A colleague of mine was discussing about the possibilities of sourcing and creating a data base of various kinds of footage for an organization for which she works. We were discussing about footages from unconventional and non-professional sources when I suddenly remembered that I had a VHS cassette that had footage pertaining to an ECG test that was done on me a few years back. A desire to creatively use this unconventional source of footage resulted in this short film of five minutes length.
The film was shot in my house with my own Sony PD 150 camera with available light and in a mere three hours. I then landed up at my fellow filmmaker Pankaj Rishi Kumar’s door steps with a request for him to edit the film. Thankfully, he obliged. Actor and neighbor Anil Pande’s raw energy, Pankaj’s creative inputs as well as some technical help from some of my sound recording colleagues have contributed immensely in the making of this no low cost film.
There are two ways to confront an imposed limitation. Either one can sit back and crib about it or one can find different possibilities within those limitations. Creating solutions to limiting situations is fun. As is the case with most of us, most of the times the scale of our ideas outsmarts the resources that we have. This time I was determined not to let that happen. The recourses I had with me during the making of this film was almost nil. So, I took stock of what was available for me. First, I decided that I would shoot the film in my own house. So, there would only be one location in the film. There was an actor who was pestering me for a role in my projects (even if it were a documentary!) for the past one year… Well, I decided that the film would have one actor. I promised him a copy of the film and he agreed. I could not hire a cameraman or any lights.So I ‘rattofied’ the relevant portions of the manual of my PD 150. I also decided that I would avoid situations like an indoor-outdoor exposure or any camera movement – a pan or a tilt or even a zoom. My frame would be static. My image size would not change within a shot. As far as the sound department goes, there was no question of hiring an external mike. Therefore, I chose that the camera would not be too far away from the actor. The camera mike would clearly catch what the actor says and there would be less of external noise. At the most I would go as far as a mid-long shot. All these factors made me choose the format of the film. It would be that of a mock audio-visual classified advertisement, with the actor speaking directly into the camera. It worked fine not to establish the location because when you are making an appeal into the camera, the location becomes unimportant.
The original script was eight minutes long and I had laced it with humor. Originally, I had planned the whole shoot in a single take. Again, the idea was that it might reduce the edit time. A couple of hours after I wrote the first draft, I realized that I could not possibly have one person talking into a static camera without a cut for that long, even if the actor was a brilliant one. Would it hold the attention of the audience for that long? I had to have inserts. For one, I had the VHS footage of my ECG test. I viewed the tape again and then rewrote the script in accordance with what was there in it. But still the script misbehaved and refused to get shortened! I left it at that, taking recourse to the all important dialogue, “Editing mein dhek lengen!”
It pays to be ruthless at the editing stage. Both Pankaj and I drastically reduced the length of the monologue. To give the film some more visual layering, we thought of some more inserts such as relevant news clippings and matrimonial advertisements which could be easily got and shot from the net. I then hunted for some heart related cartoons on google and shot them through my PC monitor moving my mouse scroll button up and down. The heart shaped cartoons in the jpg files increased and decreased in size, I had managed some animated illustration too!!! Adding a few heartbeat sounds loaned from my sound recording colleague, Satheesh PM, really pepped up the film. We manipulated these heartbeat sounds, played with its speed and created a sound pattern through out the video. Inspite of the precaution taken during shooting stage, the sound track had to be cleaned up. Friend and sound recordist Mohandas guided us in this aspect. A few subtitles were added and finally a compact five minute film was created.
Despite the creative challenges posed by the short fiction film, the format has never been a favorite with Indian filmmakers. Over the years, there have been a few short fiction films made in 35mm, in 16mm or even in the DV format. I doubt if many people have seen them. Yours truly had made a 16mm short film called The Hot Shot twelve years back. Apart from a screening each in Dhaka and New Delhi and two showings in Mumbai, no one heard about it. It lies stored away in the attic. I recently saw the print on a Steinbeck machine and observed that the colour had faded off a bit. It had acquired a pinkish tint, which reminded me of the print of an Isthavan Zabo’s film that we saw at the film institute. That too had a pinkish tint. I took solace in the fact that I was in good company!!
Jokes apart, Indian television is just not interested in short fiction film. The possibility of a slot for short fiction films during any part of the day/night seems remote in any private channels (Are the CEOs and commissioning editors listening?) here even though Cox Channel 4 and PBS in the United States have had such great success with their weekly series, The Short List, wherein they screen short films from all over the world. In fact, the programme is a multiple Emmy Award Winner. Coming back to the short filmmaker’s problems in India, there is a non refundable fee that runs in thousands even for a submission to government run channels. Many of us would make another short video/film with that amount. It would be great if a short fiction film of 5 to 10 minutes in length could be screened in cinema theatres, before the main film. Imagine the kind of boost the short fiction film movement will receive in India if this were to happen. But Films Division, the only organization in India which can show such short films by law, is not interested. It concentrates only on what it considers as documentaries. Film Festivals – a couple of them in India and a large number of them abroad – might be an option. Again, with the kind of money one needs to spend on the entrance fees of some of these festivals along with the courier charges that are needed to send these films, one could make many low no cost short film!!!
Heart Troubles Of Ramchand Yavathmal Tiruchinapalli Azamghar has been lucky enough to be selected in the competition section in MONFILMFEST – the 1st Monferrato Film Festival that is to be held in Sept 2003, Vignale, Italy. But I certainly do not have the resources to send it to say, 10 festivals. And if you don’t submit to at least ten festivals, the chances of it being noticed becomes less probable, leave alone help in recovering costs. Just as I have been cribbing for the whole of the above few paragraphs, we have for long been blaming other than ourselves for the sorry state of affairs of the short fiction film in India. Those of us who have made short fiction films over the years, we should be asking ourselves, “What have we done to build an audience for our own short fiction films?”
If the short film that I had shot twelve years back is struck in the attic for the past so many years, it is because I did not make an effort to get it marketed or screened. I do not want Heart Troubles Of Ramchand Yavathmal Tiruchinapalli Azamghar to suffer the same fate. In fact, no film done with passion should suffer that fate. It is high time we get our act together. As it would be difficult and non-viable for an organization/individual to organize screenings for only one particular short film of 5 to 10 minutes in length, an alternative would be that the filmmakers could pool in their contacts, resources and efforts to collectively screen their films as a package of shot fiction films. There have been attempts in the past to work out such a thing. They need to be continued. Who knows maybe later on we can even take it up from there and collectively market these films under some common theme. Can that be considered as a possibility? If yes, are there any takers for such a thing?