The Short Fictional Journey - Part 2

(My foray into the short fiction format)

A still from 'Mani Bhai Pass Hogaya? (Did Bother Mani Succeed?)

A short film can be a fiction or a documentary work; or it might simply be a non-fiction work. The three forms could well have a thin line of difference, one might argue. Agreed. Simplistically speaking, a fiction film is one which has an enacted story; and by and large the documentary uses real locations and characters. What then is a non-fiction short film? One that does not have a enacted story or that which does not use real location and characters? Some of the works of the Canadian film maker Norman McLaren could be termed as such, like his short film 'Horizontal Lines'. This film has an animation sequence of one line multiplying itself and then in the end the multiple lines merge themselves to be one again. Although it could be seen and interpreted as a film that has a story about a line, the film does not feature people in front of the camera - enacted or otherwise.


As an independent short film maker there were possibilities with all these three forms in the initial days of my career when, for about ten years from 1991, I worked for TV as a freelance director - not that the TV industry would have an ecosystem for all these three formats. For twelve years I was by and large doing short films in the documentary kind for various non-fiction TV shows that were beginning to shape up in Indian television - like "Surabhi', 'India Anjaana' etc. Each of these episodes would have three to four of these short documentaries that were held together by the anchors who would lead into them by setting up a contextual framework. The format of these documentaries were by and large fixed. It had to be fast, so that more information could be packed in - so as an unwritten rule no shot lingered more than five seconds. There was a voice-over giving explanation, sometimes even to things that are obviously seen on the screen. The work soon got monotonous, the non-fiction short documentary was looking fictional!

By the end of the millennium, I was getting increasingly impatient for not having attempted the fiction format since 'The Hot Shot'. It then 'capitalistically' struck me that things would be a bit easier if one owned a camera - a la Anand Patwardhan. The idea behind working for television was that maybe I could save enough money from my earnings to buy myself a camera - a noble neo-liberal thought, the only hitch was that a 16 mm movie camera - like the one Anand had - during those days cost about 16 lakhs of rupees, an amount beyond my reach. Besides, I also did not have the political rigor that Anand had - a rigor that made him produce independent documentaries over the years. Luckily for me, there was an option - the digital Sony PD 150 camcorder that records in Mini DV tapes. I managed a bank loan, mortgaged the camera and got the money for a purchase.

'The Heart Troubles of Ramchand Yavatmal Tiruchinapalli Azamghad' was made primarily so that I get to handle and familiarize myself this new camera. I used to reside in a place called PMGP colony in those days where a lot of my film and TV industry colleagues also stayed. Since my house was on the ground floor, people generally came by to hang around - to gossip, to crib about their lives and maybe talk about their affairs - marital or otherwise. One such person was Anil Pande. Anil hailed from the hills of Uttarakand, and although he worked in Mumbai in a company, his aspiration was to become an actor. Since he was in any case pestering me for a role in any of my prospective films, I decided to cast him in 'The Heart Troubles Heart Troubles of Ramchand Yavatmal Tiruchinapalli Azamghad".

Heart Troubles of Ramchand Yavatmal TIruchinapalli Azamghar

This 2003 film is about a man who wants to get married and instead of matching horoscopes to establish compatibility, he intends to match the ECG heart reports of the prospective bride with his. During those days I had undergone an ECG test myself and I found it amazing to see the functioning of my heart recorded and given to me on a VHS tape. Ever since I saw the tape, I wanted to make use of the visuals in some form or other. 'The Heart Troubles..." is in the video advertisement mode, where the character that Anil is playing makes an appeal directly into the camera, calling for applications for his marriage proposals, as he puts forth his quirky conditions.

The film is riddled with jump cuts that created a sense of jerkiness in the minds of the audience. Many fumbles by Anil while taking shots which usually are considered NG (No good) and thus discarded, were also kept in the film. A lot of photographs and drawings of the images looking like the heart in various shapes, sizes and colours were downloaded from the net and inserted into the film, at appropriate points and in a suitable pace. Thanks to editor Pankaj Rishi Kumar and his home editing machine, 'The Heart Troubles..." became a crisp five minute film. It participated in about eight to nine short film festivals, the world over. Anil got a kick seeing himself on screen and I became an independent short fiction film maker once again.

Motivated and boosted by this attempt, both Anil and I decided that we should give ourselves another shot. I was in any case planning for a longer film, meeting a few producers to get them materialised. The idea of self producing a longer film did take shape in me during this time. Anil too started working on a story that was set in his native town in the hilly Uttarakhand. He wanted a longer film to be made on it, he would of course, play the lead. The plan was that he would fix the location, local actors and the production logistics; and I would look after the rest of the things that is the making of the film - the camera and the edit etc.. By now I had an edit set up of my own. However exciting the idea sounded, it did not get the shape that it deserved - a shape that satisfied both Anil and me. Since this process was taking a lot of our time, we decided that we shoot a short fiction in between.

'Out of Tune' happened under these circumstances. This time, for the sake of some visual variety, we decided that we shoot the film in Anil's house, rather than mine. The film is about a man who carries many unnecessary lifelong emotional blocks within himself, so much so that he is enslaved by them. The genesis of this idea was in a transformational course I was attending  during those days conducted by 'Landmark Education'. In an one line explanation, those in Landmark Education believe that "people and the communities, organizations, and institutions with which they are engaged have the possibility not only of success, but also of fulfillment and greatness." The 'transformative learning' the organization provides helps one to 'think and act beyond existing views and limits." It was a world of possibilities, the urge to make a film on this was great. 

Actor Anil Pande

Completed in 2004, 'Out of Tune' dealt with the some of the blocks that exists within ourselves that would not let us fulfill our full potential within this realm of possibilities. Certain conscious / sub conscious decisions that we take as a reaction to certain key events that we see as 'setbacks' at various stages in our lives, have a tendency to put a limit to our full potential - like deciding for life that no woman is trustworthy, when one of your girlfriend breaks up with you. The film would not have a 'story' as such, but would end up talking about a concept. The challenge was to convert the concept selected into the visual and audio form. In 'Out of Tune' I took the absurd route, yet again, to realise the thought that it represented and give the audience an experience of it. 

Like in 'The Hot Shot', here too the central character is a blue collared office-goer. The film repeatedly shows his daily routine from the time he wakes up till his goes to his office. He is sleeping, he wakes up, has tea, brushes himself, goes to the toilet, dresses up and goes to his office. The absurd element incorporated into these normal sounding activities is that in between he fills up his bags and suitcases with old newspapers. He carries these bags and suitcases all the time and wherever he goes including when he goes to the toilet and to his office. A 'godly' voice-over narrates three major decisions that the person had taken in the course of his life as a reaction to three events that had occurred with him - events that he had considered as a setback. Each time we show the routine, the number of bags that have the old newspapers in them increases, till one day he sees a young boy playing freely, without any inhibitions and without any baggage. That is when the man throws away all the bags he has been carrying and becomes a free man.

Manoj Pradhan is a cameraman colleague and a fellow FTIIian. One of his other interests, when he is not doing camerawork, is to compose music. He gave me a pleasant thematic music piece that could be used during the protagonist's daily routine sequences. Each time the routine is repeated, the bags the man is holding increases. So instinctively, I decided that the tune should slow down in speed progressively, each time it is heard - till in the end it really sounds bad and out of tune. It was this decision that made me title the film the way it is. Of course fearing that Manoj would get a heart break with what I would be doing to his tune, I did mention sheepishly to him about the indulgence. Fortunately for me, he was game for it.

Out of Tune

'Out of Tune' is about little less than seven minutes in length and it has traveled to many international Film Festivals, including the British Council Digital Film Festival in 2004. Anil Pande later shifted to Kolkata, as I came to know years later when I got an out of the blue phone call from him. I put forward a proposal that I would come to him with my camera to shoot another short film with him in lead, this time in his Kolkata house. I even prodded him to pick up the Uttarakhand feature length story yet again to give it a proper shape and a logical production conclusion. Anil was preoccupied with the ups and downs of a relationship that he was going through in Kolkata. I advised him accordingly to the best of my ability, for whatever worth it was. That it was the last time we spoke to each other speaks highly about the quality of the advise that I provided to him that day. It could have been a subject for a short fiction film. I should thank him for persistently edging and pestering me for a role, for had he not done so the two films that I made with him would never have been made. 

The two 'Anil Pande' short fiction films also gave me the confidence that I could now plan something in the longer version. I had successfully completed these two films with a minimal unit. I had a camera and an edit machine in handy, there was now no excuse for not making a longer version film. That I did with a film called 'Suddha' (The Cleansing Rites) is a matter of a different write up. What includes in this one is some things about another short fiction film that I made in 2006 called 'Mani Bhai Pass Hogaya?' (Did Brother Mani Succeed?), produced by my alma mater, the Film and TV Institute of India. This was probably the first time that someone was asking me to do a short fiction film. It was not self funded, but a commissioned work. 

The 2006 batch of TV students were short of a direction student. Mangal Negi, a fellow student while I was at FTII, was now heading the TV direction department. He requested me if I would be able to direct a short fiction film for a unit that just had an editing, sound and camera student. By that time, I had already made my first feature length film in fiction and was developing several others that included a script that was about a married man who walks a tight rope between his loyalty towards his incapacitated spouse and his own sexual needs, after fifteen years of willful abstinence. As no producer was forthcoming for the longer version, I thought I might as well make a shorter version of the script that would involve a few sequences of the longer one. Such a short film would also come in handy when I meet prospective producers to convince them about the longer version. Didn't I mention earlier something to the effect that the short fiction film is always the groom's man and not the groom himself?

Mani Bhai Pass Hogaya? (Did Mani Bhai Succeed?)

'Mani Bhai Pass Hogaya?' had actors from the acting batch students at FTII - Sudhir Chaudhary, Rasika Duggal, Sanjini Raval and Auroshikha Dey. The course had just restarted after a long gap, a couple of years back. Actor handling became extremely easy, as the selected actors knew exactly what was to be done and more importantly, the way it was to be done. The shy protagonist in the film is first shown trying to romance with his female counterpart. The audience is made to believe that the film involves a normal love story of a couple. But it is only in the end we know his reality. The man comes back to his house to his paraplegic wife and tells her what has transpired with the other woman, knowing well that the wife cannot move or speak at all. The attempt was to build in an amount of subtleness in every aspect in the film - in the acting, the music, the dialogues etc...  The camera angles were normal, edit cuts were unobtrusive and the narration pattern, smooth. Like in a O. Henry short story, the twist only comes in the end.

And that 'Mani Bhai Pass Hogaya?' is yet to be made into a longer film is the predictable double twist. Henry saab would be turning in his grave.    
                                                                                                                                 (To be continued...)

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