Tuesday, March 28

Is Tollywood pushing the envelope enough with the stay-at-home quarantine shorts?

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The last one month of self-isolation has produced a slew of quarantine films that are marked by low budgets and short screen time. The demand is so huge that many directors abroad are apparently ordering props to be delivered alongside their groceries. Dealing with common themes like dystopia and alienation, these isolation shorts are exploring existential crisis in both the domestic and social spaces. Joining this international bandwagon are Tollywood’s directors too.

While some of the shorts have relied on simple narratives to explain the importance of staying at home, few are more layered and explore the human psyche which oscillates between being magnanimous and selfish during crisis. Thanks to the surge of free content online, it is now possible to sit in one’s bedroom and watch what kind of content is being produced by directors working under similar constraints across the globe.

On March 14, Prague-based independent filmmaker Paul Dean put up a post on his Facebook account saying: Where other people see the end of days, creatives see opportunity. Addressing fellow filmmakers, writers, actors, rentals and gaffers, Dean invited them to reach the Prague city centre the following morning to shoot a short film that “could never have been made without millions before”.

Within the next 17 hours, his short titled ‘Coronapocalypse’ was conceived, written, produced and shot. The plot revolves around what happens when a social media influencer, whose every waking moment is streamed online, eventually decides to step outside. The director also recorded a video on the making of this short where he revealed how 12 hours after filming it on a Sunday in Prague, home quarantine rules were imposed in the country.

Ten days later, another short film was premiered online. Directed by Portuguese filmmaker Diogo Caramujo and dedicated to “all those living the terror of Covid-19”, ‘Left Behind’ was made during his first seven days in quarantine and was filmed only at night in his garage. According to his Facebook post, Caramujo chose to film it this way because during the day he had to be a “father, husband and a friend”. Describing himself as a “left-behinder” in the global pandemic, this sci-fi short “takes an extreme vision of the global pandemic crisis”. The film starts with a message for all survivors about how after the virus mutated, Caramujo was given an option to nominate two non-contaminated members of his family to enter the “ark built by the government”. Then, the message goes on to explain the importance of not taking the world for granted since it has only been “borrowed to us”. Caramujo’s next was titled ‘My Quarantine Day Life: How Coronavirus Changed My Life’ where he filmed his two-year-old son. In this short, he spoke about how life has seen us wash our “hands” and “hearts” while changing routines and priorities to forge personal bonds and develop human connections. Caramujo’s third work titled ‘Mrs Ana’ is about his mother – a small grocer in a village. Through her monologue about her daily routine of catering to the needs of the elderly, the short reveals so much about the lonely lives of senior citizens who are pinning to “kiss” and “hug” their grandchildren once the lockdown ends. All three shorts, though deeply rooted in Portugal, have a very glocal appeal.

Kaarthik Shankar explains the shooting of one of his lockdown comedy video to his mother and uncle
Casual browsing throw up many more such quarantine shorts. In the pipeline is ‘En Casa (At Home)’ – a five-part anthology series that will feature shorts from Spanish filmmakers. On Wednesday, director Roger Corman, who is credited with discovering the likes of Jack Nicholson and Francis Ford Coppola, took to Instagram to launch Corman Quarantine Film Festival inviting filmmakers to make short films as they isolate themselves during the pandemic. In Bollywood, Onir and Sanjay Suri are into their third week of judging entries for an online short film competition. “We have received 170 entries already in Hindi/English/Bengali from all over the world,” said Onir.

A still from ‘Locked In Together’
Makers from other film industries in India have also joined the short bandwagon. Even subtitled Malayalam lockdown shorts have become popular in Kolkata. Kochi-based short filmmaker Kaarthik Shankar has already released three lockdown comedy videos. The first is a hilarious take on how Shankar tries to help his mother in the kitchen without knowing anything about cooking. “Each crossed a million views in approximately 20 hours. My father is the director of photography. It wasn’t easy to get my mother and uncle to make their acting debuts in these films. But I managed,” Shankar said.

Prosenjit Chatterjee in ‘Jhhar Themey Jabey Ekdin’
Back in Kolkata, established directors in Tollywood have tried their hands at making these shorts. Arindam Sil’s ‘Jhhar Themey Jabey Ekdin’ starring all A-listers of Tollywood and Riingo’s ‘Locked In Together’ made with his friends from the cine-world have made headlines. Theatre personality-turned-director Debesh Chattopadhyay has also been prolific behind the camera since the first week of April. His first Bengali short film titled ‘Kabi’ is about the fate of a relationship involving an alcoholic poet. The film takes a dig at the society’s perception of artistes while narrating how lockdown comes in the way of a girl introducing her boyfriend to her family. Attributes like his fondness for alcohol and lack of educational qualifications don’t come in the way of the introduction. But what brings her to a screeching halt is that her partner is a poet! Lockdown here is just a medium to express the apprehension about the reception of a poet. In a way, it is Chattopadhyay’s commentary on societal acceptance to art as a career option.

Chattopadhyay soon came up with four other shorts titled ‘Fridge Magnet’, ‘Vodka’, ‘Golda Chingri’ and ‘Channel’. Through the eyes of the middle class, the last three shorts have taken a satirical dig at the middle class’ interest in being a good Samaritan during lockdown while not missing out on the good things of life as well as getting publicity from donations.

Ambarish Kundu in ‘Golda Chingri’
Another interesting project coming up is Chattopadhyay’s ‘Lockdowne Fyataru’ with Shantilal Mukherjee, Saurav Palodhi and Amit Saha. For the first time, Fyataru – a character which was immensely popular on stage and known for flying at night and attacking all social inequalities – will be entering the short film space.

But one thing that is recurrent among most of the short films emerging out of Bengal is their use of a mobile phone as a prop. Chattopadhyay has been conscious of that and has tried to minimize this boredom of using scenes where characters talk to each other over mobile phones. “This short is not structured completely like a conversation over telephones. We begin with a telephone conversation but then switch over. My actors have shot on terraces. The short is a satire on how the marginalized look at those who are into hoarding essentials and publicizing photos of culinary delights on social media,” director said.

This lockdown has even turned a Tollywood actor into a director. Aryann Bhowmik, who had to be in home isolation post his sudden return from South Africa before the lockdown began, used his time to shoot a “self-made” short titled ‘Lockdown’.

Aparajita Auddy and Manali Manisha Dey in ‘Hing’

Meanwhile, acting in quarantine shorts has been a novel experience for many. Manali Manisha Dey, who acted in a lockdown short titled ‘Hing’ with Aparajita Auddy about sister-bonding and the importance of a homemaker, is thrilled with her first experience. “I am thankful to Shiboprosad Mukherjee, Nandita Roy and Zinia Sen for thinking that I will be able to play this character. I am happy to have been able to execute the idea at home and glad that people are appreciating it,” she said. Ambarish Kundu, who acted in ‘Golda Chingri’, described the shooting experience as ‘unique’. “Debesh-da sent across the shot divisions and I explained it to a brother of mine who shot the entire thing on his mobile camera,” Kundu said. Though both the actors have got more such offers, none is ready to jump into the bandwagon unless the idea is terribly exciting.

In a way, the actors are both echoing the road ahead for Tollywood that is seeing a swathe of shorts. Being choosy is perhaps highlighting the need for more novel ideas and execution styles to ensure attention and longevity. The limitations are there but they are not insurmountable if the ideas are unique. When one has the luxury of getting a captive audience, it is the best opportunity to use skill and talent to showcase the unvarnished, raw and authentic realism of life confined within the four walls. But, the camera need not be restricted to the chamber dramas that were being shot with rose-tinted romantic glasses. The stories need not be restricted to just the straight-jacket narration of real life saga during crisis. Rather, the focus can now be on the unspoken tales of domestic violence, crumbling relationships, homophobia, homelessness, hypocrisy and discrimination over gender, class and race. They need to be filmed in a way that don’t highlight the restrictions but instead make viewers feel that the ideas demanded only this kind of a treatment and nothing else. Who knows, in days to come, lockdown life might inspire Tollywood to make interesting kinds of cinema that explore the genre of kitchen sink realism which fleshes out domestic life and relationships under strain and investigates the tension gripping the home and the world!


Source: Times of India

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