With the dawn of the digital age, it has become relatively easy to make a film, short or feature length. Amateur filmmakers usually prefer to start their career by making short films, using them as a launch pad for their future projects. Technology has provided the opportunity to thousands of ambitious filmmakers to pursue their dreams, and express themselves with the help of a camera and a mic. But how important is the short film as a medium, especially in India, where the film industry overshadows (rather, tries to) all other forms of production. How hard is it to make a short film? And last, but not the least, what is its relation to Kolkata, where people swear by cinema?
Today we talk with Pradipta Bhattacharya, filmmaker, editor and also a national award winner for the brilliant Bakita Byaktigoto (Rest is Personal), and a short film maker, to enquire about how relevant short films are in today’s fast changing world and what role Kolkata is playing in it.
BongRong: Pradipta da, tell us how you started making short films.
Pradipta: I started my journey from Roopkala Kendro in Kolkata. I was an editing student there. What happened was, at that time editing students were not allowed to make their own films. They were not given funds or permission to make their own films by the institute. They could either edit or assist students who were in the direction department. We made a request then, to our editing teacher, to give us a camera and an editing setup…this was around 2004…so that we can make our own film. We did not demand any money, but only a camera and an edit setup. So, our teacher arranged for a camera, gave us 500 rupees, a car, and an edit setup and told us to make a film of five to six minutes. That is the point from where I started making proper short films. I made a short film called ‘Stimuliv’ in 2004, as part of the film making exercise in our institute. In 2005, after passing out from Roopkala Kendro, I started editing professionally and started saving money. With that and some money lent to me by one of my friends living in Mumbai, I made another short film called ‘Fuel’. This is how I started making short films, and I still make them.
BongRong: So why do you think most filmmakers start out with making short films then go on to make feature films and what made you inclined to employ this form of film making?
Pradipta: There are basically two things. One, there is always a thought in the mind of anyone who is making short films, that one day I will make a feature length cinema, and this also helps in building a profile essential for making a feature film in the future. Two, there are always people who make only short films , who want to tell stories in that short span of time, who want to think in terms of what they will show or say in that limited period of time. The perspective of a short filmmaker is a bit different from that of a feature film maker. A feature film is like a novel, with many elements, events and characters in it. But making a short film is very challenging and interesting, as you have to tell a story in a very short span of time and keep the viewer hooked to your film. That is why I make short films and feature films, and documentaries as well.
BongRong: When you went on to make Bakita Byaktigoto, which is a feature film, how did your experience of making short films help you at that time?
Pradipta: What has really helped me while making Bakita Byaktigoto is the change of perception, one. I have made all my short films on very low budgets. It is not always low budget because one does not have money. The film and its theme determine its budget. The way Bakita Byaktigoto progressed (narratively and on the level of production); all of it is because of the way I made short films. I learnt how to handle the production, how to shoot with a small crew, how to manage the post production. But what was most important is that my film language became clear. I did not study direction…I learnt editing…so there was always the risk and fear that I would focus too much on the edit of a film rather than the other aspects, which did happen when I initially started. Whatever I learnt was from making short films. It helped me develop my style when I started making Bakita Baktigyoto.
BongRong: You have been making and editing short films for eleven long years now. How relevant do you think short films are in contemporary times?
Pradipta: I think it’s more relevant today. I think…..earlier when I used to make short films…..before that I used to do an interesting thing. I studied and taught multimedia for some time. Then I didn’t have a camera with me. I came from Berhampore (Murshidabad) and I was a bit taken aback by the big city and was a bit scared as well. So back then I used to create stories using still photographs, but couldn’t show it to many people at that point of time. If I do the same thing today, then I would be able show it to a lot of people through Youtube, Vimeo etc. The rapid technological change has been beneficial because people can make films and show it to a lot of people, which was not possible when I started. Today everything, right from making a film to exhibiting it has become really easy because of technology.
Also, I think people have less time nowadays. They don’t even have the patience of watching a ten minute film. So people have started making ‘very short’ films and started showing them on different devices, such as phones, iPads etc. When we were of your age, the way we looked at society and the way society was thinking has drastically changed now. All of this is reflected in the short film, because not everyone can make feature films. Short films are usually very small in size, which can be easily uploaded on any social media site or shown to people even on mobile phones. So…filmmakers can tell stories and communicate very easily now, through short films. One just needs a camera and a basic edit setup to make a film. This is the reason why more and more people should come forward and make short films.
BongRong: Taking a cue from what you said about technology, that it has helped a lot and provided opportunities to everyone to make a film, do you think that there is more of quantity but less quality in the short films that we are seeing today. Do you think people are more concerned about the stylistic aspect of a film rather than the narrative?
Pradipta: Yes, that’s a good point. But I do want to say something on this. Should people stop making films because of that? They should continue making films…I will tell you why. I have seen earlier, in Berhampore itself that many people wanted to make films…but they could not. They have grown old…film, celluloid, Kolkata, Mumbai ….all these factors have ultimately led to nothing, and they have not made anything. They have spent all their life regretting that…some of them have even passed away now. So, if hundred people wanted to make films back then, only one could. Now if hundred people want to make films, almost ninety can. Does that mean all the ninety films would be trash? No, at least ten wouldn’t be. Quantity will of course increase, but I believe quality would also increase. But what would not happen is the regret. People won’t regret that they have not been able to make films, because everything is just so easy now. That is more important for me. The boom is already well on its way. Maybe we will see its full effect after a few years.
Another thing which we have to keep in mind is that over the years, the audience has also changed. Earlier, they had to see a film in one go. But now, with YouTube, DVD players and everything, they have the option of going back to a film, repeating scenes, studying a particular element etc. It has changed the perspective of the audience too. I can say this because I have experienced the change myself. That is why we have to think about the audience also whenever we are making a film, because they can voice their opinion now and talk about what they like and dislike.
BongRong: There are dedicated short film makers abroad, who make short films throughout their lives. Of course there is a strong industry support as well. There are theatres screening only short films and documentaries. Do you think there is an institutional failure here, which is unable to provide proper support to short film makers?
Pradipta: See…. what happens is that institutional support brings out a Royal Stag advertisement, or a product advertisement. I think the situation here is different. Here, in Kolkata especially, the concept of short films and short film watching is slowly building up. It is building up in rural areas as well. So the industry base will be created when people start watching it regularly. I am very optimistic about this happening in the next five to ten years, that people will be able to make a short film and sell it as well. Definitely, it will happen. But this would take some time. Because now, short films are advertised as advertisements, not as short films.
BongRong: What do you think about the sudden rise of short film festivals and competitions everywhere? Do you think they really help?
Pradipta: I think they are helping….because they give a platform to the filmmaker to show their work. But I also strongly believe that they should not stop there. We have to keep fighting, so that young filmmakers do not focus too much on the gimmicks or the over stylization of the film…because I think there is a belief somewhere that a very stylized image would win extra points over other films. But this is not the case. We have to keep fighting this trend. We have to keep working the way we currently are.
Also, I think what most young short filmmakers ignore is that they have to build their own audience. We never tend to show our films to our parents or our relatives or our neighbors. Why is this so….because we fear criticism. I show all my films to my parents, to my relatives and also my neighbors….sometimes they appreciate them, sometimes they criticise. We have to face the criticism. We have to build up this habit of watching short films. It is totally in our hands.
BongRong: In the last few months, we have seen big directors from Bollywood and Tollywood make short films which are clichés and attach too much importance to glamorizing the content, rather than the content itself. North Kolkata, mother daughter relationships, an NRI coming back to India, these are just the same things being dealt with over and over again. Now, do you think this can be the benchmark or inspiration for serious short film makers?
Pradipta: I don’t consider them as short films. I consider them as advertisements. People who watch films, do consider them as short films…
BongRong: And they are appreciated a lot also….
Pradipta: Yes, that’s the thing you know….we have to keep fighting. Big directors and production houses will always try to take over, because they have huge investments even for a short film. Either we can discuss and protest this, or we can make films. These sorts of films cannot be considered as short films….they are just publicity materials. There is nothing in these films which one can get excited about or talk about. There will always be a market for these films. It is made for them.
See….I don’t want to criticise anybody. I know very clearly what I want to make. I am happy with whatever I am doing. So let them make whatever they wish to. As long as I am following my philosophy and not getting carried away, it is fine. A lot of work is happening apart from these films by big directors, which we have to see and talk about. We have to involve everyone whenever we are making a film. We have to let people know that other films are happening apart from these. This is a long term process. It is not going to happen in a day or in a year.
BongRong: You have been involved in short films for a long time. You must have seen short films from outside Kolkata…like Mumbai, Delhi, and Kerala. What is your opinion of them? How would you compare them with films made in Kolkata?
Pradipta: I have seen some really good films from Mumbai, Manipur and Kerala and also from other places. What I have noticed is that they make films about their surroundings, about the places they have grown up in. They have made films about the places they know and belong to. Here…in short films…people stay alone…then they try to commit suicide, or try to have sex….which is really strange. There is a lot of suicide and sex in short films from Kolkata. Even people who come from districts like Nadia, come here and make a film like this… this is really something to think about, as to why they are doing this. Even my first film had a suicide case. I think this is something ingrained in Bengalis. They think it would lead to some high art or something. Sex is a beautiful experience, no doubt about that but they have assumed that only having sex or a lot of violence would be considered as some sort of protest, which is not the case at all. But it is a culture specific thing. South Korea or Japan have a specific reason for that sort of violence, which does not work here.
What I am saying is that people here need to observe more. If they go out on the street and observe…they will get a lot of stories worth exploring. They have to observe. I am not saying you have to start observing like Satyajit Ray or something…you just have to open your eyes a bit and see the world. There is nothing complicated in art. The life of ordinary people is an art in itself. There is a beauty in simplicity also, which we forget sometimes. If we can replicate that, we can get some good films.
BongRong: What do you think are the challenges of making a short film?
Pradipta: See one of the main challenges….what I have been thinking over the years….short and feature is totally different. It has happened with me also. I wanted to make a feature film, but ended up making a short film instead. This cannot be the case. One has to think about a lot of things while making short films. How to execute the production, how to communicate what you are thinking in that short period of time, how to mould the content according to the form, they are all challenges. Film making is a lot like trekking. There is no separate challenge when you are making a short film. One has to be very clear as to what they want to say within that period of time. The challenge is not to think that just because I cannot make a feature film, I’ll make a short film. We have to overcome that thought. That is a big challenge.
BongRong: Do you think more initiatives like Kolkata Shorts and Docs and Kolkata People’s Film Festival should come up because sometimes we find that filmmakers do not get a platform for showing their films?
Pradipta: Yes of course, I think more and more people should come up with such initiatives. We screen films in Tehatta (Nadia district). We try to screen films with a very minimum budget. We can afford very little but it is more than what is needed. See, sitting at home and watching films on YouTube is a whole lot different from watching a film with hundreds of people together, while you are sipping some tea or smoking a cigarette. There are usually discussion sessions after the screening where people exchange their opinions and viewpoints.
People can always watch films on YouTube or download torrents. But we invite people to come and watch a film together with everyone. We have to create a space for discourse where people talk about films. That is very important. This cannot happen in a multiplex. We do not have any guidelines or rules…we just tell people to come and watch films together. We do not even have a fixed schedule…it happens once in three months or twice in four months, like that. We let people know through Facebook. We have thought of showing films made in small towns in Kolkata and vice versa. This will hopefully create a discussion. This does not need that much money also. This just needs some time. We also like to show films to a lot of people. We can talk and connect with people. It feels good. It provides us with a breathing space.
BongRong: You just said that you showed films in rural areas and districts. So, how has the response been there?
Pradipta: Brilliant…brilliant response…. I cannot possibly explain how fantastic the response has been. We did an open air screening twice (in Tehatta, Nadia). Almost seven hundred to eight hundred people came for the screening. It was packed. We set up a large screen. We had a very ordinary projector. It was a fantastic atmosphere. I was just walking among the crowd. And I was hearing people discuss the film we were showing. When the first film ended, they kept on shouting for another one. Even at eleven in the night, I could see around hundred people watching the film. In Kolkata, you will never get a crowd of even eighty people watching a short film, let alone four hundred. We get brilliant reactions from the crowd. They come and ask us to show this or that film the next time. They are really excited about it.
We showed a Greek film once called ‘What is that’. No one understands Greek, neither are they in the habit of reading subtitles. They liked the film so much that they applauded a lot. They also like short animation films.
We film makers have to organise ourselves and take the responsibility of showing films in different places. That is how we can create a space for the films and for dialogue as well.
BongRong: Last question Pradipta da, what advice do you want to give to people who want to make short films?
Pradipta: Study your own environment at first. Study the people around you. Then you can do whatever you feel like. But you must be aware of your own surroundings. That is of prime importance. We all want to do something extraordinary in our first film itself. That is very much possible. But for that, there must be some practice and clarity in your thoughts. You need to observe. You need to talk to more people and try to connect. You cannot be aloof from the society and be a filmmaker. We only retain very little from what we see. So if we start seeing a lot, only then can we retain something.
Another thing is that you can be influenced by anyone. But it is wrong to think that is the only true form, or style. You have to find your own way. That happens when you keep practicing. See, two very important things needed in any art form are sense and practice. Sometimes practice develops sense and sometimes your sense gets better when you practice. It is not a mutually exclusive thing. Also, you should face criticism and be open to it. I used to fight a lot at first. But then I realised that I have to think about it. I used to come home and think about all the things people said, and whether they are right or wrong. You need to keep a cool head, no matter what happens.
We can only hope that this interview is of help to people who are thinking about making short films. As Pradipta Bhattacharya says, BE YOURSELF.
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