Archive for the ‘Movie Recco’ Category

You have seen the film. You have read the reviews. You already know which side of debate you are on. We are late to the party. But we would still suggest that you read this Dunkirk post by Percy H Bharucha.

 

I wanted to just add a small note before I get into the movie itself. If we are to judge the skill of a moviemaker by what he adds to the medium, let us also be magnanimous enough to call it skill when he is able to subtract from the medium without compromising the quality of the visual experience.

First things first, let’s admit to the fact that Dunkirk is a movie unlike most other war movies. Which is where the comparisons to Saving Private Ryan, Hacksaw Ridge should ideally end. Those movies had an independent inspirational story line; there was a plot, which by the way is set during a war. Add to it the usual emotional heart tugging of the “true story”, and the fade to black and white montage sequences of actual war heroes. I’m not saying that’s bad or wrong but this isn’t that kind of movie. In a way the courage portrayed in the movie is mirrored by the courage of the director in embarking on a movie with truly no protagonist, no linear structure, the absolute lack of the usual narrative elements, and a rather odd penchant for sweater vests and turtlenecks. This is an experiment and like all things new should be encouraged. To quote Anton Ego, “…the new needs friends…”

This is movie making with blinders on, and it that respect Nolan perhaps does more justice to the actual event than any other historical movie so far. The evacuation is the story, the evacuation is the plot, the evacuation is the enemy, the friend, the love interest, the comic relief, the everything. There is nothing else to distract the viewer from the event.

 Allow me to list the clichés of a war movie, whose absence I thoroughly enjoyed.

There are no unnecessary amounts of blood, spurting from maimed limbs just to shock and awe the viewer with visceral depictions of bombing. There is no relentless barrage of gunfire, especially bursts of fire in the night for stylistic violence or whatever. No slow motion shots of people running around with stretchers, of shell cases flying. No unnecessary jerky first person POV camera movements to deliver “true immersion into the war front.” No unnecessary audio effects of showing shell shock or ear drums going mute after bombing. No black and white photos of sweethearts left home, no letters written but not posted to sons or mothers, no folding of the flags over coffins, no medic scene with man dying on stretcher. No Michael Bay-esque scenes of military swag with low angle shots of people walking in slow motion against the dying sun with their entourage carrying big heavy guns. No rousing speeches at the darkest moments of the film, no hope carrying banner, no heroic acts of courage glorified by technique or skill. Nobody to yell, “charge” or “fire” or any sort of witticism making fun of the enemy. There is no garish tugging of heartstrings, no vulgar exploitation of emotion, no trembling hands, no lone tear eking its way down a solitary cheek.

At this point you might say, “Percy, can we even call this a war movie?

Isn’t all of this required?”

The answer Nolan tells us quietly is a resounding NO!

That is the man’s skill; he still made it look effortless, he removes all the bells, the frills, and the whistles and still made you want more of the movie. This movie is about an event and in an era where movies pack love, fantasy, action, it is a welcome change to concentrate on one fucking thing.

Dunkirk is, possibly, in my opinion, the most authentic war movie there is. By that statement I do not imply historical accuracy, but perhaps the most realistic depiction of war there is. One of the opening scenes of the movie is a soldier looking for a place to take a dump. If that shit isn’t ‘real’, I don’t know what is. Nolan shows you that side of war that few movies touch on, the absolute chaos, the unsexy clumsiness and randomness of it. There is a fanatical detail to the idiosyncrasies of war, the fumbling with loading the gun in the initial scenes, the lifting of the hose pipe to drink water, the cracking of the fuel gauge, the accidental death of George before coming close to the battle, the soldiers blocking the stretchers as they are carried along the mole reluctant to let them pass, this is the day to day of war.

Most war movies are either; highlight reels made to glorify inspirational, individual acts of valor or the anti war, which focus on the senseless destruction it causes, and the uprooting of giant swathes of people unlucky enough to be caught in it. Nolan treads a fine line here. There is no cinematic glory or angst filter applied to his faithful retelling.

If there is one message he seems to be espousing is that wars are about survival. There is no winning or losing here, there is only survival. Surviving a relentless onslaught of chaotic destruction.

The beach turns into a black hole and we are dropped in the midst of it, through land, through sea and through air, all we see are attempts to escape it. The giving and taking of hope is a hallmark of Nolan’s films, but never before has it been employed so successfully. The moment of relief is short, so short it tears away at the viewer’s heart to have it snatched away so mercilessly. Nolan ensures that the primitiveness of his key emotion, survival is not to be muddied, diluted or tainted in any way through either treatment or narrative. The dialogue is sparse, functional, stripped down to the primitive, bare bone. There are no witty quips, no meme-worthy lines, no clever wordplay, no dying joke, no talk about brotherhood, Nolan moves the viewer through the frame and the silence of the spoken word.

But what Nolan does contrast this bleak landscape of destruction is with what I’d like to term the anonymity of courage. There are these little glimpses throughout the movie, of pure human endurance. But they are the blink-it-and-miss-it kinds. Understated, not trumpeted around there is no lengthy stay or pause for effect there is only the moment as it must have been. And yet it is this very anonymity of courage that adds so much to the movie. There are few names exchanged, there are no identifiers, there is only the anonymous soldier or civilian, blending in and out of the group as required. Perhaps a nod to the fact that war robs us all of identity, if that is intentional it is a masterstroke of filmmaking or maybe I read too much into it.

In the hands of a less skilled filmmaker or even perhaps a less courageous one, this would have been ruined. We would have seen the usual fare of a victorious score announce the arrival of civilian boats, scenes of soldiers hugging and crying with the civilians, exchanging mementos, shaking of hands, passing on of dead soldier letters, prayers being answered, etc. etc. But Nolan is unrelenting. Kenneth Branagh delivers two lines; one is waiting for the French and the other “What do you see? Home”, which are perhaps so historically inspiring from a humanistic point of view, and yet they are shot like any other lines in the movie. There is no close up, there is no heroic music, no posing, there is just the event. The wordless exchanges when the French soldier on multiple occasions saves Harry Styles. Mark Rylance delivers the line, “my son is one of you lot… died three months into the war” he is allowed no indulgence, there is no private moment of grief shared, no banal platitudes offered, just a matter of fact statement made with an implication of such sheer weight. The scene where the son hides the death of George from Cillian Murphy and the father approves wordlessly, such intense stuff yet delivered so functionally. Some tactless father son bonding ritual moment could have easily ruined this, but that is my point this movie is a case on restraint. And George, sigh, a moment of silence for George. The only official hero of the movie dies before he enters the war. If you think that the fact, that George goes blind before he dies is random, remember his lines, his talk about not doing anything worthwhile, how this war was his redemption. A part of me believes that Nolan would rather have him go blind than break his heart over the senseless chaos that war truly is. George died believing in his own myths about the glory and grandeur of the war they joined, a merciful death. But again I fear I might be reading too much into this. And I ask you how can you not be moved? Or perhaps we’ve confused delivery with dialogue. One can say the gravest things without a tear that should not take away from the gravity of their words. The acting is brilliant again by what is not done, what is not shown, the absence of that catch in the throat, the tremor in the tone.

There is little room for emotion when there is a gun pointed at your head, especially if it is an aircraft gun, let us not mistake the deliberate absence of over-the-top hysterics as the lack of emotion in the movie.

I will refrain from dealing with the technical aspects of the movie, the way it has been shot; better people than me have spoken of the incredible work done in those areas.

Lastly, this movie is about courage, the quiet kind, the kind that doesn’t require Wagner-esque scores accompanying it. And it takes courage to say ‘that’s all’ that needs to be there. Nolan has made a movie that will require of the emotionally bombarded palate, an effort to decipher, an effort to connect the storylines. Let us grant him that for the payoff is so worth it. I fear a lot of people have attributed their laziness and their need for over articulated storylines as a fault of the director.

Is the movie messy? Hell Yes, but then so is war!

Percy Bharucha

(The author is a Young India Fellow, and has been writing since he discovered he couldn’t draw. He has a full time job in advertising and hopes to keep it that way. He has been previously published in eFiction and eFiction India, Asia Lit, Reading Hour, Gratis and The Madras Mag. He infrequently tweets @Sab_Bakwaas_Hai)

Most of us saw Lipstick Under My Burkha at last year’s Mumbai Film Festival (MFF). Since then, the film has been doing the fest rounds and winning accolades internationally. On home ground though, it has been the exactly opposite scene. Battle with CBFC went for long, and then the task to find a proper release and distribution partner. Ekta Kapoor came on-board and gave the much needed boost to make it look visible. The film is finally in theatres this friday.

Here’s our recco post on the film, written by Raj Kumari. It was written last year after the MFF screening.

No Male Rescuers

Lipstick Under My Burkha (LUMB) was one of the best films I saw at MAMI 2016 – a bold & honest take on female sexuality. All four protagonists are females (how often that happens in India?) so it can be easily said that it is about female sexuality but I felt at the deepest level it is not. And I am so happy about it being not so.

But still it shows the different perceptions about female sexuality in four different stages of a women’s life through four characters Rehana Saeed (a college girl), Leela (a young lady of so-called marriageable age), Shireen Aslam (a middle-aged married women) and Usha Bua ji (an elderly woman).

The film explores their desires, fantasies, and struggle to own their heartbreaks with such honesty and poignant sensitivity that it’s impossible not to see your own secrets in them.

And even after crossing so many slippery alleys of this topic of female sexuality and repression when it becomes very easy (and even cathartic) to take sides by providing a rescuer for these characters, this film allows itself not to take such a decisive stand and sticks to its POV of just being a witness. The film doesn’t rescue them, it just lets them be. The focus remains tight on the process of suppression only, and hence the core of sexuality comes out blazingly clear.

And what is it?

Sexuality is never about body. And more primarily about male or female body. It can not be. As it involves both male and female energies, whatever be the outer form of the body, male or female or any other gender. Sexuality is about being free, being open, being whole in your presence which generally manifests as being with your own body. And of course, this openness and freedom can come through wearing what you like, smoking, being explicitly exposing or demanding sex openly (some of the tropes repeatedly used/reinforced in our films to show a ‘liberated’ woman). But being sexually liberated is further about understanding that these are just few symbols of freedom against respective symbols of suppression. They ALONE are NOT freedom. Yes, they do serve till some deeper grounds of being open with the self is found. And the film attempts to take us to that depth too.

(SPOILERS AHEAD) 

It defines the core of freedom in the scene where Bua-ji owns her desires, and her ownership of them in front of all who used to respect her. She didn’t feel any shame, grudge or pity. She showed courage to assemble all of her torn, broken, humiliated self in her arms and took shelter in her bedroom calmly and with the same ownership. There were male oppressors but there was no male rescuer in the film, and this itself says how deeply mature the intent of the film is. I loved the film a little extra for this one golden aspect.

And in the last scene, how beautifully it showed that such a place of courage becomes a platform for all such courageous hearts to identify with their struggle. A platform to make mistakes, comparing your struggles with others, and finally seeing the commonality of self ownership as the final rescue.
Do watch it. And let us know what you thought about the film.

The World of Shutu

It’s always difficult to write about a film when it comes back home with you as a very palpable emotion. The conflict is between whether to talk about the film (like a semi-review, talking about the great crew and cast, plot, motifs etc.) or the memories & insights it triggered. Since it’s a quick & short piece written in the middle of a very tight schedule, mainly to excite the reader enough to go and watch the film, I will stay somewhere in between – a bit clumsy but functional.

We all have been Shutu at some point of time in our lives. I know I have been, for many years. Bullied, ridiculed, misunderstood, misfit and still trying to smile lest I should be seen as ‘sissy’. Fitting into this world of men is a constant struggle for men even. It’s a game whose rules we laid on our own and still laid them so tough that now we are having a hard time catching up. Why did we do this to ourselves? Why we continue to do this – trying to check items off a laundry list to pretend that we have grown up (from a male perspective only)? Why do we want to grow up? Due to social pressure or survival mechanism – like preys turning into predator?

Konkona Sen Sharma’s directorial debut A Death In The Gunj takes one to such places – beautiful and uncomfortable – places where innocent nostalgia meets the darkest memories. Set in 1979, it’s about a Bengali family with a severe Raj-era hangover on a quaint holiday in Bihar’s (now Jharkhand’s) McCluskieganj – a place with an equally severe Raj-era hangover. The family has many people and egos, a bunch of well-adjusted, seemingly non-threatening abnormals. And the family has Shutu (Vikrant Massey in a role of a lifetime) – the younger brother broadly seen as a silent-introvert type. The constant clash between the two worlds – one inhabited by the family with its bikes & muttons & drinks & pranks & love-games, and another in which Shutu sits by the window sketching frogs in an old diary – scrapes the paints off both of them. The delicate locking mechanism that had kept them together starts wearing off and the moment of truth, or whatever the grown-up version of that is, comes closer and closer.

The only bridge between the two worlds is Shutu’s teenaged niece Tani – already bored of the games adults play & constantly fascinated by Shutu’s scientific-poetic lonely view of the world. It’s not a coincidence that the bridge is a female ‘cos this is a film deeply aware of its gender politics (and at a couple of places, class politics too). Men behave like boys-behaving-like-men, women behave like women-seen-through-men’s-eyes, as two conflicted souls (Shutu and Tani) clutch at straws while drowning in the waters of such rigid definitions.

As a fat teenaged kid in the 90s, I loved watching cricket and I wasn’t bad at playing it too but nobody would select me in the team. My fatness and my academic bent (the tag of “padhaaku”) were a liability nobody was willing to carry. Even if selected in the team (the last to be picked), I’d not get a chance to bat or bowl. So I’d put all my efforts into fielding well. I’d kill myself to get that throw from the boundary right.

But still, just to show I am cool with this treatment, I would offer to play the umpire. That way, I’d get to be on the field at least, get to hold the ball at the end of every over (just for a few seconds before I toss it to the next bowler), and be treated with respect by both the teams. I’d apply myself to the task & be the most unbiased, observant umpire. Sometimes, I’d get to play a few balls or bowl an over – and I believe that became possible only because of the bridges I made as an umpire. But in the process, I lost something precious too. I lost my courage to openly cry in public. I lost my feminine side, or at least suppressed it for the longest time, to fit into this world of men.

And that’s why, when in one scene Shutu is the last to be picked for a game of kabaddi, his state of mind was so relatable that I felt like crying. I did not, yet again.

Varun Grover

*********************

For those looking for a quick list of reasons to watch (and watch you MUST):

  1. Konkona Sen Sharma’s assured, sensitive debut as a Director. Ace!
  2. Konkona Sen Sharma’s screenplay co-written with Disha Rindani (based on a short story by Mukul Sharma) is full of delightful dialogue & an eerie sense of impending doom.
  3. Rich texture and detailing. Made on a small budget but NEVER looks like it. Sirsha Ray (DOP) and Sidhharth Sirohi (Production Design) bring their A-game to the table.
  4. McCluskieganj’s wild charm has been captured so ethereally that you can smell the air, touch the greenery.
  5. The film has four languages (English, Hindi, Bangla, and Chhota Nagpuri) and all spoken with a natural effortlessness rare to find in Indian cinema.
  6. The brilliant original score and music by Sagar Desai (disclosure: I worked with him in ‘Ankhon Dekhi’) elevates and layers the film with great precision.
  7. One of the best ensemble casts in recent memory – Ranvir Shorey, Kalki  Koechlin, Tilottama Shome, Gulshan Devaiah, Jim Sarbh, Arya Sharma, Tanuja, and Om Puri (one of his last roles and what a delight he is!).
  8. Such well-etched and distinct characters – right from Ranvir Shorey’s Vikram to Kalki’s Mimi to Tilottama’s Bonnie to Gulshan Devaiah’s Nandu – constantly chattering, surprising and layering the film with their brilliant mannerisms.
  9. Vikrant Massey got the kind of role actors crave for and he hits it out of the park. Shutu is beautiful and heartbreaking.
  10. Every department has delivered and the best thing is – the sum is way greater than the parts. Do not miss this film.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Varun Grover

anurag kashyapAnurag Kashyap has put out his list of favourite films of 2016. Exactly like he did in 2015, too. And we are copy-pasting the same intro that we wrote for the post last year.

Anurag Kashyap was championing films of other directors much before bolly celebs took to twitter to blindly endorse any film which has been made by their family, friends, or fraternity. And it killed the ‘championing’ bit completely. Everyone says good things about every new film on twitter, completely defeating the purpose, and making it look like a PR exercise. And then there are few who can’t think beyond their own films, or their husband’s film. Really? Beauty.

On his Facebook, Kashyap has posted the list of his top films of the year. And it comes with a caveat that he has not seen all the releases.

Never seen so many lists of best film, actors (male and female) or whatever ever before. It’s so good. I suddenly feel there is so much I haven’t seen. But why only Hindi films, why not films from other languages, we do make films in many languages. I mentioned Visarnaai and Thithi in last year’s list. But this year it’s difficult to choose. So here are my guilty pleasures and the best I saw this year.

In no particular order..

Chauthi Koot
Gurgaon (the best noir I have seen made in recent times, look out for this one)
Kammatipaddam
Kapoor and sons
Sairat
The Gold-Laden Sheep and The Sacred Mountain
Aligarh
Parched
Udta Punjab ( I am one of the producers)
Dangal (minus the national anthem)
Budhia Singh (suffered because it did not have an Aamir Khan but equally good)
Placebo

These are the films I had complete experience with. That is along with the disclaimer that I haven’t seen Waiting, Phobia, Island City, Bollywood Diaries, Jugni and so much more. Infact this is the year I saw the least number of films.

My actor of the year is Hands Down Manoj Bajpai, and actress – Alia Bhatt and the amazing Girls of Dangal.

Many internationally renowned filmmakers do put out their Top 10 list. Steven Soderbergh puts out the complete list of whatever he has seen and read. His 2015 list of films, tv shows, books and plays is here.

If you come across more such lists, do add in the comments section below. Also, do share your list of top 5/10.

We are bit late on this, but here it is – our recco post on Damien Chazelle’s new film, La La Land. It’s written by Percy H Bharucha.

la-la-land

La La Land is a movie devoted to a single word – ache.

The ache of Nostalgia.
The ache of a city like L.A.
The ache of dreams unfulfilled.
The ache of lost musicals and movies.
The ache of love lost.
The ache of what could have been.
And the ache of time spent apart.

As a child I used to watch musicals with my grandfather. My introduction to Hollywood was An American In Paris, Singing In The Rain, Easter Parade, Hello Dolly. Those were my first movies and I loved them dearly. As I grew up, so did Hollywood. Things got complicated for all of us and I yearned for a movie so simple, so removed from reality, that it wouldn’t want me to return from it.

La La Land brings back that ache for all of us. It brings with it a refusal to detach from its world. It is astonishing to watch a movie where the failures of the characters seem yours. The viewer takes that emotional burden upon himself just as I did. I rooted for them to fail, yes I did. Just to embrace the feeling it would bring. To feel through them.

There have been movies of recent that have relied on catering to a sense of wonder whether through visual aesthetics or intellectual curiosity, but La La Land is different. It holds itself to a different pedestal, though shot beautifully, it holds itself to the standards of emotion. Few movies have had such an impact on me. It has brought my pen out of hibernation This article is driven by personal catharsis, as much as it is, about this movie being an influence. I write this, as words tear themselves eager to be set on paper.

La La Land reflects a choice every one of us has had to make at least once in life. The choice between love, between relationships we share with ourselves and our dreams. I am glad, for once, there is a movie that prioritises dreams over love, the self over the other. Too many movies are tied to the illusion of the characters walking away with it all. La La Land is fierce enough to show its wounds, our wounds, the costs we pay to be at peace with ourselves.

Which brings me to the last part of the movie, the ache of what could have been, that’s reflected in the alternate flashback between the couple when she walks into his bar. It brings with it the realisation, of the characters being fully aware of their own losses, the pain they’ve endured and so is the viewer too, aware of what he has given up. No one is spared the pain of knowing the ideal, the best case scenario and yet the brilliance of this movie lies in how willingly I, the viewer, could embrace that pain, the burden and the ache the characters bring with them, as my own.

Like a wounded bird we nurse that emotion only because it’s been a long time since any of us felt this strongly about anything at all and even the emotion of absolute loss is better than feeling nothing at all.

La La Land offers an escape from the dark abyss of emotional numbness, it makes us ache in places we didn’t know were capable of expressing emotion. And the final proof of its own success is that a film that reminds us of these aches, becomes an ache by itself. La La Land makes us ache, and departure from the movie is no less painful than the character’s departure from each other.

I wish there was more heartbreak to be felt.

Percy Bharucha

(The author is a Young India Fellow, and has been writing since he discovered he couldn’t draw. He has a full time job in advertising and hopes to keep it that way. He has been previously published in eFiction and eFiction India, Asia Lit, Reading Hour, Gratis and The Madras Mag. He infrequently tweets @Sab_Bakwaas_Hai)

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