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.