Find your tribe: If you wanna be a lion then you gotta learn to run with the lions. Stop hanging out with sheep! Be friends with people who support your goals, and appreciate and respect your life choices. Be fearless!
As a part of our series about “Filmmakers Making A Social Impact” I had the pleasure of interviewing Amit Chauhan.
Amit Chauhan is an Indian filmmaker who has created content for Amazon, Doordarshan, ETC Punjabi, Zoom Network, coordinated for Hollywood films like Zero Dark Thirty (Dir: Kathyrn Bigelow), The Ventilator, and directed the internationally acclaimed bilingual feature film ‘IDENTITY’ — Currently streaming on SPUUL and Mavshack. A former event manager, and executive producer with 20+ years in the entertainment business, with credits on several music videos and advertisements. He has been featured in Integrity Magazine, Hindustan Times, St. Louis Dispatch, Dainik Bhaskar, and other major media outlets.
Thank you so much for doing this interview with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit. Can you share your “backstory” that brought you to this career?
Well, I was always a film nerd from my early childhood days. And movies played a huge part in my life. I grew up watching actors like Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Clint Eastwood, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Jack Nicholson, Daniel Day Lewis and Marlon Brando and Indian Actors like Motilal Rajvansh, Sheikh Mukhtar, Mehmood, Sanjeev Kumar, Amitabh Bachchan, Nana Patekar, Kader Khan, etc. And all these people had great influence over my life and they were like godfathers to me. But music too had an equally important role in my life. Several artists like Michael Jackson, Phil Collins, Bee Gees, George Michael, Aha, and rock bands like Pink Floyd, Metallica, Nirvana, Led Zeppelin, Dire straits, The Doors, Lynyrd Skynyrd played an important part in making me the person I’m today. I started my career as an event manager because of my love for music. I was one of the early rock music promoters in my city ‘Chandigarh’ in the early 2000s. I was actively involved in scouting and promoting a lot of the budding rock bands in the city. But I found it difficult to promote new talents because of the lack of major sponsors and their inability to understand rock music. Slowly, slowly after a few years, I found myself more involved with clients, money, and the daily chores of the work but I was creatively famished. I wanted to do something that gave me more creative artistic freedom. So after spending almost a decade in the events business. I started transitioning toward the advertising and filmmaking business. I made a couple of advertisements for some local brands in the next few years, then I moved on to industrial documentaries, music videos, and short films, and then finally I released my first bilingual feature film ‘Identity’ in 2020.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I made a lot of silly mistakes when I started early on in the events business. And I lost tons of money in the process. Once I made a very hasty on-the-spot decision which turned out to be a very expensive, big disaster for me. I finalized a venue for a new year’s event just a couple of days away from the event. I booked an artist from the UK, paid his manager the token amount, and booked his hotel, flights, and everything but I forgot to secure sponsorships for the event. I was a 17-year-old kid at that time with very little experience and zero guidance. I realized that the event was not gonna happen because I had started things on very short notice. So I called the hotel guys 4–5 days before the event, gave them a very lame personal excuse, and told them that I won’t be able to do the event. So they agreed and were very ready to pay me the advance I had paid them during the finalization of their venue. I came home and told my mother everything. And that’s where the real funny part happens. My mother, who was a very firm believer in astrology, convinced me that the event was gonna happen and that I should not be worried about it. My common sense stopped working and I believed her blindly and called the hotel guys and reconfirmed the event. A day before the event I realized that the event is not gonna happen and that there is nothing I could do about it. I called the hotel to cancel the event, and refund the advance I gave them but this time they declined and told me that they too could not do anything about it. And I should’ve thought about that before reconfirming the event. Plus the singer from the UK had also reached India, a day before the show, and was waiting anxiously to visit and do a few rehearsal sessions at the venue. I did not know how to face him and tell him that the event was canceled. So the next day, early morning on the day of the event, I went with one of my friends to visit the singer at the hotel. Now the singer was expecting a fleet of cars waiting for him downstairs but when he came out of the hotel, what he saw were two punks (Me and my friend) waiting for him on a very old scooter. The singer was shocked beyond belief. He enquired me what was happening and I told him there is some problem and asked him to sit with us on the scooter. He hesitatingly agreed and we made him sit, sandwiched between us on the scooter. I was terrified by thinking of his reactions when he came to know about the event and was constantly thinking of what to tell him while driving the scooter. After a few kilometers, I mistakenly ran into a police check post on the way that was finding people driving two-wheelers without helmets or were found triple riding. And there was a huge fine for guilty parties involved in the offense. So rather than stopping the vehicle, I sped up the scooter at top speed and before the singer could even think of reacting, there were around 7–8 cops hurling abuses, running behind us with sticks. It was just a 1 or 2-minute scenario and I immediately took control of the whole thing. But the singer went into hysterics. He thought that he was going to get the worst beating of his life, that too by the streetside by some Indian cops. Anyways, we took him to our location where a couple of our friends would hang out but he was petrified by what had happened a couple of minutes ago. We told him to cool off and we see these situations, everybody. He got very angry and demanded we take him to the event venue.I requested him to stay quiet for a while and we’ll take him to the location. My friend immediately took some hard drinks, and snacks out from the scooter’s storage box and started pouring the drinks into some disposable glasses. We asked him if he would like some drinks, and he denied it at first but then agreed to have a few drinks with us. After a little while a couple of my other friends also joined in the party and the whole thing turned into a full-blown party in just a couple of minutes. My friend brought some more drinks along with them and there were a couple of traveling blunt smokers also hanging out there. The singer smoked a couple of blunts with those guys, had a few more drinks, and then went into a very relaxed state. When my friends and I saw that now he is chilled out, we all joined and told him that the event was canceled. And that we did not know how to tell him about the situation, which is why we brought him here. He stared at us for a moment and then asked us why we did not tell him about that before at the hotel. My friends told him that I was very scared that you and your manager would ask me for money. And they had all joined here because I had no money left and all my money was gone to booking the artists, hotels, vendors, flights and several other things. The singer felt very bad for me after knowing my situation. He called his manager to tell him that the event was canceled. The manager was very angry and demanded money but the singer told him that we were a bunch of kids, who were trying to hustle and make some money. And that he should not bother us anymore. I was relieved and I thanked him for his noble gesture. He had a couple of more drinks with us, climbed the rooftop of one of my friend’s cars, and sang some of his popular numbers for us. So you can say he saved me from one of the epic disasters of my life. And what I learned from that was that never plan anything without doing your homework. Understand what you are going into and then plan accordingly!
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
Well, the list is very long. I’ve met several interesting people, and characters in my life. People from all walks of life. Most of these people have been traveling artists. Some of those people have traveled across the globe. And it’s a very humbling and learning experience to be able to interact with people with such diverse experiences. Once I met a very attractive Russian female actress who was tough like a bull. She was a Ventriloquist, Guitarist, Jiu Jitsu black belt, Boxer, ASL Speaker, Farmer, Ex Paramilitary professional and she could even fix a truck or any vehicle. And I was like damn, lady you’re one mean machine…a walking terminator. I mean she could give any strongman very stiff competition.
Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?
First of all my late father Shri N.K Chauhan, then Karl Marx, Abraham Lincoln, Sadhguru, Michelle Obama, Warren Buffet, Vince Mcmahon, Michael Jackson, Mark Calaway AKA The Undertaker, Ratan Tata, Mohammed Ali, David Gilmour from Pink Floyd are some of the few people who have inspired me in my life. And each one of them is unique in its way and has its qualities. One thing about all of them that inspires me the most is their persistence to do something different in their lives. They chose to take control of their narratives rather than follow the norms of society. And provided the world with something to look upon and inspire.
Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview, how are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting social impact causes you are working on right now?
I’m trying to work on subjects that are closer to reality and reflect the modern-day problems of our society. Some of my upcoming projects include a documentary on DEBT, and a feature project on the exposure of GMO food production companies, and their severe and devastating impact on the earth’s ecosystem and our health. Another project is a fictional trilogy on OBE (Out of the body experience) and possibly a film on the life of Indo- Canadian gangster’ Bindy Johal’.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were going to step up and take action for this cause? What was that final trigger?
I always wanted to get into the film business but I had no intention of becoming a filmmaker. I was looking to produce a film in the late 2000s with a relatively unknown independent filmmaker at that time. So one of my acquaintances, who ran a video production company, his name is Mister Vikas Arora and his friend ‘Sukhi Paaji’ convinced me to direct the film myself. They knew my background in events and my extensive knowledge of the film business. So that was the trigger point in my life that made me take up the responsibility of a film director.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
I once cast a very shy, young but very intelligent girl in one of my projects. I was looking for an actress. I had been approached by more than 120 girls for that but I was not able to find the right actress for the project. So I came across this girl, a non-actress. We had a few conversations on the internet and phone. I had not met her personally but I could figure out that she was a very intelligent person after my brief conversations with her. So I thought of meeting her and maybe giving her a shot. When I met her then I realized that she had some dental problems which I had gotten a hint from when I saw some of her photographs. She never laughed in any of her pics. And I figured out that maybe she has some dental issues and that is one of the reasons you could not see her laughing in any of her pics. She had very low confidence because of that. At first, I thought of not casting her in the project. But then I questioned and asked myself why I’m taking this decision. Despite having the entire positive attributes that I need in my actress. I’m just rejecting this girl solely based on her looks. It did not look right to me. After having a few more conversations with her, I realized that she might have been criticized, and rejected by a lot of people in her life just because of her looks. Because our society is so obsessed with beauty and superficial glossy things. That they forgot to appreciate, and nurture the human soul, the real beauty of a person. And mind it; this girl was beautiful in every sense of the word, maybe not in the traditional way. But she was a gorgeous, cute brainy girl with some serious dedication to her craft. And I didn’t wanna be the guy who too rejected her just because of her looks. I didn’t wanna break her heart and confidence. So I cast her in the project. I was seriously dissed by a lot of other jealous female actresses, and a few other teammates who may have thought they were better than her. I stuck to my guns, told them that things are finalized, and now live with it! When the film was released, that girl’s performance received the highest appreciation at all the film festivals. Today that girl has found her own space. She is not that shy, timid girl anymore. She is working as a journalist for one of the biggest media publication houses in India. And I feel proud of whatever she has achieved in her life. I don’t know if I made a positive impact on her life. But I tried to make a small effort as a human being just to let her know that she is appreciated and cared for in this world.
Are there three things that individuals, society, or the government can do to support you in this effort?
Individuals can join me. Society can support, and appreciate me. And the government can pls stop harassing me!
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
1. Pls be smart with your finances: I squandered a lot of my money on meaningless get-togethers, friends, and bad investments in the last 15–16 years. My financial situation took a major hit in 2020 during the Covid 19 period. I lost huge amounts of money and my savings during that period because of some sudden family health crisis. Finally, I realized that we are on our own in this world. And maybe I should’ve been more careful with money and people who claim to be my well-wishers.
2. Choose your friends wisely! : When the shit hits the fan, some guys run and some guys stand! Don’t be bamboozled by lip service. Actions speak where words fail. That’s all I can say for now.
3. Don’t expect everyone to understand you. Not even your family! : My father was the only person in my family who understood and pushed me into what I’m today. Unfortunately, he passed away because of cancer in the US in 1996 when I was around 12 years old. My mother on the other hand was a toxic, emotional abuser parent, who was only concerned about money and whatever benefited her. She purposely chose to destroy her kids, and my step-siblings’ lives by ignoring their needs and putting herself first in all situations. She never knew or was interested in her children’s lives, constantly avoided responsibility for their lives, and her actions, and would play the gender or victim card whenever someone tried to tell her the gravity of the situation. A couple of years ago she quietly packed her bags, lied to me, and sheepishly ran away from our home to punish me and show me her power because she didn’t want me to correct her and tell her about her wrongdoings. I came to know the truth. I did nothing and moved on with my life. She tried to sabotage several of my relationships with my acquaintances, clients, and teammates by calling them and portraying me as a villain and herself as a victim by saying that I abandoned her. And I do not give her enough money! In most cases, people believe such blatant lies and situations because they don’t know the whole story. And come to think that maybe it’s the child that is the problem, not the parent because of the age and gender factor. But sometimes it is the complete opposite story! I had brief telephonic conversations with her in the last 2–3 years. She has been staying with one of my step sisters for the last few years. And I thought that maybe she might’ve changed but I only realized that there are a few things that you can never change in your life. Just mind your own business and do what you have to do!
4. Keep a low profile and your goals a secret! : Not everybody is a friend and not everybody is happy for you. And that can sometimes be your friends and family too. So work hard in silence and let your success make the noise.
5. Find your tribe: If you wanna be a lion then you gotta learn to run with the lions. Stop hanging out with sheep! Be friends with people who support your goals, and appreciate and respect your life choices. Be fearless!
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
The earth is not our home. We are merely guests and visitors here. And we need to appreciate the gifts this mother earth has given us for all these years. Human beings have been constantly ravaging this earth for the past many decades with our wars, bio waste, deforestation, air pollution, destruction, etc. The earth is slowly degrading and losing its fertility. Rather than pledging our loyalty to certain flags, we need to learn to pledge our loyalty to this mother earth to sustain life on this planet. We need to come up with creative solutions to lessen the environmental impact of all future developments and industrialization to extend the life of this blue planet.
We are very blessed that many other Social Impact Heroes read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would like to collaborate with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
I’m a big fan of Michelle Obama. And I wish I had a mother or godmother like her in my life. If I ever got the opportunity then I would like to collaborate, work or assist her without any monetary expectations because I would get to learn so much to learn from her. I love the way she talks about her personal experiences, hardships, humor, her strong presence, and dignified behavior, and the way she has motivated several people like me in her life.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
A quote by my late father Shri N. K Chauhan that ‘ We are but a speck of dust floating in desolate skies’.
In the end, we all are going to turn to dust one day. And from dust we came and dust we shall return.
How can our readers follow you online?
They can follow me on Facebook on https://www.facebook.com/amitchauhanfilmco
This was great, thank you so much for sharing your story and doing this with us. We wish you continued success!
Filmmakers Making A Social Impact: Why & How Filmmaker Amit Chauhan Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.