Archive for the ‘Guest Post’ Category

Mumbai Film Festival is over, but the hangover remains. And so here comes one more post. This is a guest post by Mohamed Thaver.

Killa

I recently saw ‘Killa’ (The Fort) at the MAMI film festival, a subtle, understated and beautifully woven coming-of-age narrative of an 11-year-old boy, who along with his mother, shifts to a Konkan town after his father’s death. ‘Coming of age’ movies – that seemed to be the flavor of the recently concluded MAMI film festival – by their very nature, demand a certain level of deft handling of the filmmaking craft, a nuanced, under the radar approach – one does not come of age with fanfare – bearing a ‘handle with care’ tag, as the object being worked with: childhood, is brittle indeed. Much to our delight, first time director Avinash Arun, understands that one exposure to an insensitive, over the top scene at that age, could result in a lifelong scar.

After watching the movie (more on it later) as I was walking back, I could almost visualize a certain recurring pattern develop in some good Marathi movies I had seen lately. A small joining the dots act, comprising of drawing mental lines from Shwaas to Shaala to Fandry and Killa – to name a few – revealed to me a certain aesthetic I had seen somewhere. I told my friend with some delight, ‘I think Marathi cinema is going the Iranian cinema way. Isn’t it?’

Although not exclusively, but Iranian cinema, from Children of Heaven to Colour Of Paradise, has more so always vied for the heart over the head, the innocent over the intelligent attitude to film making. It has been more interested in the simple everyday stories, mirroring on screen the day-to-day struggles faced by families, seen on several occasions from the point of view of young eyes and muddled heads. It is this innocence – that without proper treatment of the subject matter could risk seeming ineffective at best and banal at worst – that for me makes Iranian cinema endearing more than anything else.

Now having a look at some good movies to come out of Marathi cinema of late, from the poignant Shwaas to Shala, Fandry and now to Killa, the movies here do not rely on some larger than life characters or a cinematic twist in the tale or even a resolution. Rather moving to the other extreme, it tries to present a slice of life of the most common person that it could find, thereby making the theme universal. Here too, a’ la Iranain cinema, the simple head and inquisitive eyes of a child are turning out to be a preferred medium of communication. Like in Fandry, when Jabya because of being born in a particular caste, has to chase the pig in front of his school mates, the humiliation is complete and would not be lost on anyone who has ever been a child. This is not to say that the aesthetic similarity between Marathi and Iranian is of a deliberate nature, but a beautiful tool employed effectively by two very diverse cultures.

I think it is good news for Marathi cinema, because it does require a certain amount of confidence in your art for a director – and a first time director like Avinash Arun at that- to pick up a story like Killa, where you cannot hide behind on screen histrionics. In a recent interview, Vishal Bharadwaj talking about the vulnerability of a director said, “You can tell a lot about a filmmaker from the movie. The filmmaker is emotionally naked on the movie screen” It is a healthy sign that many Marathi filmmakers are willing take off the garb of everything that is not good cinema and stand naked before the viewers with regularity.

Now coming back to Killa, my friend who has grown up in Kolhapur sprinted down memory lane within the first few minutes of the movie. When Bandya is shown humming ‘chandrakanta ki kahani’ she could not believe it. It was almost like someone has gone into her mind and splashed forth her childhood on the big screen. A special mention of the inspired scene when Bandya, a full of life youngster along with friends do a dhina-dhin-dha Anil ‘Ram Lakhan’ Kapoor style to welcome a classmate who enters wearing glares. It is such a blend of keenly observed childhoods, humour and imagination that it creates magic on screen.

Several movies at MAMI received a standing ovation. For Killa, however, it did not stop at that. People just stood as the credits rolled over and then did not know what to do with themselves after the credits have rolled over. They wanted more. They wanted to relive their childhoods just a wee bit longer.

(A crime reporter on a sabbatical,  Mohamed Thaver loves well created worlds – on screen, on pages or musical notes. His blog is here)

anurag--300x300Dear All,

When I am not making movies – which is thankfully rarely – my favourite pastime is to get fundamentally quoted without the context. Blame the lack of space in newspapers today with all those advertisements accounting for most of it. It helps to keep our conversation going, you see. And it has happened again. My whole conversation has been reduced to one line that’s being knocked around, “rape is a bad accident says anurag kashyap”

Fun though it is, I think it’s time I speak for myself and not let some out-of-context quote in a paper, or an edited version of a half-an-hour conversation do the talking.

Sitting here in Karlovy Vary I have been inundated with texts and mails about an interview of mine, that has of course, as always, been completely misread.  It does not help that a long conversation has been reduced to a paragraph, but credit to the writer that he does mention that the now-controversial paragraph is the point of view of a woman and not my own.

The reactions on various social platforms do prove that in anger the opinionists also turn blind, and they actually read what they want to, so that they can rage over it, rather than seeing it and arguing healthily over it.

I don’t mean to spoil the rage party, but let me try to bring some context here.

Recently, I was in conversation with a woman, who quoted an old article she had read in The Times of India oped page, years ago.  That article profiled a courageous rape survivor, a European woman living in India, who after being gang raped, actually fought for a fair trial for her rapists and a lighter sentence. She strongly protested any baying for blood or vengeful mindset. She was in fact ridiculed and vilified for standing up for justice for her own rapists. When asked why she did it – she said that she would treat the trauma of her rape the same way she would treat the trauma of being in a terrible car crash. She would try to heal from it, she would want the irresponsible perpetrators punished, but she would not allow the crime to gain greater significance than she felt it was due. Any greater assignment of meaning to her own rape would be to give in to a male view of the female gender. She also believed that her identity and her dignity did not reside between her legs, but between her ears.

The woman friend of mine who told me about this case, also mentioned that this article made her rethink the concepts of honour, izzat,  dignity and personal identity, for years to come.

What was read as my comment or statement in the HINDU were actually “questions” raised by the survivor, which were then subsequently narrated to me by another woman and by me to Sudhish Kamat who writes it like it is but not all of it, which by now is attributed to me as my quote. Those questions stayed with me and bothered me, and made me question things, because I felt that there was a certain truth to them.

I am not so good at articulation without my camera, but let me try and elucidate the point my female friend was making: No woman invites rape, rape is never ever the woman’s fault, and no woman would chose it – if the choice was a viable one. But in a situation where the choice is between life and rape, a woman might just choose the latter. If her choice is ‘life’, why is that very life taken away from her, once she is raped? Why is she called stuff like ‘zindaa laash’ and why does the entire focus shift to ‘honour’ rather than to ‘healing’? To ‘punishment’ rather than to ‘rehabilitation’? When does the male gaze take over, such that even the extent of the victim’s physical and mental bruising is decided for her by others?

Why is she never granted the quiet she so sorely needs? She is frequently dragged out by the social worker to narrate her story again and again, she relives the trauma again and again, she is used to make a point. should that not be a choice. the choice of the survivor.

The woman who told me this story also said that she often puts a very difficult binary choice to her female friends: Such as: burnt alive, or rape? Dismembered, or rape? Acid attack, or rape? Horrible though it sounds, when given a choice like this, many women went quiet. The horror of rape, when pitted against other ghastly horrors, acquired a perspective. Not that of being ‘fine’ or ‘acceptable’ but often, of the lesser evil – if other brutalities or violence was not involved.

Does this mean any of us is trivializing rape here? Far from it. It is a violent, traumatic, battering, violating experience. All I want to say is that let us not add male notions of honour and purity to it. That is like adding insult to the injury.

The point is about not having a choice. When one is raped, there often is no choice. When one has the option of fight or flight one uses it but often neither option is available. It is the same in a bad accident. You do not have a choice but you go through the brutality .

However, what happens afterward is telling. When in a bad accident, the victim goes to the doctor or a hospital, tries to recuperate, allows oneself to heal, the victim is rehabilitated or allowed to rehabilitate.

And the one who causes the accident is punished.

My distress with our social network-ists is that they assume they understand rape simply because they are women. Rape is not that easily understood and it is not a gender’s prerogative to do so.

In this world men are raped too and more so in our society, in this part of the world. I am also a victim of rape and I have healed a lot more than most because the world was not fussing over me.

Suddenly there is a new term being thrown around, VAW (violence against women) well, coming to VAW, VAW is not the same as rape, VAW includes rape but rape has a much broader bracket that includes the other gender too and also the one we most often don’t consider a gender, the transgenders, who are the biggest victims of the said crime..How I look at Violence? You can’t wish it away, laws will not and can’t control it, it has existed since the mankind has existed, violence against animals, violence against humanity, all kinds of violence exists and will continue to as long as people are not equal. as long as two people will have different strengths and ability, there will always be a power struggle and there will be violence. The weak will always be violated by the strong and it is not gender specific. You can police it. regulate it .. there is violence in sport but is regulated. the perpetrator is always shown a yellow card, then a red card and then is barred from the field and if he/she continues, is banned from the game for life. Only physical assault does not constitute violence, emotional blackmail is also violence, mind games are also violations, misusing nirbhaya laws is also violence and rise in that VIOLENCE AGAINST MEN since those laws have been constituted, was even commented on by the Supreme court just last week. Every solution will create a new problem. anyway i am digressing here..its a never-ending discourse.

If I had to discuss or argue about rape, I would much rather do so with the victims and survivors than with a feminist.Why? Because I get a strong feeling that the Indian feminist is very hard to talk to, because he/she doesn’t listen. He/She has a fully formed opinion etched in stone and will give no space to accommodate any other point of view.

Indian feminists start with the agenda already defined, and hence there is no room for any other opinion or position. Feminists are always eager to adopt any woman with a strong voice as their own. We saw our film “Queen” being immediately adopted by them as a feminist film. Let me say here that neither is Vikas Bahl a feminist, nor am I, and we both love and respect women as we do men: as people, as human beings. Isn’t that the way it should be?

Queen was not intended to be a feminist film, it was the love and respect for this human being and her story that came through, the film was not pro woman or anti men. It was a story of a girl finding her own self and how she does it on her terms.

I know a lot of women who the feminists project as their own and these women hate it, they hate it because they don’t see themselves that way but don’t say it out loud because they are mortally afraid of offending the feminists. The fear that the feminists inculcate even in women is especially peculiar.

Next. coming to my short film – well everything we do is not always a statement. The purpose of the film was not to offer a solution but to tell a story. I made a deal where I was obligated to do a short film for the platform it provided to five other young filmmakers around me who I think deserve more and so that they can showcase what they are capable of.  They made their shorts and the time came to do mine, we were running out of time, I was already late by a month. We were to do a short film and I had two days and the script was chosen from a bunch of scripts and purpose of the film was not to offer a solution. Purpose of the film was to tell a story, and this was the best of the lot, it had its issues but we did not have time to iron out the issues and in that story we tried to shoot it in a way , that one feels the harassmentThe ending was meant to be light hearted. We had no idea that it would go viral and that’s our shortcoming probably, we had no idea that it will be taken as my opinion and even after it was, it helped to bring forth so many points of view – and that wouldn’t have happened if that short did not exist.

I responded to and engaged with some sensible points but the angry, short sighted judgemental ones that came from twitter anger we chose to ignore. I refuse to take the responsibility of making a statement on behalf of a half baked -ism of this country through my work. I am not your voice so please stop expecting me to be, I am on my own journey and constructive points of views help me grow and understand things more, I have been taught not to be afraid to sound like an authority before I speak, I have been taught to speak freely because until and unless you don’t do that, there will not be debates and discussion and arguments.

I am my own voice and I speak for myself, and my life is an ongoing process, I have not come to any conclusions about anything in life, about you or me or cinema or rape or women or anything. I react, I think, I over react, I think too much and I think aloud. I am what I do and not what I am expected to do.

I don’t think I am that important in any scheme of things and I write this letter for the sake of the few people I actually care about, who are distressed, and  who urge me to have my say.

– Anurag Kashyap

(ps – To avoid further misunderstanding, let us clarify that he didn’t send us that profile pic of his to go with this post, we just googled and put one. Because just text looks bit drab)

It’s the latest blockbuster that you might not have heard about. A bit of googling tells me that Anurag Singh’s Punjab 1984 had no takers intially. A serious drama in the backdrop of 1984, and that too in the age of YoYoHoneySingh and Jatt-Juliet, who would watch? But if only formulas and calculations of what-works-what-doesn’t could prove right every time, we would have been deprived of some of the best films ever made. Shailesh Kapoor tells us why Anurag Singh’s Punjab 1984 is a must watch, and how it has turned out to be such a blockbuster.

Punjab1984

Technically, Punjabi is my “mother tongue”. I have grown up seeing my parents converse in the language at home, as well as with friends and relatives. I have even studied Punjabi as a third language in school for two years, till I was shifted from a Sikh school to a “normal” school, post the 1984 riots in Delhi.

Yet, I have never watched a Punjabi film in a theatre before this Thursday. Till recently, Punjabi cinema was not a thriving industry. Over the last 3-4 years, the industry has found its feet, thanks to the mushrooming of multiplexes in the East Punjab territory, creating a fertile ground for business. Yet, their cinema has been skewed towards the comedy genre. In a bus trip in Punjab last year, I was subject to watching one such Punjabi blockbuster on video. Assault on the senses won’t be an over-statement to describe the experience.

Glowing online reviews of last week’s release, Punjab 1984, forced me to a theatre during my short Delhi trip earlier this week. My interest in Operation Bluestar has grown over the last few years, leading me to read a few books on the subject. That familiarity with the subject, and the presence of Kirron Kher in the principal cast, was sufficient motivation.

Even as I went in with high expectations, I was not prepared for the brilliance of the cinematic experience I was about to be a part of. Know the song “Luka Chhuppi” from Rang De Basanti? Punjab 1984 is that song’s little story told through a film. And even though the song featured Waheeda Rehman as the mother, Punjab 1984 can well be described as the story of Kirron Kher’s character in the same Rang De Basanti, converted into a full-length feature film.

A mother-son story set in the aftermath of Operation Bluestar, Punjab 1984 has a grammar that’s uniquely matter-of-fact. It does not attempt to commercialize the subject, and equally importantly, it does not do the reverse either – of trying to be an off-beat film that demands to be taken seriously. As a result, what we get is a human story, laced with human situations and dialogue, directed with a free spirit that blends entertainment with sensitivity effortlessly.

Director Anurag Singh has directed some of those mindless blockbuster Punjabi comedies, one of which I encountered in the aforementioned bus trip. With a solid script and a superb starcast, he comes into his own with Punjab 1984, delivering a knockout performance at the helm.

I hadn’t heard of Diljit Dosanjh till a week ago, though I now realize he has sung a few Bollywood songs as well. Kirron Kher is in top form, at home with the language and the culture, and yet, Dosanjh manages to live upto her caliber in the role of her son, played with a sense of raw believability that’s rare to film these days.

There are at least half a dozen moments in the film when you struggle to hold back tears, when emotional highs are delivered through a mix of fine writing and good acting. And unlike Gulzar’s Maachis, the film does not confuse the issue of terrorism, and leaves the audience with a clear message that’s rooted in reality and morality together. Of course, without a hint of being preachy at any point.

The end credits blend the real into the reel. Not a soul moved in my half-filled theatre till the screen had turned absolutely black. I last remember going through that experience in Taare Zameen Par.

Punjab 1984 is set to cross the 10 crore mark, which remains a magical figure for Punjabi films, much like 150 or 200 crore for Bollywood. It’s been four days since I watched it, and I’m still wondering why an industry more than 20 times in size not produce such films, at a rate more than once or twice a year. And by “such films”, I don’t mean this exact film, but unconventional subjects where human emotions are treated as, well, human emotions.

I know that we are in an age of instant gratification and the youth drive cinema choices at the studios these days. But surely, there can be more variants (not versions) of A Wednesday or Queen. Surely, there’s a market. At least, there is no evidence that there’s not a market.

If “regional” cinema like Punjab 1984 is needed to shake up a national industry, then so be it. But hope the shake-up happens at some level. No place is a bad place to learn from.

Go and watch Punjab 1984 in a theatre if you can. Even if the language is entirely alien to you, the universality of emotions will cut through to you, right across the screen. And great performance can be heard, even when you don’t understand a word.

(Shailesh Kapoor is the founder and CEO of Ormax Media)

gulabi

It’s a great time for desi documentaries. In the recent past we have seen some pretty terrific ones- Malegaon Ka Superman, The World Before Her and Katiyabaaz to name just a few. Which is why it’s a pity that Nishtha Jain’s powerful documentary Gulabi Gang hasn’t quite got the audience it deserves- yet.

Perhaps the makers ought to have employed the Gulabi Gang themselves to whack our lazy, torrent-savvy audiences into theaters. 😉   The film is now running in its second week in a select few theaters/cities with ticket rates further slashed. There’s no good excuse to miss this one, really.

Anyway, here we have an interesting post by Prashant Parvatneni on Gulabi Gang and how genres usually associated with (fiction) cinema can find their way into the documentary format as well. Over to him:

Gulabi Gang by Nishtha Jain is undoubtedly a rigorous study of a women’s movement in the deep interiors of Bundelkhand where a group of women networked between several villages have formed a ‘gang’ to fight against the oppression of women and dalits. They drape themselves in Pink sarees and carry pink lathis that becomes an image of the identity that binds these women. There are complex issues that these women are dealing with and fighting. Young brides are being burnt, dalit activists murdered and certain high-caste Choudharies have concentrated all power in their hands suppressing any and every dissent using gun and muscle power. It is this nexus of power and oppression that the Gulabi Gang is trying to tear apart under their feisty leader Sampat Pal.

Sampat Pal inevitably becomes the ‘hero’ of this film, her infectious zest and fearlessness naturally grabs the attention and it’s hard not to root for her like we would for the angry underdog taking on the system in a Bollywood film. It only helps that Jain adopts a form of narrative that is simple in structure but quite inventive. It follows 2-3 cases that Gulabi Gang encounters and as it does so, quite curiously these cases turn to a kind of whodunit with the Gang acting as detectives trying to uncover the truth behind the violence inflicted on women.

pink

Like in one of the cases, a young wife is found burnt inside the house. When Sampat reaches the spot, the in laws of the woman claim that she got burnt while making rotis but Sampat in true detective spirit, deduces that it cannot be a mere mishap. There wasn’t any stove at the spot, nor was any other part of the house burnt or even charred. Sitting in the audience even we also could start the process of knitting the clues together and deducing while also being acutely aware of entire machinery which includes the panchayat and the police trying to push this crime under the carpet. Sampat Pal’s own relative burns his wife but she wants the truth to come out. When the director’s voice asks her will you fight against your kin as well, she replies inspiringly ‘I just want to find out the truth’. Quite fittingly then, Anand Gandhi (director, Ship of Theseus) called this film a ‘reinvention of detective genre’.

This is a welcome change as the problem with most documentary films dealing with social evils, people’s movements, subaltern issues etc. is that they have sort of reached a saturation of form. While they do deal with a variety of issues, they follow the same old form – interview of key players, a bit of commentary, a bit of field action all merged seamlessly to ‘illustrate’ and ‘explain’ and thereby ‘document’ the problem. Such a form has turned even more uninteresting with its derivatives populating news channels through their ‘human stories’.

Thankfully the film doesn’t stop short of also pointing towards the limits of such genres that evidently end with a resolution a climax arrived at through carefully plotted series of events. Unlike in a detective genre film, we do not get to know whether the culprit was caught or not. Often the battles are lost and the guilty gets away. But like the truest of detective stories, the importance lies in questioning what one gets on face value rather than solving the puzzle and Gulabi Gang does point our attention towards the need to inquire and shakes up the static status quo.

Instead of a gradual convergence towards a resolution of problem, the film starts to spread in and out of such inquiries of cases and looks at the varied other forms of struggle that a people’s movement engages in – organization, activism, mobilization, planning etc. One of the most charming and equally thought provoking sequences involves the meetings and the practice sessions of the Gulabi Gang. As a ritual Gulabi Gang practices lathi fights with a playful zest as two women take on each other while others on the periphery cheer and clap. It quite casually points towards a ritual- even a ritual of violence (though more for protection in this case) that is involved in any people’s movement.

The entire movement also resembles a theatrical performance. There is backstage practice and rituals and there are costumes and props – the pink sarees and pink lathis juxtaposed against the dry, arid brown and gray landscape is an image that gives tremendous gravitas to the Gang and binds them into a community. In fact the saree and the lathi are the first things that are given to the women who join Gulabi Gang and they have to change into the ‘costume’ right away. There is a slightly comic cut in the film where we see Sampat Pal encouraging the mother of the burnt bride to fight her case and in the next shot the frail creature of the mother is draped in bright new pink saree as she is on her way to the court with the Gang. It’s a terrific reminder of how a bit of theatre and performance is a part of every movement or revolution. It also reminds us how such performativity can be appropriated for contradictory causes – for assertion of justice or for religious or political fanaticism.

Gulabi Gang ends with tragic human drama as the documentary manages to trace a character arc of sorts of one of the Gang’s members – Husna. Husna, a hardworking and passionate activist and member of Gulabi Gang takes a position completely contradictory to the movement when her own brother kills her sister for marrying out of love. When she supports him instead of condemning in the name of culture and tradition, one is hit by the extent to which such fundamental, patriarchal ideas can deride compassion and human justice and what a difficult battle Gulabi Gang is fighting – not just externally but internally. For me, the film was special because it shows how certain genres – like detective, political, social drama, human drama genres – can seep into documentary also; in-fact they come from the reality that the documentary often deals with. But, it also shows how cinema can avoid using genre as a trope and move in an out of genres to question the complexity instead of using such genre games to manipulate sentiment and to take an easy position of a sympathizer. The last sequence shows Gulabi Gang members waiting for a train on the platform and few men looking at these women clad in Pink Sarees with contemptuous humor. For them they look nothing short of fancy dress. One of the men asks the man who moves around with the Gang – ‘kuch milta hai issse’. The director shows amazing empathy here as she cuts to the image of Sampat Pal staring into the camera or perhaps into the far horizon, sitting amidst other women with eyes filled with acceptance of difficulty but shining with a rare honest hope. All the contempt of the scene just washes away and we are filled not with sentiment but with emotion – an unsaid but urgently felt hope and a desire at least to think.

 

(This post was originally published here.)

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.

Nagraj-Manjule-photo

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)

 NFDC recently organised the first Directors Lab. One of the participants of the lab, Vasant Nath, Director, Sebastian Wants to Remember (SWTR), writes about his experience of this 2-week residential workshop which was held in Pune recently. And since many of us had doubts about its fee, he also clarifies on that front – was it worth it? If so, why and how.

Vasant Nath’s drama SWTR found an Indian co-producer in Kartikeya Narayan Singh’s production house The Film Café. SWTR is the story of an aging photographer who loses his memory and must embark on a daunting journey with his wife in search of his past. It was selected for NFDC Screenwriters’ Lab 2011 and Co-production Market 2012.

Over to him now.

(Click any of the pics to start the slide show. Hold your cursor on specific pic, details will pop up)

I did not go to film school, I learned whatever I know of filmmaking on the job and through self-study.  Working in production for five years gave me some technical skills.  Working on other people’s screenplays as a creative assistant to another filmmaker taught me the basic mechanics of screenwriting.  Making some short films put me on the path towards finding a personal voice.  Meeting a dead end in my career as an assistant made me try working independently.  That was five years ago – when I wrote my first original feature-length screenplay – ‘Sebastian Wants to Remember’.

‘Sebastian’ has had a long (but necessary) development process – eight drafts till date.  I’ve been fortunate enough to have some excellent mentors during this process, and the steady effort has borne fruit.   The screenplay is in good shape and should serve as a reliable blueprint for the film’s realisation.  However, ’Sebastian’ is by no means an easy film.  It’s a road movie with a 70-year-old amnesiac as the lead character, and he doesn’t talk much.  The story structure is interspersed with flashbacks that introduce a cocktail of emotions to the protagonists each time they happen.  Over the many rewrites, my second character has started competing with the primary character for point of view.  And there are some tough sequences that I have blithely written without the slightest inkling of the challenges they will present when I have to film them.

I’m very happy that I did not let such anxieties limit the writing process, but now, as the time to step out of the secure confines of the writing room draws near, I am visited by a recurrent nightmare where I’m on set as director with a large crew looking to me for instruction…and I have no idea what to say to them!  Initially, I drew comfort from the thought that things would take care of themselves once I start making the film, and that doing was the only way to learn.  Of course there is truth in this, but this film – even looking at it just in terms of scale – is unlike anything I’ve ever done before.  I will have to be extremely well-prepared, and I’m going to be of no use to anyone if I go into the whole thing cowering like a scared rabbit.

Indian filmmakers live in very fortunate climes today – because Marten Rabarts is in the house.  As Development Consultant to the NFDC, he has streamlined the organization’s agenda to work on our filmmakers from the roots and has fuelled its engine with the best development talent from across Europe.  This, coupled with the environment for exchange and collaboration that NFDC’s Film Bazaar provides, is extremely fertile ground for new voices to flourish and for a film like mine to find the support it needs to get made.  By the time I applied for the Director’s Lab, I had already been a sort of crash-test dummy for the other NFDC labs – usually one of the first to apply, usually to be found in the front row taking copious notes once they happened.  By the time I heard of their Director’s Lab, I already had great faith in such endeavours: the NFDC’s 2011 Screenwriter’s Lab I participated in represents perhaps the sharpest learning curve I had experienced till then.

Udayan Prasad is both a teacher and a director – known for his films ‘The Yellow Handkerchief’ and ‘My Son the Fanatic’.  He teaches this director’s lab in the UK, sometimes at the National Film and Television School, and sometimes in London as a three-week summer school.  Here, he had crafted a two-week program that fell somewhere between the longer and shorter versions of his usual course in Europe.  Before arriving, I had wondered how much ground he would be able to cover in this short a time, but there was no way of telling beforehand.  However, once it started, Udayan’s lab was like a feeding frenzy.  Every day of the twelve days that we were there (cooped up in the Marriott Courtyard Hotel in the middle of Pune) we were encouraged to repeatedly bite off more than we could chew with the assurance that the digestion would happen later.

This was the NFDC’s first director’s lab, and – except for maybe three of us – most of the participants were at very early stages with their films – some of them didn’t even have first drafts yet.  I initially feared that I was attending another (very expensive) script lab, because the format of the first two days was more or less identical to that of the opening of the screenwriter’s lab I had attended in 2011.  In both scenarios, it was necessary for the participants to share their stories and visions with each other with as much honesty as possible.  It is a very testing task – both the sharing and the listening.  While telling, you feel that you are suddenly admitting a whole bunch of voyeurs into your head.  While listening, you feel embarrassed for being held privy to the intimate inner worlds of eleven strangers.  But eventually, it turned out that this had immense payoffs for the work we had come there to do.  In my experience with labs, it has been quite clear that any sort of filmmaking workshop can only succeed in an environment of trust.  Through this process of sharing, we grew to recognise the common craziness that united us and brought us there.  As neophytes filmmakers, we all knew something of the anxieties each of us suffered because of the familiar challenges our work presented.  Constantly encouraged by our mentors, we were really starting to trust each other by the time we got to the real meat of the workshop.

Our time was interspersed with lectures, ‘workshop-y’ stuff, master classes given by established industry professionals, film viewings and individual consultations for script and production.  Almost every minute of the waking day was taken up by these for twelve consecutive days.  Whatever was left was spent (at least by me) nursing exhaustion.   As Udayan kept telling us – we were getting what we paid for.  It was only fair!  The whole workshop was consciously kept non-technical and perhaps this came as a surprise to some of the participants who had come there expecting to work with cameras et al.  Udayan focused instead on things that led to good technical choices – with an emphatic emphasis on using all tools available to serve the stories we wanted to tell – trusting that we’d be able to take care of the technical training ourselves.

Acting exercises made up a very large chunk of the workshop – perhaps the most hands-on and ‘workshop-y’ section of the whole experience.  I have done other acting workshops before and what I learned here was that acting workshops oriented towards actors are quite different from acting workshops oriented towards directors; even though both start pretty much from the same place.  A director-oriented acting workshop eventually has to serve the director’s requirement of giving actors the right environment they need to thrive in, and actor-oriented acting workshops do not go that distance because they do not need to.  I found these sessions extremely useful.  The exercises we did here allowed us to experience first what an actor does and then showed us what an actor finds useful in trying to arrive at the right sort of performance.  It was all very practical and methodical – we got to test many tools and techniques even in the short time we had.

The acting exercises proceeded into another very useful section – Scene Analysis – where we had two very accomplished actors – Adil Hussain and Tannishtha Chatterjee – as our clay.  Having already spent two days in the actors’ shoes, we had been sensitised to the challenges they face when receiving instruction from a director that just isn’t playable.  Udayan had been drumming a discipline into our heads – to use verbs instead of adjectives in our instruction; to convey the facts of the script in a systematic way.  With Adil and Tannishtha, we put Udayan’s instructions to work and watched in wonder how a basic line-reading of a script turns into a performance full of genuine feeling and surprise when an actor is provided with the right information, in the right quantity at the right time.

Very soon, we were thrown into the nerve-wracking scenario where we had to put these techniques into play with professional actors (mostly very generous acting grads from FTII) with scenes from our own films.  This was probably the very first time any of us had realised anything from our pages, and it was frightening.  But better to feel the shivers here than on set!  I was given three young actors for a scene that involved two old people…and little else.  The actors knew nothing of my film and I wanted to transfer all my knowledge of the story to them via firewire so that they could quickly enact the scene in my head and be done with it!  But of course, that was not possible.  What was possible, though, was falling back on the techniques that Udayan had taught us –  basic principles of sharing information slowly and carefully, leaving room for the actors to bring something to the scene.  As I got into the flow of the exercise, that’s exactly what happened.  My actors brought a lot to the scene.  In just a couple of hours, they were showing me things that I could never have accomplished while working alone on the page as I had done till then.  Then another problem arose – they just kept on giving!  I had gone from feeling very excited by a lot of new interpretations of my material, but suddenly it felt too much to work with.  Then I took a deep breath and started making decisions…

I may never have five hours to rehearse a one-page scene in an actual shooting scenario.  But the process of going through this exercise – feeling the fear, smelling the failure, being unsuccessful at realising the film in my head, righting myself, making decisions under pressure (even though simulated), trusting a technique, giving, receiving, disciplining myself to only give playable action – all this was f*****g priceless!  Udayan was in and out of the room right through the exercise.  He has this x-ray vision that could diagnose what we were doing wrong within a few minutes of watching our work.  He didn’t go easy on us, and I am very happy he didn’t.

By the time I got through this exercise, the lab had begun to seriously work upon me.  I was already looking at my material differently.  It wasn’t that I was distrusting everything I had written till then, but I was recognising how far the writing had got me and where I needed to steer the process from here on.  There would definitely be some re-writing – I came back from the lab and quickly shot off a fast polish to my producer – Draft 8.1!  Suddenly, there were so many new things to think about.  There was already a greater sense of empowerment when looking at the many difficult choices that lay ahead when I make ’Sebastian’.  At least I knew where to start thinking about the things I’ll need to say to my waiting crew when my nightmare revisits..!

We touched upon various aspects of film craft – production design, cinematography (and point of view), sound – through master-classes and lectures.  The master-classes did well in keeping the theory grounded.  But even with Udayan’s lectures, I never for once felt that we were all sitting in some sort of ivory tower – everything Udayan talked about, he always connected to his experiences as a filmmaker or to the real-world experiences of filmmakers he knew or had studied.  He often invited the professionals conducting the master-classes to comment on the concepts he outlined.  In all sections of the workshop, Udayan’s teachings were a distillation of a very large cross-section of filmmaking traditions.  He brought with him a clear understanding of where these traditions came from, how they could be applied, where they succeeded, where they failed, how they evolved, and – most importantly – what worked well for him in his experience as a filmmaker.   All the theory was accompanied by clips of films that demonstrated the corresponding concepts in successful execution.  The workshop was thus also very enriching in terms of the reading lists and watching lists that Udayan left us with.

The individual consultations for script and production were a very necessary component of the lab, since the participants were each in very different stages with their projects.  I believe it allowed the mentors at least some room to tailor their guidance to each participants’ particular needs. More consultants were brought in for this – Urmi Juvekar, Priya Sreedharan, Shivani Saran – some of whom (along with Marten, of course) represent for me what I call “the NFDC ecosystem” – something that I have come to trust implicitly in my career as an NFDC Lab crash test dummy.  This ecosystem is becoming better with each passing year, and hopefully – in the foreseeable future – when the corresponding production and financing side of the NFDC stands on steadier ground with as great a confidence as its development arm, we will witness a thriving harvest of great new films, in greater volumes, year after year.

By the time we pitched our projects again at the end of the workshop, the difference was apparent.  Some of the participants had made some giant leaps with their material.  They stood on surer ground, knowing exactly what they had to do next. For some, the leap was about being able to kill some of their darlings: things that needed to be unhinged before they could move forward – and imagine how deeply they must have been anchored in their darlings if it took two weeks to unhinge them!

Overall, a lot of ground was covered, but I missed a section on the role and dramatic purpose of Music, only because Udayan had been so comprehensive and enlightening about the other components of film craft that he’d addressed.  Some of the participants were keen on squeezing in a session on comedy, but sadly there just wasn’t any time.  Still, the whole group showed a very strong commitment to the workshop and its structure and I feel that this was one of the main reasons for its success.  The ‘workshop environment’ dictated that every exercise we did was reviewed both by our peers and by our mentors.  We became each others’ first audiences with the added advantage of being able to express and listen to feedback articulated after every presentation.  And none of this would work without the trust I spoke of earlier, consciously cultivated by our mentors.  Because of it, we were able to repeatedly fail before each other without fear.

For me – I left the lab with a greater, deeper engagement with my film.  I remember that it felt almost exactly how it had felt when I finished the 2011 screenwriters’ lab with Marten as my mentor.  Even though it had been such a sharp learning curve for me, it had taken a good two or three years of applying the lab’s principles in various screenplays before I acquired a confident, working knowledge of them.  I take it that it’s going to be the same with Udayan’s teachings; I will have to apply them over and over until they set in.  Apart from everything that he taught us about the craft of our work, I also thoroughly appreciate how Udayan kept telling us time and again about good work practices – simple things like acknowledging your crew at the start of the day, thanking them at the end of it; especially important in our country that subscribes so heavily to ‘the cult of the director’.

I don’t think I can end this review without a comment on the lab fee, because I know so many filmmakers who wanted to and deserved to do this lab but simply could not afford to.  While I feel that the experience the lab afforded me was worth every paisa, Rs. 1.5 lakhs is not a small amount for anyone to pay, especially if their projects do not have funding.  That said, I also think that it was a very brave move by the NFDC and the Lab team to actually take the plunge and hold the lab despite all the protests they must have received about the fee.  I sincerely believe that it is a great precedent.  Only time will stand testament to the actual success of the lab – in terms of how many participants end up making their films successfully – but I have a very good feeling about it.  I do hope that some subsidies come into play soon that lower the cost for the participants, because it will really allow the lab to contribute more fully to the NFDC’s long-term development goals.

With regard to my co-participants’ responses – overall, I saw more smiles than frowns.  I think we all knew that a mountain of work was waiting for us when we got back to the real, non-workshop world.  There were some in the group who were still negotiating with the decision to commit fully to this perilous career – and I could feel their anxiety in the face of the big decisions that lay ahead.  But I think that they knew that this was a good thing.  Good workshops are meant to make you go green.  The work that you do afterwards is the only effective antacid.   I wish my co-participants a happy digestion!  I thank Udayan, Marten and the NFDC – Leena who helms the their lab program, and Mayur who helped execute our twelve days so efficiently – for this wonderful learning experience.

(Vasant Nath’s ‘Sebastian Wants to Remember’ is being produced by Michael Henrichs of Berlin based Die Gesellschaft along with France’s 24 Images and Kartikeya Narayan Singh’s The Film Café.  It is currently in financing, having received EU Media Development Support in 2013, expecting to start production at the end of 2014)

विदा

Posted: January 5, 2014 by moifightclub in bollywood, cinema, Guest Post, RIP
Tags: ,

Posts on Farooque Shaikh saab are still pouring in our mailbox. Earlier Varun Grover wrote a post आम है, अशर्फियाँ नहीं (click here). And then actor Swara Bhaskar wrote another beautiful post about her memories and working experience with him (click here). This new post is by Sudeep Sohni, a first year screenwriting student at Film And Television Institute of India, Pune.

Farooque

फारुख शेख सेट मैक्स, ज़ी सिनेमा और स्टार टीवी पर दिखाई गई फिल्मों के कारण दिमाग में कुछ इस तरह बस गए कि अब स्मृति से छूट नहीं रहे. सिनेमा का एक सादा चेहरा, शुक्रिया तुम्हें, ये दिखाने के लिए मुझे कि सिनेमा इतना सादा भी हो सकता है.

ख़ामोशी के जंगल जहाँ अपनी पत्तियों की आवाज़ें सुनाते हैं

तनहाई का मंज़र जहाँ अपने पैरों के निशान छोड़ जाता है

जहां दूर से एक हाथ बस हिलता हुआ दिखाई देता है

पुकारने अपनी ही आवाज़

झक सफ़ेद कुर्ते में जहाँ एक मध्ययुगीन दशक मुंडेर पर बैठा

उड़ाता है सिगरेट के धुएं में बेबसी के छल्ले

जहाँ नुक्कड़ की पान की दुकान, ठेले की चाय और कमरे की बेरुखी

तकाज़ा करती है सदी की सबसे महकी दोपहर का

जहाँ शाम का ढलता सूरज और रात की उदासी

मचलते ख्वाब की नमी छत की कड़ियों में अटका जाती है

वहीँ से शुरू होता है सफ़र तुम्हारा.

 

विदा

उस ठहकती हंसी से

जिसमें अब भी बंद है संसार का सबसे ख़ूबसूरत समय

और

जो किसी भी भाषा की भाप से पकड़ में नहीं आएगा

वो समय जो दर्ज है आँखों की खिड़कियों में

और जो चाहे तब भी उड़ नहीं पायेगा भाप बन कर

बस जमा रहेगा

किरचन बन कर रुई की लुनाई-सा

कि जब तुम दिखोगे परदे पर कहीं टीवी के

दूर तालाब के किनारे

उतर आएगा ख़ामोशी का गर्म सोता

और बहता रहेगा रगों में आहिस्ता-आहिस्ता.