Qalandar* – A 35 year old man from a village in Punjab (India) has to learn riding a Bicycle to get closer to his fleeting dream. A dabbler by nature. Music, cinema and books interest him, and thus, make him a complete misfit in his village and family.
His age and intellect becomes his biggest roadblock in learning cycling and such a trivial pursuit becomes the chase of his life.
To live up to his name, he has to find his way or his way would find him.
(*Qalandars are wandering ascetic Sufi dervishes)
What does it takes to shoot a Short Film? A device, which is in your hand most of the times. In my case, it is my first independent film, (Director/Producer) so its pure courage. And sometimes, courage is more important than talent.
The thought of Qalandar has been living inside me for quite a few years. There’s a whole charm of riding a bicycle and why it seems like magic, when you balance a bicycle. You are actually defeating gravity in a way. I myself learnt it quite late in my life. I remember my Uncle reacted to this story idea by quoting Albert Einstein. “Life is just like riding a bicycle, to keep your balance, you must keep moving.”
The whole genesis of this film originated from a thought of someone not being able to do something very basic and is too old to even attempt that. Something, which can define your existence and masculinity. For the milieu, it was always a friend’s, (Kulwinder Harshaai) home in Punjab, which came to my mind. I wanted to treat it like a feature film or my first step towards making a feature length film. One thing I was sure about that it has to be in the countryside, or it was my own aversion to cityscape which was also responsible for my location choice.
My friend Kulwinder Harshai, Creative Producer, apart from being my link to this village named Guruharsahai (in Ferozepur District of Punjab) is also the one on whom the protagonist of my story is based. This film wouldn’t have been possible without him. He just opened the doors of his home and heart, and let us all in! From locations, sets, actors, accommodation, food & country made liquor to music, vocals and the dialogues of the film.
Though an independent film but I approached every department from the feature’s perspective. I was lucky the first technician who I shared the script with, came on board as the cinematographer, and Mihir Desai also ended up becoming my Co-Producer. This has been the best casting of the film!
Now our main objective was how we are going to tell the story on screen. I wanted to explore Punjab beyond the clichés of pop culture like mustard fields, hospitality, handsome men, bhangra, food & flamboyance. The Punjab etched up in my mind did have all this but primarily it had a serene and placid feel to it, which I’ve attempted to capture in the visual narrative.
I myself a product of pop-culture but my biggest grouse with it is that it never exercises its power to propagate the hidden gems of any culture; and is only interested in ‘selling’ culture as commodity. The land of five rivers, including the part in Pakistan, has given us poets like Shiv Kumar Batalavi, Paash, Amrita Pritam and Sahir Ludhanvi to name a few. And, if we delve deeper into the history Baba Farid, Bulleh Shah and Guru Nanak. I’ve seen Batalwi & Paash’s books being sold at popular places like bus stations in Punjab but the pop-culture chooses not to mention it at all!
Film making is a collaborative art, I knew and had seen it in the best of professional set ups in Bombay. And it’s ‘magic’ too, I saw this happening every day. The way one by one whole village came together to make sure Qalandar moves! Dev Verma, my associate, ushered them all from our side incredibly – from recording sync sound to making sure we cover everything on time.
The villagers never said ‘no’! The most beautiful example of this collaboration is the scene, when Qalandar is pushing the bicycle uphill. This hill, which we all called “Dali’s Hill” was made accessible by villagers. I guess the ‘Spirit’ scored over logistics or it was simply Punjabiyat, as we all say back home!
Since the story idea was based on Kulwinder’s life I had decided to cast him only as Qalandar…But as I got into the pre-production I realized, thankfully, I could either burden his gentle shoulders as an actor or a creative producer, not both, and I chose the latter.
Siddharth Sen, a professional actor based in Bombay, came on board as Qalandar. Siddharth transformed into Qalandar effortlessly and his quiet charm warmed up all of Kulwinder’s family, who were part of the film’s main cast. Siddharth, a keen observer just absorbed everything around him and that reflects in the subtler nuances of the film. The reason for casting Kulwinder’s family was essentially budget and equally the fact that raw actors bring certain truth to their performances which technically correct ones may not be able to!
Working with all of them was absolute pleasure. I just had to share the gist of moment with them and often capture the magic, or was it truth? This film is a combination of good accidents also. Qalandar’s Chacha, who works in the fields as a supervisor is an 80 year old man. He was one actor who improvised and was cracking jokes off camera! A real Qalandar!
Somi, who plays Qalandar’s nephew and confidante in the film is a trained Physiotherapist in Faridkot, Punjab. His love for Alia Bhatt and social media has become a part of my narrative as well. How Somi came up with his own lines, which became dialogues of the film is also memorable!
We finally managed to finish Qalandar’s shoot in five days. The film was edited on my personal laptop “Macbook Pro” with the help of my editor, John Joseph, and it took me six months of post-production to finish the film, since, I was working on Aamir Khan’s Secret Superstar simultaneously as a Script Supervisor. Indirectly it was my assignment with Aamir Khan Productions, which made Qalandar see light of the day!
We had a 35 minute long first cut, which was brought to 26 minutes. Now we decided to abandon editing the film and finalizing it. Mandar Kamalapurkar (Sound Designer) brought a certain kind of finesse and texture to the film. Mandar’s expertise took the film to another level! He was patient and professional at the same time.
Finally there are few names, which still helped this film but I cannot define their role. Pallavi Pethkar (Poster Design), Collin D’cunha (Talent Sourcing), Mohit Sharma (Ambal Productions), Shipan Vyas (Vfx), Mahak Gupta (DI), Priyarth Mukherjee, Kedar Sonar and Kasbah Digital. My apologies to those who are in my heart but my brain fails to recall!
To live up to his name he has to find his way or his way would find him: We too are on our way, it seems!
– Rohit Sharma
Qalandar premieres for the world on 3rd May, 2017 at the New York Indian Film Festival, New York. So if you are in NY, do catch it.
3rd May 6:15pm
Village East Cinema, New York, New York.
(Qalandar was also Shortlisted in MAMI Film Festival, 2016 (Mumbai) under Large Shorts Category. Winner of Best Screenplay- Jury in Indian World Film Festival, 2017 (Hyderabad, India), Official Selection, New York Indian Film Festival 2017)