Cannes Film Festival has announced the official selection of shorts for the 70th edition of the festival. Payal Kapadia’s short film, Afternoon Clouds, has been selected for the Cinéfondation forum.

Payal is a third-year student of direction at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune. Her 13-minute short film is among 16 films chosen, from among 2,600 works submitted this year.

Afternoon Clouds depicts a 60-year old widow, who lives with her Nepali maid, Malati. The entire movie revolves around a single afternoon in their house. This film features Usha Naik and Trimala Adhikari.

A jury presided over by Romanian filmmaker Cristian Mungiu will decide the winners. The three Cinéfondation prizes will be awarded at a ceremony preceding the screening of the prize-winning films on Friday 26th May in the Buñuel Theatre.

The Film And Television Institute of India, Pune has introduced a new short course for television fiction. See the attached picture for all the basic details. And click here for more.

Remembering Kishori Amonkar

Posted: April 7, 2017 by moifightclub in music, RIP
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Kishori Amonkar passed away this week. I have a failing (as against passing) knowledge of Hindustani classical music. I have what they call a good ear for music. I can discern a few ragas based on years of listening to few favorite compositions by classical vocalists. And, my one-time obsession of doing well in movie/music quizzes meant I had to know the answer to ‘which raga is this famous Hindi film song based on’ kind of questions that usually came my way. Within this limited repertoire of my classical Hindustani musical knowledge, however, I can safely say I must have listened to Kishori Amonkar for a couple of thousand hours over the years.

How it started is a story by itself.

I must have been about 11 years old when a boy named Kishore, who was about 3 years older, entered our friend circle. Or, to be more precise, our circles merged. Over months of playing cricket, football and generally wasting time together, some of the older boys in the group started calling him Kishori. I duly followed suit. On enquiring about reasons for this strange name (I had never come across a girl named Kishori), one of the older boys told me about a singer named Kishori Amonkar who occasionally featured on DD. I filed that away in my memory and went on with life. A few years later I was old enough to start buying blank T Series cassettes (Rs 12 for 60 minutes tape) and using the old Philips recorder to tape anything that caught my fancy – songs from Chitrahar, ad jingles and title tracks of TV serials. The idea of recording something was immensely fascinating. And, soon it got out of control. I’d use the same cassette to record things over and over again – news, cricket commentary, Meryl Streep’s Race to Save the Planet and everything in between.

One late Monday evening I sat with the recorder while the weekly staple – Sangeet Ka Akhil Bhartiya Karyakram – came on. Normally, I would switch off at this time and go to bed. But then the announcer mentioned the name of the artist for that evening – Kishori Amonkar. Well, I stayed back and decided to record it. I didn’t care much about what was played that evening but I recorded about 25 minutes of her signing. My summer vacations soon began and on afternoons when there was no one to play I would listen to the tapes. Since I was being indiscriminate in listening to anything that was there on them, I didn’t forward any tracks. And, so I heard Kishori Amonkar many a times over that month. In May that year, Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated. The state mourning that followed meant there was nothing on DD except classical music. And, there again was Kishori Amonkar. I watched her sing and what impressed me more was her persona. She had a presence; a certain magnetism that reached out to you despite your complete ignorance of her craft.

Over the next decade I kept that cassette and heard those tracks many times over especially during late evenings in solitude. There was almost a pattern in a certain year in the 90s where I would play Maya Memsaab, Libaas and Kishori Amonkar in that order before going to sleep. One fine day (or evening) the cassette gave away; the tape came out of the cassette while the song was playing and was completely mangled. From then on I listened to her sporadically. I never got myself to buy a CD of her songs. I attended a SPIC MACAY event in late 90s where I heard her sing and I came away with a sense of satisfaction of having heard a legend. That was it.

Only a few years back while scouring through Youtube, I came across a whole treasure trove of Kishori Amonkar songs. In them I found the two compositions that I had on my cassette. They weren’t the exact recordings but it was the same composition. I also learnt why one of those songs felt so right listening to them in the evening. It was Raag Bhoop – a raag to be played in the first ‘pahar’ of the night. I heard them on Wednesday evening when I heard she was no more. I have linked them here.

I was happy to note the next day she was given a state funeral by the Maharashtra Government. Maybe she deserved a bigger honour. But I’m happy that a city like Mumbai still maintains its respect for its true legends. In times when we seem ever so keen on reviving our cultural identity and nationalism, I’d think Kishori Amonkar and her legacy are true representation of what’s great about our culture. That’s what needs protection and nurturing. And, keeping that alive wouldn’t need any vigilantism. It would only need a keen ear and an open heart.

Subrat Mohanty

Dear friends, supporters and well-wishers,

Sincere thanks from the bottom of my heart for thousands of amazing congratulatory messages that we have received in the last few days. We are simply overwhelmed! Many of you have asked us to pen down the experience of discovering, writing and creating the inspiring story of ‘Poorna’ for the screen. It’s difficult to summarise two year long journey in a single post. But here’s a modest attempt to capture that frustrating but exciting journey.

Discovering Poorna

It all started in August 2014 when Shreya (my wife and co-writer) first heard about this incredible story of Malavath Poorna on NDTV. I also noticed that the story had tremendous potential. I had been working on a mountaineering film which wasn’t progressing at the expected pace, so I was not very sure about taking this up. Instead I was looking to go back being a writer for hire. I was both financially broke and unsure of taking another spec script adventure.

However, the symbolism and the potential messaging in the story was too strong to resist! The idea of a thirteen year old overcoming our societal attitudes towards girl child, hopeless education systems, and the almost insurmountable social challenges of being born a Tribal Girl, it overtook all my professional inertia. We took the first baby step towards the film by trying to summarize what this story symbolized, by spending several nights of furious notes making.

I had a “writerly” conviction when I wrote a treatment note and sent an e mail proposal to the Telengana Government. I was almost sure that no one will reply and this will be forgotten.

But the government responded, and soon Dr. R S Praveen Kumar spoke to us on phone. On 25th August 2014, we boarded a flight to Hyderabad to meet Dr. Praveen Kumar. By this time I had an entire file on Poorna, creation of Telangana and RS Praveen Kumar life.

The film looked like a strong polemic which worried Shreya, but it satiated my unconsciousness deeply because I wanted a film which has a practical use. My brother used to mention that John Le Carre’s “The Constant Gardner” is shown to all Oxfam staff in programs in Africa. I wanted to create that kind of film.

Dr. Praveen Kumar met us and understood why we wanted to make a movie on this. He was also quite impressed with our ideas about the film but he kept asking us “are you sure…Prasahanthji…!! Are you sure?” I told him even if the film doesn’t happen, I was just very happy to meet him. So he, in a split second, agreed to do a chai pe charcha next day outside his office.

It was Sunday. We had tea in the “shadow of guns” at the Andra Pradesh Police Officers Mess lawns. I understood that even though Dr. Praveen Kumar works in social welfare department; he is a decorated IPS officer whose life is valuable to the state. I can’t say more.

Dr. Praveen Kumar is a man of immense vision, and has razor sharp understanding of conflict and human emotions. Poorna is an extension of his belief, and our access to the subject matter of the film.

So in the meeting Dr. Kumar took our thought systems like a storm, in half an hour I formed the structure of the film in my head.

I also had a giant déjà vu moment. Interestingly, Dr. Praveen Kumar had already featured in a movie called Rakta Charitam – a film written by me, in which Kannada Superstar Sudeep played his role as a cop who took on the mighty faction leader Paritala Ravi, played by Vivek Oberoi.

I love kiccha Sudeep and I took that as a divine signal. That very day, Shreya and me wrote a one liner sitting in a corner in his office and carried edits in our hotel.

It was all spec and since I’ve been a writer for hire for large-hearted producers, this film brought in a very tough transition. All expenses…outstation travel, local stay, local travel, expensive print out at hotels…were going to be on our own expense. Nobody was funding or managing the usual 5-star-all-expenses-paid writing extravaganza. So we had to be very careful because it seemed it would take time for this film to be made, much like all films do.

Then we met Poorna and Anand (climbed the Mount Everest with her), and had a free-wheeling chat about their life aspirations, over lots of ice cream and cold drinks. I noticed Poorna looked like an old soul. Not much in terms of plot points but I got a fair idea about the abstractions which would be used in adapting her life for reel.

We spent rest of time reading up Social welfare school books and getting acquainted with facts; because we were dealing with a story involving a government sponsored program.

A lot of plot also comes from our own observations. On a road trip to Kashid, we had seen poor students sweeping the school in Maharashtra while the rich ones kept sauntering here and there. We decided to put that in our film.

Creating The Script

It was clear that the film will have to be dramatized heavily as compressing events within the cinematic time would be big challenge. Then there is a huge North Indian bias which prevails in Bollywood. Why would they care about a village called Pakala in a town called Nizamabad?

That overwhelmed us completely. The problems presented themselves often. It paralyzed the entire writing.

So we put deep thinking aside and made marketing pitches, and started to write to almost all indie producers, from Kerela to Mumbai. My experiences with studios weren’t very good earlier, so I avoided them for fear of further disappointment.

Almost all showed very less interest despite the fact that Telangana Government had given us an impressive list of freebies like free locations and subsidized stay and local travel for the film crew.

Many producers kept squeezing us and often offered other projects to direct or write.

Another idea was to approach a “big” director like Neeraj Pandey, who could make this possible. But I realized making a movie is easier here than to get Neeraj Pandey or Adi Chopra’s phone number. The people in between don’t let that happen.

We thought it was happening because we had not put enough work on the script. So this time around Shreya came up with a character of a cousin sister for Poorna called Priya. Suddenly it opened up lot of pain in the narrative and gave us tragic dimensions of Poorna’s character- same arc played out as a tragedy – two sisters – the happy go lucky breaks out while the other talented and ambitious one is thrown into darkness of early marriage destroying all her hopes . Thus it became a film about a girl who Dr. Praveen Kumar, despite his best efforts, wont be able to save. That gave Dr. Praveen Kumars’ character a certain hurry and pace in this game of numbers – girls inside the school and girls outside the school.

The script was rewritten with this central idea and results showed up immediately. When Ashok Purang (Producer of Filmistan) heard it, he reconnected me to my friend Tanisha (actor) who I had worked with in Sarkar Raj. In the first narration, Tanuja ji (Actor/Tanisha’s mother) got very emotional. They had not yet set up their production house but offered all logistical support if I was to make this soon.

Back To Hyderabad

I met a star producer called Dilraju, who loved the subject but wasn’t sure about the film’s box office pull. Unless a star got involved to play the mentor and a Bombay based distribution tie-up. I was like a grazing goat looking to chew on Akshay Kumar’s Bollywood grass but intermediaries in between kept us out.

We then applied for NFDC co-production market. We were certain that it would be picked but when it didn’t make the cut, we were crestfallen. I never felt such a rage in my life.

Flight To Delhi

Given the story’s close relevance to Government’s much well-intentioned and praised ‘Beti Padhao Beti Bachao’ mission, a source in Hyderabad told us to chase Prakash Javdekar (I & B minister), who could route the film through CFSI. It sounded quite like a plan. We landed in Delhi.

Our  source mysteriously disappeared just as we were about to reach Shashtri Bhawan. Air tickets + Hotel expenses – everything went for a toss. Later, when the minister came to know about our plight, he apologized and called us to Pune.

The Bus To Pune

Few hours after he accepted our file, we learnt that he had been transferred to the Forest ministry. An expensive handmade poster which I designed and got made to impress the Hon. Minister is still lying in my study! The title of the film in that poster was ‘’Power Girl Poorna’’!

The Final Push

One year passed as we kept doing breakdowns, storyboards, posters, drafts and more drafts of the script. But still we had no producer.

Actor Sonu Sood loved the script immensely but offered me another film he was about to produce.

So despite our best intentions, we were back to square one. Then my brother Nishant introduced me to actor Rahul Bose who decided to come on board as a producer. Rahul set up meetings. I narrated the script to Amit Patni who later funded the film. I passed the producers baton to them happily and made the Telangana Government meet the production for work to begin.

I very much feel this film is my baby as a writer and co-director, and I feel very proud of the mark it’s making. “Poorna” represents the aspirations of millions of children in rural India, and the power they possess to realise these aspirations. As the dialogue goes in the film- “Joote nahi hai toh kya hua, pair toh hai.

Prashant Pandey

To get the reference of the country in the header of the post, you have to watch the film. Surely that can’t be enough reason to watch it, so here’s Varun Grover’s recco post on the film.

“अबला बबाल देख
डायन छिनाल देख
कुलटा कमाल देख – सारा-रारा-रा”

ये फ़िल्म देख लीजिए सब लोग। बैठे-बैठे ढेरों कारण तो अभी गिना सकता हूँ। उसके अलावा, जो हर फ़िल्म में होता है कि जो गिनाया नहीं जा सकता (जैसे आँसू या तालियाँ), जो एक अंदरूनी जादू है – उसके लिए तो सिनेमा हॉल जाना ही पड़ेगा। (और जैसा कि अक्सर होता है, ऐसी फ़िल्में मेहनत करवाती हैं। शो कम हैं, दूर हैं, पब्लिसिटी नहीं है – लेकिन यही आपके प्यार की परीक्षा भी है।)

१ – Avinash Das की #AnarkaliOfAarah वहाँ जाती है जहाँ सिनेमा तो क्या, हम लोग असल ज़िंदगी में भी जाने से डरते हैं। सोच की उस हद तक। Male entitlement और female consent पे बहुत बात हो रही है पिछले कुछ समय से लेकिन फिर भी जो बातें और लोग उन mainstream debates से छूट गयीं/गए, या जो सही से नहीं कहीं गयीं, उन सबका धुआँधार निचोड़ है।

२ – स्वरा भास्कर (Swara Bhasker) ने जो आत्मा फूँकी है अनारकली में, अपने अस्तित्व का एक-एक कण डाल दिया है। ऐसी दमदार मुख्य किरदार कि आपको उसके लिए डर लगे।

३ – ग़ज़ब के गाने। छिछोरे से लेकर क्रांतिकारी तक – और कई बार दोनों ही एक साथ। रोहित शर्मा का संगीत, और Ravinder Randhawa, Ramkumar Singh, Dr सागर, और ख़ुद Avinash के बोल – (“हम खेत तू कूदारी, हम चाल तू जुआरी”), पावनी पांडे और स्वाति शर्मा की आवाज़ें – बेहतरीन।

४ – फ़िल्म की भाषा। इतनी प्रामाणिक भाषा बहुत कम हिंदी फ़िल्मों में सुनने को मिलेगी। भकुआना से लेकर सीजना – हर शब्द में रस है। जो भी ‘उधर के’ लोग हैं, उनको तो मज़ा ही आ जाएगा।

५ – फ़िल्म का पहला और आख़िरी सीन। दो बिंदुओं से वैसे तो एक लाइन बनती है लेकिन यहाँ एक पूरा वृत्त बनता है।

६ – ‘तीसरी क़सम’ को दिया गया छोटा सा, सुंदर सा tribute।

७ – अनारकली के universe के बाक़ी किरदार। Pankaj Tripathi का ‘नाच’, Sanjai Mishra का वीभत्स रूप, इश्तेयाक खान का हैरी, अनवर (Mayur More), मफ़लर, एटीएम।

८ – अविनाश दास की पहली फ़िल्म, एकदम independently बनायी हुयी, सिर्फ़ दोस्तों और पागलपन की मदद से – तो ऐसी चीज़ों से जो धुआँ उठता है वो अलग ही रंग देता है।

Varun Grover

Its been a while since we have posted a new film in our Sunday Shorts segment. But this week, we got a new short by Sumit Aroraa. Watch it.

white_shirt_final_posterSynopsis – There is trouble in Aveek and Vani’s paradise. Their relationship is falling apart and all that holds them together is one white shirt.

Written and Directed By: Sumit Aroraa

Actors : Kritika Kamra  and Kunal Kapoor

Director of Photography: Surjodeep Ghosh (Sulemani Keeda)

Music and Background Score: Advait Nemlekar

Salman Rushdie recently wrote a column championing the film, Lion. If you haven’t read it, click here. As the Oscar buzz builds up for the film, we asked its India Casting Director Tess Joseph to write about her experience working on the film.

(click on any pic to start the slide show)

Since that afternoon in early June 2014 when we began casting for Garth Davis’ Lion to February 22nd, 2017, today, standing here at the at the Academy Awards Nominees dinner, it has been an unbelievable journey.

It began with a story, the unbelievable yet true journey of Saroo Brierley who found his mother after being lost for 25 years. The task was not easy, we had to find a Little Saroo, possibly 5-6 years with talent, stillness, depth and innocence. We also needed to find his teenaged brother Guddu, a nurturer and who would evolve into a beacon through the story, and a host of other characters. The casting processes were happening simultaneously: Kirsty Mc Gregor (Casting Director) and her team looking for the older Saroo while we searched for the younger one.

One thing was clear, this casting was not going to happen out of the hub of all things films in Mumbai – the suburb Versova or any audition room across the city. We needed to go back to our basics at India Casting Call, something we had done for Life of Pi and SOLD, we had to go back to school. We also needed the children to travel to Australia as part of the shoot so paperwork to support a passport application was imperative. Kirsty McGregor and I were on the same page from the moment we began: if my task of meeting and conducting workshops with classrooms full of children in India was daunting, Kirsty had to review each and every single audition in a language she didn’t understand. We did this together with almost choreographed synchronicity.

I had a team that was a force to reckon with – Karishma Mathur, an actress and drama teacher helmed the project alongside me. Her love and patience for working with children can beat anyone hands down. My young casting associates Aishwarya Amin and Bhawan Jha were invaluable. Then there was Vaibhav Gupta, who would go on to becoming Sunny Pawar’s acting coach on set and an integral of the film and production. We also had colleagues in Pune and Delhi helping us extend our search for the perfect Little Saroo. I will say, pick your team wisely, each one must balance the other and contribute something unique and valuable to the process.

Always, we tried out all the scenes as a team. Sometimes, I see audition tapes where Karishma is curled up like Little Saroo or Bhawan is desperately searching for Guddu. When your team has experienced the characters and the scenes, they understand on which moments the scenes pivot, they understand what it takes; they are always aware and looking for that during the auditions.

For this film we were working through schools with classrooms full of children. We used storytelling and games to observe the reactions of the kids. Each team member would pick potential candidates. We never shared who we thought might be right because that creates bias. With children the only way to unleash something special is patience and being completely non-judgmental. Don’t dismiss someone because you think they are not “right,” give them a chance and who knows they might surprise you.

Abhishek Bharate, who plays Guddu in the film auditioned with us on 7 June 2014 – if you have a good filing system it’s never hard to find anyone who has auditioned for you. Looking back at the tapes from that day I noticed something very special. Abhishek who lives between Pune and Mumbai had come in early that morning. He finished his audition quickly and he was on the top of our list from the start. But the thing that shines from that day was that Abhishek stayed for almost the whole day playing Guddu to so many younger boys who had come in. At one point when I asked him, “Don’t you have other things to do?” he replied, “No Didi, this is good. I get to do the scenes in different ways… I like it.” It’s that spirit that even Garth mentions about Abhishek, his generosity as an actor and to Sunny. A glimpse of that generosity was seen way before, even when he came for the audition. It is rare to see any actor offer what Abhishek did and I guess that is what made him the one actor I was willing to fight for if it came down to him and another actor. As a Casting Director, I feel you get to pick one actor who is worth fighting for on every film, someone you will come in with more than one reason to support because they bring more than just talent to the film.

Casting Saroo’s mom, also, was a moment of serendipity. We had many significant and amazing actors audition for the role but, even now, when I play back Priyanka Bose’s tape, there is magic. Garth and Kirsty did not know of her but when they saw her audition they felt it too – magic. Maybe, it was Priyanka’s own experiences as a mom that brought truth to the scenes, maybe it was her sheer determination, maybe we will never know what exactly she brought into the room that day but with it she ensured that no one else would play Kamla.

The entire India cast — be it Nawazuddin Siddique, Deepti Naval or Tannishtha Chatterjee— all came on board after reading and believing that there was something special about this story. They all had short yet pivotal roles and Tannishtha’s role evolved from a rewrite.

We were not only looking for a lot of young talent for Lion, my team was also pretty young. Aishwarya was all of 20 years and without her we would have never found Sunny. He was discovered in her school in Kalina from hundreds of students who auditioned. Sunny came to us after we had screened about 2,000 children from across three cities. We had shortlists and hopefuls, and Sunny was one among them. Kirsty, Karishma and I loved his face. He had soulful eyes, a certain stillness and husky voice. It was not until the September workshops did Sunny come alive as Little Saroo with help from acting coach Miranda Harcourt, who was assisted by Vaibhav and Karishma. I remember Garth’s face when we were looking at pictures of Sunny with Abhishek. Garth was in love. The team was heading next to Pune and Delhi for final workshops and callbacks but we knew we already had one solid choice for Little Saroo – Sunny Pawar.

I find it strange sometimes that we pick out “preparation for a film” as an exception to the rule. We rave about an actor making physical changes or building his body. Preparation is key to any film and it’s the little things that count, like requesting a school to allow Sunny or Abhishek to not cut their hair or reminding them to be careful about what they eat. These are things that every actor must do.

Similarly, the casting process demands time, a method and a great team. When you do have all three, you find Lion cubs with roaring performances like Sunny’s, Abhishek’s, Keshav’s and the many amazing children who are part of the film.

And in my case, I also find myself mulling over this whole process with a smile pasted silly on my face at the Academy Awards Nominee’s dinner, dressed in the fancy red and gold Sabyasachi ensemble, staring at the text message from my friend back home informing me that I am the first Indian casting director nominated for Casting Society of America’s Artios Awards for Best Casting and also one of the first (Indian casting director again) to be invited to the Academy Awards Nominee’s Dinner for extraordinary contribution to a Best Picture Nominee. I am not too sure about that heavy accolade but it definitely feels magical to be appreciated in La La La.