Film, speculative poetry, podcasts and science fiction fantasy – Gravity is good, but Moon is better

Posted: April 15, 2014 by moifightclub in cinema, Movie Recco
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

This post is by Salik Shah whose twitter bio says his location is Milky Way and he is addicted to speculative fiction. Once in a while, when he remembers us, he sends us a love note like this one. He also added this bit with the note – I use the first 600+ words to talk about ten thousand things related to filmmaking, before making the point that I haven’t ‘made’ a single film.

We love his blabbering. But if you get bored, scroll down a bit, please. Over to him.


ग्नि के काष्ठ
खोजती माँ,
बीनती नित्य सूखे डंठल
सूखी टहनी, रुखी डालें
घूमती सभ्यता के जंगल
वह मेरी माँ
खोजती अग्नि के अधिष्ठान

मुझमें दुविधा,
पर, माँ की आज्ञा से समिधा
एकत्र कर रहा हूँ
मैं हर टहनी में डंठल में
एक-एक स्वप्न देखता हुआ
पहचान रहा प्रत्येक
जतन से जमा रहा
टोकरी उठा, मैं चला जा रहा हूँ

टोकरी उठाना…चलन नहीं
वह फ़ैशन के विपरीत –
इसलिए निगाहें बचा-बचा
आड़े-तिरछे चलता हूँ मैं
संकुचित और भयभीत

–  मुक्तिबोध, एक अंतर्कथा

After a screening of Pather Panchali at National Film Archive of India in early 2009, I told Satish Bahadur sir, “I love this film.”

“You’re a poet,” he replied.

I didn’t know what to say. How did he know my guilty secret? Bahadur sir was kind enough to lend me a book about the making of Apu trilogy and invited me to his house and taught me to break down films into scenes and scenes into shots—although I wouldn’t understand him fully or his gestures until many years later. I didn’t know at the time that he was the one who found the month-long refuge for film enthusiasts at FTII, Pune.

Two months ago, one of my poems was accepted by Strange Horizons—a top US speculative fiction magazine—for publication. Was it a great poem? I don’t know. My little brother with a greater appetite for science fiction fantasy liked it more than my other poems. I have had submitted a poem about Afzal Guru to Granta (UK) in early 2013 (they haven’t responded yet) and to Poetry magazine (US), which sent me an encouraging rejection letter. (I didn’t know Poetry doesn’t publish political work.)

Straw-fitted Elephants was my first sale to a literary magazine in twenty-six years. (Strange Horizons is a great platform for poets. Strange Horizons is probably doing more for speculative poetry than any other literary magazine in US.) I started writing poetry when I was twelve and discovered coding soon—and then fell in love with films, and shot and cut my first video on Youtube in 2007.  There is a strange quality to the video—it’s dark, mysterious, simple and beautiful. Simple is not ‘easy.’ There is a lot more going on here in this weird music video than other hundred plus videos I have produced for the great Indian audience.

In 2010, I co-wrote and helped launch directorial career of a friend (he is now making his third feature). I helped him set up his office, participated in meeting with producers and then moved on to lead Tata Tea’s Jaago Re! campaign. I sold a lot of tea, and helped Tata Tea establish its earliest digital footprint on social media—perhaps a first by Webchutney, now and then ranked as India’s No 1 digital agency.

In 2011, I was on the set of Ra. One with a camera in hand, following its making. I cut many videos for a popular entertainment portal and saw the business side of videos more closely than ever before. We would receive tapes from film and celebrity events, night after night, and I would write short two-to-five minute scripts, direct the motion graphic artist and oversee the editing. Once in a while, I couldn’t resist getting my hands dirty—in order to produce a new special effect or change the pace or tone of the videos, which would then litter the Internet.

In 2012, I wanted to join my friends and colleagues to receive an award for Why This Kolaveri Di!, but the road journey the previous night was nauseating and kept me confined to bed during GoaFest. (As an adman, I was writing copy for five prominent brands every day at one point, and coding for websites and Facebook apps—before Jack in the Box Worldwide got its new recruits: business managers, content writers, web developers, creative directors and project managers.)

In late 2013, I was commissioned to write a festival film for a FTII veteran by a film enthusiast and architect—a talented but troubled friend with training from IFS, Paris and Whistling Woods. In 2014, a filmmaker with two Bollywood features behind him, got in touch with me to understand digital platform and develop a business model for his next film.

I have already spent 600+ words and I could go on and on about how I have done ten thousand things related to filmmaking, but I haven’t ‘made’ a single film.

Poetry is a lifestyle, like filmmaking. I never submitted any poems—speculative or not—until the hanging of Afzal Guru tormented my soul. It isn’t easy for me to write. Poetry is pain—I can’t use words to hide. I like my poems bare—I love Gu Cheng and Li-Young Lee. (Last week, I got in touch with Neel of Tadpole to expand/adapt one of my short science fiction stories to theater. In case you are wondering what is speculative fiction, see Shlok Sharma’s Tubelight Ka Chand. Yes, it could be that simple.)

“A film is never really good unless the camera is an eye in the head of a poet.”—Orson Welles

Is Anurag Kashyap a poet?

Is Vikramaditya Motwane a poet?

What about Shlok Sharma? 

What about Vasan Bala?

When you look at their movies, you can tell the difference between their films—or poetry.

Randeep Hooda in Highway is a poetry-in-motion by Imtiaz Ali—even though the film fails (according to one friend). There is a thin line between masterwork and mediocrity.

The Indian cinema is changing, and though I don’t get time to watch as many films these days, I can tell you films like Kai Po Che! and Chillar Party are like beacons of light—poetry—for a generation growing up with short films, advertisements and pirated movies. (I saw both films at multiplexes—Kai Po Che! in Dilli and Chillar Party in Calcutta.)

I was attending a two-day seminar or something at NFAI with Atharva Gupta, and somebody asked Motwane about the “Indianness” of our films. I don’t remember what he said exactly right now (it was so many years ago), but he said that our films could remain Indian without being “touristy.”

I agree with him, though his next film upset me. It was an unfinished work—like most poems—a flawed ‘masterpiece.’

Are you into audiobooks? Or BBC podcasts? What could audio teach Indian filmmakers, poets and writers? Listen to the BBC podcast of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull, or RTÉ’s Ulysses, or several master short stories here onThe Guardian.

Why should films be epic long? Why not make short poetry?

Have you ever wondered why Indian publications don’t even send a rejection slip?

Are you into science fiction—and feel let down by Hollywood sci-fi movies?

Have you ever wondered why we can’t make independent science fiction films like District 9, Moon, Upstream Color or Monsters?

Are you a writer-director in love with Wes Anderson?

Why can’t we teach cinema to children?

It is difficult to be a science fiction fan and not get disappointed by sci-fi movies that rely on usual tropes, clichéd plots and mindless action. For every I, Robot, there is probably ten After Earths.

These days, a good sci-fi film is tough to make, hard to find, and come in short length online. The teams behind these short sci-fi films might lack budget, stars and time, but they make up for it with their creative talents. If you have a huge appetite for good science fiction films but can’t seem to find enough of them, you are in for a treat!

I am aware that for some of you this might be a totally new experience—like it was for me.

The operating principle behind the following selection was: Gravity is good, but Moon is better.

#10 Alive in Joburg (2006)

Yes, Neill Blomkamp’s Alive in Joburg is still one of the best sci-fi shorts of all time. The unique premise and documentary-style presentation of the movie has already become a part of film history.

Based on Alive in Joburg, Neill Blomkamp made District 9–the cult sci-fi commentary on the state of human societies around the world. The poverty of aliens was an unexplored theme for me until District 9. But its follow up, Elysium, was a total let down. The distinction between the poor and rich is never so simple. Nevertheless, Joburg is as relevant to the world right now as it was back in 2006.

Witness the birth of a cult. 6 minutes.

#9 Robots of Brixton (2011)

Kibwe Tabares’ Robots of Brixton paints a grim picture of humanity. The student film blurs the line between people and robots, and then goes on to effectively replace reduce us to the status of the robots. There is no God here and certainly no people.

Violence is a meditation on the nature of humanity, and perhaps the existence of God. That’s why riots and rebellions make a constant fixture in sci-fi films. Can machines feel guilt or have conscience? (Joshua Oppenheime’s The Act of Killing might provide an answer.)

Robots of Brixton is an abstract encounter with the mob. 5 minutes.


# 8 From the Future With Love (2013)

Science fiction is often an exaggerated expression of the reality, or the speculation about the fantastic. K-Michel Parandi’s short is a fast-paced sci-fi thriller set in a world where private cops sell protection plans in New York.

From the Future With Love holds a mirror to our society in 12 minutes.




#7 Lifeline (2010)

Andreas Salaff’s Lifeline is a film from the mind, for the heart, and with a soul! This award-winning student film can teach filmmakers a trick or two about the nature of simplicity and intimacy.

An old man keeps searching through various dimensions of time and space for his lost beloved. Can he turn back the wheel of time? Yes, but there is a price.

This is Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love in 6 minutes.


# 6 Memorize (2012)

Imagine a world where everyone is forced to wear a Google Glass and record everything they do. Sound horrible, right? Two childhood friends, Eric Ramberg and Jimmy Eriksson, took the idea one step ahead to come up with a stylish action film.

In Memorize, every person is implanted with a chip that records everything. But of course, it cannot deter techno-savvy criminals from committing crimes. Rest assured, Agent 007 will never be out of job!

Memorize is fun because it doesn’t pretend to take itself seriously.  7 minutes.


# 5 Grounded (2012)

An astronaut can’t escape the loop of a crash in a strange planet. Grounded is a beautiful piece of filmmaking even if you don’t consider the nerdy intentions of the superb director.

Kevin Margo said he wanted to tackle “themes of aging, inheritance, paternal approval, cyclic trajectories, and behaviors passed on through generations… against an ethereal backdrop.”

Grounded is a short metaphor, which captures the essence of films like Stanley Kubric’s 2001 Odyssey, Andrei Tarkovksy’s Stalker and Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life.

It is a speculative poem on the film. 8 minutes.


# 4 The Final Moments of Carl Brant (2013)

Duncan Jones’ Source Code starts to look like a cliché after you watch Matthew Wilson’s The Final Moments of Carl Brant, loosely based on The Singularity is Near by author Ray Kurzweilwhich.

When Carl Brant is killed, his memory stored on a hard drive is summoned to help solve the murder case. This one is probably the longest short film in this list but I’m sure no one is complaining.

Do machines have souls? You have 16 minutes to find out.


#3 Cargo (2013)

What is science if not the ability to think, rationalize and come up with creative solutions for difficult problems?

Cargo directors Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke have found a novel way to turn the cliché-plagued zombie genre into a visual treat. Finally, a zombie film which breathes fresh life to the genre of the living dead.

Cargo is a hi-res definition of fatherhood in 7 minutes.


#2 The Flying Man  (2013)

Forget Zack Synder’s realistic Man of Steel. Watch the super-realistic Marcus Alqueres’ The Flying Man. While Man of Steel was tedious at times, there is never a dull moment in The Flying Man. It keeps you hooked right from the beginning.

Shot in eyewitness video style, The Flying Man makes us want to believe in the possibility of the premise and the existence of a superhero. I think Alan Moore was the last person who pulled it off so convincingly in the first few pages of Watchmen.

Marcus Alqueres has worked in Hollywood blockbusters like 300 and Source Code, while his partner João Sita has movies like Avatar and Twilight on his belt.

The Flying Man is 9 minutes of cosmic orgasm!

#1 R’ha (2013)

R’ha could be for Kaleb Lechowski what Alive in Joburg was for Neill Blomkamp: the short film that launched his Hollywood career, a wild ticket to his dream run.

In R’ha, we see something totally unexpected: aliens vs machines. Kaleb takes the usual tropes of science fictionfantasy and turns them into a groundbreaking film.

It’s hard to believe that he’s just a 22-year-old German bloke studying digital film design when you watch this epic short film.

R’ha is 6 minutes of youthful, confident and unrestrained tour de force.

  1. Thanks for submitting your CV.

  2. tanweeer says:

    Super sexy post!

  3. Anonymous says:


  4. Thanks for the recos Salik. Brilliant post!

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