Long & the short of it

Film revolution

Long & the short of it

Sujoy Ghosh, the Kahaani director, has come out with a new experiment with Ahalya, a 14-minute short film aired through YouTube and not regular theatres. Already a big hit, it redefines the entire paradigm of film viewing, screening and exhibition of films. Here’s what he had to say about the film:

What is this Large Short Films and how has Ahalya become a pioneering effort in the genre?

Royal Stag founded Large Short Films and I am fortunate to make the first short film within this format. The plan is to showcase independent films every week by people known and unknown that everyone can watch within short spans of time. Anyone can submit scripts on the website.

What was the challenge that drew you to the short film format?

The first motivation — I will not call it a challenge — was to direct Soumitra Chatterjee in a lead role in one film. The second was the challenge of telling a complete story with a beginning, middle and end within 15 minutes and make it so interesting that the viewer does not click off before the film gets over. I shot the entire film over two-and-a-half days. I learnt that for a filmmaker, the footage should not matter. I am making a film per se, I can compress it, expand it, twist it the way I feel it fits into my conception.

In what way will this brief format and the alternative viewing change the dynamics of cinema in India?

One has to be practical. Gone are the days when films would run for 25 weeks or 50 weeks at a stretch and as youngsters, we would watch a film several times and sit down to discuss them with friends. Discussions keep a film alive. Today, people hardly have the time to discuss a two-hour feature film. But a short film offers that space.

What about the economic advantages?

Economic advantages are many. You cut down not only on production costs as the film is short, but also on marketing and publicity costs which a feature film demands. The money invested comes back soon and everyone is happy. Not everyone can afford to make 100 crore films. We are not competing with the big banners. We are opening out a new channel.

Ahalya spells out magic realism, the thriller element and the allusions to the story of Ahalya in Ramayana. Tell us a little about the conception of the plot?

The story of Ahalya was just waiting to be written out for a film like this. The two epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata, contain hundreds of stories waiting to be tapped for film or drama or other kinds of performances. These stories are full of magic realism, entertainment and education. They are filled with teachings too that make them timeless and universal. I felt the story of Ahalya could be twisted and tweaked to fit into a contemporary landscape. What thrills me is that the film is sending back many who have seen it to read the Ramayana again! What can be better than trying to enlarge the horizons of one’s reading through a film?

Was it not difficult to direct a Dadasaheb Phalke winner like Soumitra Chatterjee?

I am his fan first and last. For me and for most of us, he is a living icon, an institution unto himself. I was in complete awe of him, but as a director, I needed to get out of the fan-trap and create a distance from the star that Soumitrada is. It is difficult. But it’s possible and I must say Soumitrada made it easy.

What made you decide on casting Radhika Apte and Tota Roychoudhury?

There’s no exact ‘science’ in casting. I wanted to take actors who are not stars so that their star aura did not impose on the characters they were to portray. Radhika has just the right dose of sensuality for Ahalya’s role. Tota is a great actor. I have seen his performances in Aborto and Chokher Bali. Both are open to suggestions of the director. As a director, I am also open to suggestions. I don’t want my actors to freeze their preconceived notions about the character they are to play.

Are you happy with the response?

This very minute, who can be happier than I am? The short film is the future of cinema. It challenges you more than demands from you. The film has had around a million hits or more within the first few days of its premiere on YouTube. What more can one ask for?

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