP has seen participation of over 8 lakh creators comprising filmmakers, writers, storytellers, musicians and photographers. Last year the festival took place online and saw 55,000 creators from more than 30 countries.
In its eleventh edition this year, the filmmaking challenge will take place from 24 September to 26 September. The 50-hour music challenge was between 17 and 19 September. And the 7-day challenges were between 4 and 11 September.
Mikhil will be hosting a pre-challenge workshop on ‘How to make an award-winning short film in 50 hours’ on 24 September. Get more details here.
Want to try and make a film in 50 Hours? Head to this link to find out more.
On Making ‘Wrong Side Raju’ and ‘Made in China’
Mikhil took nearly 1.5 years to write the script of his directorial debut starring actor Pratik Gandhi. Before this Mikhil had worked in Kevi Rite Jaish (2012) and Bey Yaar (2014) that helped him gauge if the Gujarati audience was ready to consume different kinds of content.
Based on the positive reaction, he co-wrote a script with Karan Vyas and Niren Bhatt on a hit-and-run case based loosely on a real life incident. For the first time such a thrilling movie was being made in Gujarati regional cinema.
The promising script was rejected by several actors before Pratik—who was a newbie back then—accepted it. Mikhil went all out by getting Phantom production house, music composers Vishal Dadlani and singer Arijit Singh for the gig.
This film’s outcome would help shape Mikhil’s film career and so he left no stone unturned to make the process and final product memorable. Firsts always ride on merit and Wrong Side Raju accomplished that.
His cinematic marvel won a national award for ‘Best Gujarati Film’ and was accepted in 17 film festivals.
A year later, Mikhil moved to Mumbai to explore Bollywood and in 2019 marked his debut in the industry. Made in China was about Raghu, an entrepreneur who travels to China in search of new business opportunities but returns as an illegal supplier of aphrodisiac.
Mikhil assembled a varied cast from television star Mouni Roy, veterans like Boman Irani and Paresh Rawal to web artists like Gajraj Rao and Sumeet Vyas.
“Making Made in China was an enriching experience. I learnt so much from actors. Working with talented and dedicated people will always take you forward and I have been fortunate in that area,” says Mikhil, who is currently working on varied upcoming projects.
Edited by Yoshita Rao