Archive for the ‘Director’s Note’ Category

amdavad-ma-famous

For some reason or other, we have been missing all the screenings of Hardik Mehta’s doc, Amdavad Ma Famous (Famous in Ahmedabad). The film has been doing the fest rounds and we have been reading a lot about it. And if you are in the same boat like us, here’s the good news – the film is out on Netflix now. Watch it.

Here’s a new trailer of the documentary

With Netflix’s acquisition for streaming this doc, hopefully it’s a start that will open more doors for good content without bothering about the length (short/full length) or format (non-fiction/doc). And that’s important because currently we don’t have any platforms where we can watch such films/docs.

Here’s Hardik Mehta looking back at the film’s inception and its journey so far –

Amdavad Ma Famous happened when I was in between assignments and quite restless with the AD life. I had assisted on Road Movie, Mausam, Lootera and Queen, and was desperate to explore my filmmaking skills. I’d directed a fiction short, Skin Deep. But what next? I didn’t want to sit around waiting for some inspiration or opportunity to strike; I just had to shoot.

So in January 2014, I thought of going to Ahmedabad to capture the old city pols (lanes) in stills, it wasn’t a commissioned assignment but a personal one, to rekindle the lost love of photographing a city.

Once there, I witnessed the euphoria that engulfs the whole city during the festival of Uttrayan. From six-year old kids to 60 year old seniors, everyone walking around with their eyes glued to the sky buzzing with hundreds of colorful kites. It was a surreal experience. It brought people from across age, class and community, on the same playing field, the terraces of old pol! That’s where I spotted Zaid. He was this skinny short boy in his gang, but his transformation into the leader of the pack when it came to chasing, catching and flying kites was fascinating. I asked him if it was okay if I shoot him. ‘Just don’t get in my way and stop me from chasing after kites!’ he quipped!

I had to catch up. I roped in ace cinematographer and dear friend Piyush Puty and we decided to follow him – see what it is like to be Zaid, running on the streets, scaling terraces, risking life and limb with single minded focus on his beloved kites!

We managed some great footage and cut a teaser, still looking for our story and funding. But with a little push from our friends, Puty’s enthusiasm and Producer Akanksha Tewari, we went back to Ahmedabad in 2015 with a bigger crew, a second unit cinematographer Harshbir Singh, location sound Pranav Kothi and Line Producer Nachiket Desai went back to Ahmedabad in 2015 with a bigger crew, a second unit cinematographer, and location sound. So for the 30-minute short, we shot for two years (2014-2015), following Zaid for three days each year during the festival of Uttarayan, and came home with some incredible footage.

But the edit was a bigger challenge in the film. It was during the five month process that I experienced how editing a documentary is like writing a screenplay for a fiction film. We had lot of visually appealing footage, but deciding what to keep out and the ‘right’ length of the film, was where I learnt (and grew) the most as a filmmaker.

I wanted to re-look at things I’ve grown up with, as if it was a story and I was trying to explore this fluidity of format when a real-life setting is presented as a narrative. I was lucky to have great advice from Nishant Radhakrishnan (Editor, Dhobi Ghat) and Vikramaditya Motwane (Director – Udaan, Lootera).

An insight that particularly worked for me was to edit the film like Zaid himself is telling his story to the world – his world through his eyes, using the craft, music and narrative true to his world.

Speaking of the learnings from Amdavad Ma Famous’ journey.

Firstly, the importance of good post-production – right from music to sound design to even a poster and film stills used for promotion, all of it matters and more so for a short! Because even a good short film can fall into the trap of amateur work if the post-production is not right.

For our film, we were sure to treat it as important as one would treat a fiction feature. I had an incredibly talented team – Alokananda Dasgupta’s music, Manoj Goswami’s Sound Design, and Arya A Menon coming on board as Producer, every bit contributed.

But my biggest learning has been the boldness to just go out there, get your hands dirty, shoot and make your film – The Werner Herzog rule. Duration, formats don’t matter, only the heart of the content does. And there are more ways than one to make your film reach out to its audience. There are global platforms willing to look at all kinds of content.

It was the same boldness that made us take our film to a global giant like Netflix, when no one was sure if they would even consider or take up a short doc like ours. Netflix showing faith in our content and picking it up has reinstated our belief in independent filmmaking. Thrilled to share that Amdavad Ma Famous is now streaming on Netflix, globally and continues its international film festival run.

I’m as much of an outsider as anyone wanting to make a film in our industry. I’ve seen talented ADs who keep waiting for producers and hovering around actors for the big break, but there is no point in wasting your life’s precious young years in Mumbai cafes. The big break will come, but when digital cameras have given us so much confidence and independence that it is an insult to this democratization of technology if you are not utilizing it in the meantime. There’s no point waiting your time, when your time is really now.

The Film Festival Journey:

We had limited exposure to the documentary festival circuit, and not many avenues to learn more from either. We started submitting the film and decided that wherever we get the first call from, we will take it up.

We started with Budapest International Documentary Festival, a fairly medium sized festival being put together by an incredible group of Filmmakers and film lovers. They loved the film and invited us to attend. That was the world premiere for us, and also our first win – we won the Best Documentary Jury Award at 2015 BIDF.

2015 Al-Jazeera International Documentary Film Festival, Doha, Qatar, was next and we won Best Documentary Jury Award there too. Followed by an amazing reception at 2016 MIFF, Mumbai where we won the Best Documentary and Best Editing Award. The double win at MIFF gave us a lot of confidence.

Of course, there were rejections from some prominent North American and European documentary festivals, but we kept at it. What really charged us up was the selection at HotDocs, Toronto and winning the National Award – Swarn Kamal as Best Non Feature Film for 2015.

As of now, Amdavad Ma Famous has travelled to film festivals spread across six continents over fifty cities and been lucky enough to pick up twelve awards on the journey too.

Hardik Mehta

Exactly two years ago, the crew of Coffee Bloom was doing their last minute prep in Coorg, to prepare for the shoot. Within me the moths in my stomach were ready to be butterflies soon, as it will probably the first time in my life I will be calling the words “Action” in front of a professional crew. Looking back, with a perspective of an outsider, I am really a nobody who had got this opportunity to make a feature film, thanks to Harish Amin and Sharath Parvathavani. It feels too good to be true that an outsider without any experience of making films or assisting anyone, besides few DIY short films, managed to be on that shoot calling action. Thanks to an incredible team who gave me a fair chance and believed in the script we wrote. Over the next two years with many passionate creative arguments and reworks, Coffee Bloom gradually assembled itself part by part, thanks to a producer, who unconditionally continued pumping money into it believing in the film. We all knew as a team, it wasn’t perfect, there were issues we were all aware, but with whatever resources we had given it all and the film that was ready to go out. We had done our best with whatever we could do.

The MAMI screening gave us a lot of encouragement, but the beast called Distribution was sleeping on our path. When things had hit a lull, Shiladitya Bora, one day sends me an SMS saying, he wants to see the film. The next thing I know within weeks we were getting a release, Shiladitya along with Harish Amin, was on ground tackling the beast and clearing the path for us to move. Is it for real? I am probably living a dream, and the dream had goodies, it included US and Canada release. Very soon, the PR and marketing activity started, giving back to back interviews, cluelessly posing in front of flashbulbs to screwing up the first media interaction fumbling for words. Seeing your own name on the hoardings, makes up for the all the silly little struggles, that every film maker complains of. All this while, I kept pinching myself, it’s a dream ok no maybe it’s real, regardless enjoy the ride dude. The committed cast (Arjun, Sugandha, Mohan and Ishwari) and crew members, pull all stops to make a premiere happen and before you know, it is the morning of March 6th. So far the flight was fine, but rough weather and turbulence is part of every journey.

The reviews started pouring in, for your first film to be called Awfully pretentious, self indulgent, “Shouldn’t have been funded”, to some glowing reviews from the best critics who saw merit in the film calling it “well acted drama”, poetry in motion, “complex relationship film that couldn’t have been smoother”,” with an arresting soul” and comparison to Ray etc. it was emotionally overwhelming from where I come from. They say you have to be thick skinned, I admit my skin needs to get thicker, cause this emotional roller coaster has changed a part of me forever. I sincerely hope it never affects my writing or film making. Many comments and feedback were genuine, many people called personally to tell me, a part of them had connected with the film and they were not able to shake off the experience. Every time I see any merit in the criticisms, be it good or bad, a part of me wishes I want to relive these two years of my life and rework things. I always regretted I couldn’t go to film school, I still do have plan to go in future, but Coffee Bloom has been the best film school, I have experiences and lessons for life. To all my family, friends and fraternity, it happened because all of you gave the film a fair chance and I am again and again forced to repeat the most cliche words sincerely, cause there is no better way to say it “Thank you from the bottom of my heart” for helping me get the buzz out there to taking the effort to making it to theaters and personally sending your feedback and love.

Every morning is a high, to know the film you worked on is playing in theaters. As Oscar Wilde puts it, “Life is never fair and perhaps it is a good thing for most of us that it is not”, the dream may soon end, by Thursday,economics will decide the fate of the film. It may or may not cross the Thursday bridge, the number of shows might go down, life is unfair, it’s probably a secret message from the universe, “do better dude”, internalise the lessons of Coffee Bloom, the weapons for the next battle is already being polished with this message. To those who haven’t caught the film, I am hoping you will give me the privilege of your time and a part of you over the next three days cause the ride will soon end. Thanks in advance smile emoticon

Humbled, Sincere Love and Thanks to all who were closely and remotely part of this journey (Yes, this moment I am living “now” is bigger than any award in this world.)

Manu Warrier

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After doing the fest rounds, Nisha Pahuja’s critically acclaimed documentary, ‘The World Before Her’ is all set to release on May 16th, 2014. Filmmaker Anurag Kashyap is presenting it and PVR Directors Rare is releasing the film. Moving between the worlds of a Durga Vahini training camp and the beauty boot camp of the Miss India Pageant, the film is a powerful story that could not have come at a better time. Some of us managed to watch the film earlier and we have put it in MFC’s Must Watch recco list. Click here to read our recco post on the film.

We are posting two clips from the film – one from the film, and one that did not make the cut. We also got Nisha to write on these two clips.

1. Pooja’s story

Director’s Note – I remember when Pooja told me the story of almost being killed at birth for being a girl..that moment became a turning point for me in terms of the focus of the film. I knew it had to be about the struggles that so many Indian women continue to face. It also changed the way I looked at Miss India–suddenly it was no longer passe or just simply derogatory..it was so much more complex. I had to ask myself “Given the Indian context, can I disregard my Western prejudices and see a beauty pageant as “empowering.” It’s something I still grapple with..

2. Tulsi’s story

Director’s Note – When I began the research in 2008, I was determined to find a young woman from a village who harboured dreams of becoming a Miss India.  Somehow I did. Meet Tulsi – achingly lovely..a symbol of “aspiring India.” Tulsi’s story was incredible, she comes from a village in UP that got electricity in 2009, and that only intermittently. Her grandfather was a freedom fighter and and there was a temple that had been built in his honour. Tulsi’s mother did not want to get married but was forced to.  So in an act of defiance on her wedding night she chopped off all her hair and began to dress like a man. Somehow she was accepted. She decided she would allow her daughter to do as she wished. When Tulsi told her parents she wanted to move to Bombay and pursue her Miss India dream, they sent her off with the money they had been saving for her dowry.  The Miss India team never responded to her application or her pics and when I last saw her in 2010 she was having a hard time and it seemed clear to me that she was being exploited, but didn’t want to talk about it in too much detail. I still get the odd email from her but she never responds when I write her back. I had always wondered how her grandfather, who had fought for India’s freedom would feel about Tulsi’s dream of winning a beauty pageant. Was this the freedom he was prepared to die for?

TRAILER

FUND-A-FILM Project

The makers of the film are also running a kickstarter campaign with the goal of taking the film to a wider audience – schools, colleges, public screenings. Click here to read about their plan and do contribute if you want to support the initiative. The aim is to raise US$ 50,000 out of which they have already got $ 41,000. Now they have just a week left to achieve the target. So if you feel for it, do contribute generously. The film needs your support.

Since the time we saw Nagraj Manjule’s debut feature ‘Fandry’, we have been shouting out from rooftop that it’s a terrific debut and a must watch. Click here to read our recco post. This week, Fandry is releasing outside Maharashtra, and with English subtites.

The show details – Date: February 28 to March 6

Delhi NCR
PVR MGF Mall 9:10 PM
DT Cinemas Vasant Kunj: 3: 30 PM

Indore
PVR Indore 5:00 PM

After the film’s release and the acclaim it got all over, Nagraj wrote a piece for Maharashtra Times. Much thanks to @Shankasur who came up with the idea to translate it in English for wider reach, took the permission, and did it for us. Do watch the film if you haven’t seen it yet. And then read it.

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Remembering   Fandry

Now that Fandry has been released, I am reminiscing all the memories that are linked with it. These memories have accumulated over a long period of time. The very moment someone mentions Fandry, I am reminded of experiences from
childhood and that of growing. I grew up with a strange sense of fear and a realisation that I was born into an under-privileged life. I was made aware of my limits since my childhood. I would go to watch Ramayana and everybody’s seats were fixed. While watching King Ram from a corner, the invisible “No Entry” signage that was in my mind was getting bold and clear. The surrounding social setup was up in arms that constantly kept reminding me of my deprived social status.

I don’t exactly remember when my innocent courage took a backseat and I became aware of my caste limitations at every step. I never realised when this impotent maturity became a part of my life. Whenever I uttered my or my mother’s name, or even make a reference to my caste while filling forms in school, the class would break into a faint yet violent laughter. To avoid these embarrassments, I would walk up to the teacher and whisper my name and caste into his ears. I made this into a habit since I was in primary school. When one’s identity becomes the reason behind his inferiority complex, he has nothing more to say. I don’t remember since when I feared telling my own name to others. All I carried along was a sense of fear that it would be criminal of me to do so.

When my father would address my friends as “saheb”, “sarkar”, my expectations for friendship, equality would seem unreasonable. If someone loosened the noose around our neck, we would celebrate that as our freedom. But that didn’t stop me from dreaming. Even in this gated social setup, dreams would find their own little ways. A simple jean pant, a sweet dish during a festival, electricity connection at home, a new pair of footwear would seem like dreams that could come true. The system I was living in would stack up these little wishes and desires and make them appear as dreams that were out of my reach. But dreams don’t have labels of caste and religion. They express their desire to be realised in most innocent manner which gives rise to a chaotic struggle between these dreams and our own inferiority complexes. Sadly, the later always wins over the former.

When I entered college, the old nightmare was in front of me all over again. I had expected that at least in college, I would be treated with some dignity. In my first year, we had a story by S. M. Matey in which the protagonist curses the villian as “Hey Kalyaa Wadaaraa!” (Wadar is a denotified tribe (DNT), while Kalyaa refers to a dark skinned man. It’s difficult to translate the heinous undertone of this phrase). I had this habit of reading through all the lessons and stories before the course starts.
When I came across this sentence in Matey’s story, I decided to remain absent in the class the day when this story will be taken for discussion. I bunked classes for a week and thought that the professor must’ve finished discussing this story. To my worst surprise, the professor started with the story the same day I chose to remain present again to the classes. Not to mention, when sir recited those lines, everyone looked at me, trying hard to control their laughter. I felt an immediate need to miraculously disappear from where I was sitting, like a god.

A man starts expecting such miracles to happen at times of these depressing encounters with life. Fandry reminds me of these episodes. It reminds of the haunting space called school. It reminds of those innocent dreams; reminds me of the dreams that were squashed and crushed by the might of my underprivileged caste identity I carried throughout.

“Fandry means what?” is a question that I’ve been asked numerous times. And I’ve refrained telling its meaning in one simple word. Fandry is a word used by a tribe, that lives around us, in their dialect. We do not know of this dialect nor about the tribe. We are unaware of their lives, their dreams, the pleasures and perils of their existence. When you will come searching for the meaning to the word Fandry and spare a moment to understand about lives of these people, I would consider my attempt to keep its meaning a secret a ssuccess.

Fandry is not a secret but an invitation for all of you. Please accept it and face the ugly truth that we always prefer to ignore. A truth that we’ve always been hiding like an epidemic. But when a vaccine to this epidemic would be discovered, we will have to accept that we are struck by it. It is only then I can dream of a clean and compassionate dawn in history of mankind.

– Nagraj Manjule

(Translated by Kaustubh Naik aka @shankasur)

 

“Tagore-on-an-acid-trip” – that’s how Qaushiq Mukherjee, or Q, as he is popularly known, has described his latest film, Tasher Desh. We discovered Q with his last film Gandu which still remains unreleased in India. And we have been following all his work since then – shorts, music, documentaries.

Here’s the director’s note on his new film which is set to release on 23rd August in Mumbai and Kolkata. It’s based on one of the popular musical dramas of Rabindranath Tagore.

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Since I was five, Tasher Desh has been on my mind. It’s that fantasy that I always knew I wanted to touch. That elusive texture of human existence, devoid of transient truth. Reality is indeed transient; shifting all the time yet every civilization holds on to its truth till whatever time they can, always leading to antagonism and discontent. The cycle of time makes sure that periods of extreme confusion and chaos happen to alter realities, and we are at the thresholds of such a time.

Tagore wrote Tasher Desh as a mythical utopian expression against the backdrop of a violent turbulence. India was in the process of forming an individual and collective identity. Shaking off a history of oppression and forging a modern society. Tagore saw it as an opportunity perhaps, to tell a story removed so far from reality that it forced the listener to be objective. Modern society is marked by one overwhelming human condition. Of melancholia or depression. Slowly becoming one of the most important issues of our daily reality.

Depression is a symptom of a gloom caused by social system and its invariable ability to isolate individuals.

The film is not about the narrative of the fairy tale. It is but a reflection of how I see the world right now. As it was then, when the piece was written, the world is in a flux. India is changing radically, along with the politics of the world, and these changes are essentially driven by system driven violence. My storyteller, therefore, is a lost soul. Unable to deal with the cacophony of his circumstances, he dives into the fable, as if to save himself. The characters of the fairy tale are all extensions of the storyteller, and the story itself has a life of its own. Every story is the same. And it is always the telling that shifts the paradigms.

In the film, it’s his story that helps the storyteller overcome his ennui and to take a decision that would change his life.

The prince is depressed, because the storyteller is. A deep isolation caused by the sense of loss, of one’s self. Stagnant and paranoid. Stuck in a space and time that is almost a cocoon, with the appearance of a prison. While the storyteller is confined within the two parallel railway tracks, the prince is in his palace, a hopeless fortress, as it seems to him.

Tasher Desh is also about belief and magic. The oracle, the fairy watching over our prince, is needed because impetus is external. This is what connects us to the world outside our mind. Instead of drawing inspiration from the mundane reality, the storyteller as the concerned friend of his protagonist invokes the fairy. The prince’s transformation is immediate. Touched by the power of illusion, he suddenly begins to realize that his emancipation is in movement. He needs to go away. One of the most important things holding him back was his broken mother. He comes out to his mother, and then dives into his fantasy. The storyteller also jumps the wall of his reality.

It could be argued that social governance and its monotheistic, patriarchal nature cause collective depression. Tagore’s utopia is bizarre, with masked beings, strange rules and social paranoia of change. The cards in the film seem to have lost all human tendencies.

When the prince and the friend meet them. But the prince, newly liberated, is impatient to try out the power he has been given. A demi god now, devoid of intrinsic human folly, he delivers the message to the ace of hearts.

The storyteller travels the path he has often traveled in his fantasy, and when he arrives at the palace of his dreams, he finds her. The ace of hearts, a widow living in the shadows of a ruined structure. Mystical, magical, she is the one he was waiting for. Suddenly he has someone to tell the story to. Get it out of his soul. The widow and the ace of hearts merge in his story, and a revolution begins.

Tasher Desh symbolizes the triumph of a pagan form of ritualistic cleansing through love and identification of the self, in a postmodern society. it’s a vision of the man cleansed pure by the woman, and the seed of identity being sexual in nature. The ace of hearts takes away the storyteller’s attention, at the same time making his story more palpable, more intense, and more romantic. The film turns a sharp corner therefore, and begins to intensify on finding that one point, the spark. It’s a feminine revolt that the story narrates now, no longer a tale of male neurosis. A non-­‐violent revolution fuelled by love. In utopia. Tagore was a pure romantic, and i have tried to place his sensibilities in the confusion of our time. a violent world without any screen violence. A fairy tale without any fabrication and frills. I have tried to find the unreal right beside me. All the art properties in the film were objects we can find easily. The locations were live. The look, inspired heavily by Japanese forms, from kabuki to manga, had to be basic. There are no visual effects used, apart from layering two or three visuals together, to find an image that allows all the realities to exist together, form a relationship. And a video game reference that was done with video moshing, a very low fi technique. The idea was minimalist. Within that apparent reality, we would try to find the sublime. The magical.

The film is a musical. Following an ancient oral form, we have retained the songs as they were, written eighty years back. Associating with some of the finest musicians across the world, I have tried to place the sound of Tagore’s time with the current ones. The words of the songs, so eloquent, emerging from a romantic poet of the highest standard, are actually lines for the characters that sing them. With the use of music, the reality is broken time and again, but every song contains a message so intrinsic to the character, one can lose one’s self in them. Sound and colour play crucial roles in the film, creating the environment and the tension of the spaces explored.

Tasher Desh is an experiment in form and structure, using one of the most popular scripts of India’s recent history. I wanted to remain as faithful to the original idea as I could, and then use my treatment to bring the seed of the story out of its stagnancy, caused by the sterility of my culture. It is a story about revolution after all, and magic, and I strongly believe in both.

Q

What’s Tagore’s Tasher Desh is all about

A king banishes the older queen and his son to a palace where they lead a life of luxury and decadence. An oracle whispers the secret words to the prince and he leaves the palace with his friend, the merchant’s son. Their boat sinks and they arrive at the land of cards where the inhabitant cards are governed by a military regime. The prince and his friend get caught and bring about a change in the women cards with music and prophecies of love. The woman cards revolt. The king surrenders and the prince finds the meaning of life.

What’s Q’s Tasher Desh is all about 

Once upon a time, there was a storyteller. In a lonely railway station, somewhere in Kolkata, he spoke to trains. He wanted to tell a story. It was not a new story. But for him, it was the only story to tell. Inside the darkness of his mind, his story unfolds, a kaleidoscope of fantasy.

Once upon a time, there was a prince. a victim of his destiny, he was banished with his mother to a dark and distant prison palace. Here he grows up, without hope, without a future, with his mother drowning herself in alcohol. His depression countered only by his friend, the merchant’s son, who argues that it was indeed the prince’s choice to remain locked in. realizing the extent of his despair, the friend invokes the oracle. A mysterious figure, the oracle passes on a message of liberation. The prince realizes that he is indeed a prisoner of his mind. He takes a decision, to leave. He has a final moment with his mother, who lets him go. The prince takes hold of his destiny, and sets off on a voyage with his friend, searching for an adventure.

The storyteller begins his journey as well, leaving the city, and traveling to a ruined palace, which is where we had found the prince. Here, he encounters a strange woman, a widow, living alone, as if waiting for him to turn up. He is mesmerized by her, and soon, begins to tell her the story. She is his muse, the one who he was waiting for. Finally having found the listener, the storyteller launches into an even more intense narrative.

Shipwrecked on a paradise island, the prince and the friend encounter a strange culture. The islanders are all soldiers, who call themselves the cards, and live by a code of rules that outlaws any human behavior. Before they know it, an aggressive party of the islanders, holds the visitors captive. Presented at court, and having angered the cards by defying their court customs, they are pronounced guilty, and banished. But before he leaves, the prince asks for a last word, and takes the opportunity to whisper the same message of liberation he received from his guardian angel to a few of the card women. The result is chaos. The women are completely shaken, and soon the land of cards sees dissent for the first time.

– For more info on the film and release schedule, click here for its FB page.