MUMBAI — “#11minutes,” the quirky anti-smoking film produced by Aneel and Manish Murarka, both of whom are nephews of India-West publisher Ramesh Murarka, is a blockbuster hit. As of 11:30 p.m. March 4, the number of views it has gotten on YouTube are 4,530,018, a record for a social service-oriented short film of this genre. Sunny Leone, Deepak Dobriyal and Alok Nath head the cast.
What’s more, the film was announced with a lot of offline and online buzz, as well as a formal launch at a movie hall, akin to the press screening of a big feature. While this reporter attended the launch, an excessive delay in the arrival of Leone led to a general media exodus to a floor above at the multiplex for the press screening of “Aligarh,” scheduled just an hour later, and we had to miss the formal event.
“Yes, I know that we lost out, because there was a screening at the same venue, but I guess it is all a part of the game. Stars do consider coming late as a part of their style,” says Aneel Murarka. But he does admit that Leone is THE big reason why the film has gone so viral.
“The casting was perfect,” says Aneel Murarka. “Sunny was the perfect choice because of her star status and image, and I personally opted for Deepak over a more high-profile name (which we will not disclose) as he felt that the actor was unbeaten in the kind of humor needed. Please note that we have also given a twist to Alok Nath’s character, as his image is that of the ‘sanskaari bauji (cultured father),’ but without anything that is vulgar or unsuitable for family viewing. There is only clean thought, that while smoking may give a kick, it can prevent you from enjoying life, including fulfilling your last wish.”
The film’s conception and execution has been “complete teamwork,” says the producer. The writers are Jeet Mody, Ankit Sharma, Manish Bhatt and director Vibhu Puri, and Aneel Murarka and his brother Manish Murarka were keenly involved in the process.
“We worked on the film for three months! Treating it like a proper feature, we had a music composer, a creative head and everything else needed on board.”
The title “#11minutes” may initially mislead the viewer into thinking that it refers to the length of the film, but it is actually the figure given out by the World Health Organization as the portion of life a human being cuts from their life with a single cigar. The film is about Dobriyal, who is dying of cancer after being a smoker. He expresses a last wish to have Leone as a bride, and his determined father, Alok Nath, brings her to him. But barely after the ‘suhaag raat’ rituals begin, Dobriyal collapses and dies.
Aneel Murarka reveals that people have suggested that he do similar fun films with a message for other forms of tobacco consumption like ‘gutkha.’
“But it is still about tobacco, so Manish and I do not see any reason to go ahead,” he says. “This film drives home the point that an entire family gets disturbed when someone is ill. At least that is how it is India — a man isn’t an island, and this is why foreigners are now appreciating and respecting this established aspect of Indian culture.”
Aneel and Manish Murarka are both into business, and this anti-smoking effort is just one of their many social activities.
“Among my initiatives are the Peace Awards, where we celebrate and award people across countries that seriously make an effort to make the world a peaceful place,” he says. “We have honored such individuals from not just India but also France, California, Pakistan, UAE and so on. Another initiative is the Shoorveer Awards, where we similarly honor and meet common men and women from India whose extraordinary bravery needs to be recognized.”
How does Aneel Murarka get the time to do all his social work amidst the demands of his profession?
“After 11 at night, it’s me and my laptop!” he quips.