Making short films is as satisfying and challenging a project as a full-length feature film," says film-maker Varun Tandon whose movie Syaahi won the National Award for 'Special Mention in Direction' in the short-film category last year. And having garnered a lot of praise at various film festivals, it has now been launched on social networking sites. "This makes us proud because the film will now be accessible to many more viewers, who, without spending a penny, can watch it anytime, anywhere," he says.
Simple but hard-hitting
Tandon's experience with Syaahi began when he decided to write a short story - a genre he'd been dabbling in for a while - about a little boy called Vansh and his small family, comprising his father, an aspiring writer, and his mother, a simple housewife. Denied the chance to go on a school trip because money is scarce, the 10-year-old decides to take matters in hand. "It was just a simple story but I knew that it could be made into a film," says the 26-year-old Mumbai-based film-maker. His tale is based in one of the villages of Uttarakhand.
Talking about Syaahi, Tandon says, "I realised that it had echoes of my own childhood too, though I wouldn't call it autobiographical." And with more and more people watching it, he feels that almost everyone seems to be connecting with it in their own little way. "Like my character Vansh goes through a little 'adventure' that changes his perspective on life, many of us also go through certain events that change our view of things. It could be a train or a bus ride, something our parents said, or a quarrel with a sibling or friend that left a deep impact on our psyche," he adds.
Tandon has a special word of appreciation for the child artiste Himanshu Bhandari whom he selected from one of the Uttarakhand villages itself. "Other than the innocence, he had a certain spark and confidence that we needed for our film." Special care was taken by his entire team to treat the entire process of making Syaahi "like a simple project workshop or project so that the child artistes don't get starry-eyed. We were very sensitive about ensuring that their childhood innocence remains intact because the children still had their whole life ahead of them."
And Tandon is happy that their effort has been successful because little Himanshu is back at school and is doing well. Talking about his tryst with film-making, Tandon says it took root during his childhood days spent in the small town of Kannauj. "There wasn't much to do there other than watching films on television, and of course, listening and re-listening to kissas that our parents and grandparents would regale us with," he explains.
Love for stories
While studying mass media, Varun also started dabbling in making "tiny films, of say, one-to-two minute duration, that was quite a challenge but great fun." Tandon mentions his short film on Mumbai post-26/11 that explored the resilience of the Maximum City, and another one called Ringa Ringa Roses on child abuse that fetched him a lot of appreciation. So strong was his "addiction" that by the time Tandon finished college, he had over 15 short movies to his credit.
The turning point came with Gulcharrey "that eventually got a lot of people interested in our work," he informs. Exploring the idea of space shortage and the self-proclaimed moral brigade's treatment of young lovers in Mumbai, the film was made at a small budget of just Rs 5,000.
"It not just got screened at several film festivals but also made an instant connect with hundreds of viewers who empathised with the film's characters. Many told me how watching the film was a very emotional experience for them," remembers Tandon. He even got invited for a tete-a-tete with senior film-maker Nagesh Kukunoor about Gulcharrey. "All this appreciation was a great humbling experience and greatly timed since it helped us get co-producers for Syaahi." he smiles.
While his romance with short film-making shall continue, Tandon has plans of moving into the feature film arena as well. "I am already working on some ideas and will definitely explore the one that lends itself to the feature format," he informs. "However, I must also add here that I don't look at short films as a stepping stone to features, the way some film-makers do. Shorts are a beautiful and challenging art form that many great film-makers like Satyajit Ray have also made their contribution to."