Kolkata, June 6, 2020: Bigwigs from the celluloid industry shared their insights and gave youngsters a real slice of how life is in the big bad world of cinema during the sixth day of #MediaNext 2020 organized by the Kolkata-based Adamas University that focused on Cinema in the Digital Age.
The speakers for the day included such names that represent both the past and future of the Indian film industry. The day started with Viveck Vaswani, who has acted, produced and directed innumerable movies and is now the Dean of School of Contemporary Media at Pearl Academy. Following Viveck Vaswani, there were three young filmmakers, who have successfully made strong cinematic imprints. While Aftab Asghar, a US-based filmmaker, shared the tips and tricks of filmmaking with students, Amit V. Masurkar and Bejoy Nambiar shared their personal journeys.
The conclave is being organized in association with Sharda University, Birla Global University, DME, AIMEC, Lok Samvad Sansthan, Exchange4media, ABP Education and IndiaReal. The mega conclave is being organized over a period of 10 days from June 1, 2020 to June 10, 2020. Each day of the conclave focuses on one specialized domain of the Media and Entertainment (M&E) industry and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on that specific domain.
Viveck Vaswani, who has now turned to mentoring aspiring reel professionals, centred his discourse on busting some of the most fanciful myths around the world of cinema. He started by revealing his foray into movies. He lamented that he didn’t have the opportunity to go for a formal course in filmmaking. However, he stressed on the importance of knowledge. Vaswani said, “Your passion for filmmaking must translate to knowledge or else it is not passion at all.”
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Vaswani in his characteristic style rubbished some wannabe filmmakers by saying that one can’t expect to work with film personalities without having a firm grip over the medium. In what seemed like a page from his personal book of experiences, Vaswani iterated, “A movie is not about the actor, it is about the audience. Otherwise, every film by Naseerudding Shah or Smita Patil would have been a box office hit.”
In what seemed rather prophetic, Vaswani said that the entire filmmaking business survives on the knowledge as to which way the money flows. In an obvious reference to what he called an attitudinal problem, Vaswani took the example that professionalism can’t surpass self claimed creative excellence. Therefore, cinema is not about indulgence.
Giving the example of a car, he said that all the elements and everyone involved in filmmaking are equally important. If any of the elements malfunctions, the movie as a whole is destined to fail. Therefore, every single person – from the director to the person who serves the tea – needs to be aware of their jobs or else a movie can’t be made.
Referring to the debate involving creativity and commerce, Vaswani said, “Creativity is relative but the business isn’t.” He went on to add that real education must convert a person into a professional. Real film education will equip the students to make money from the industry and not just make ‘great cinema’.
Expressing confidence, Vaswani quipped that audiences all over will come back to cinema once the pandemic scare is over. Replying to a question, he said that a film becomes rich when a person is loyal to what he/ she wants to make as opposed to an expensive film.
Vaswani was followed by the young and dynamic Aftab Asghar. Aftab began his professional career with McCann Ericsson in India. Passionate about storytelling, the move to advertising filmmaking was a natural fit and he started assisting pioneering advertising filmmaker Prahlad Kakkar and then worked for Foot Candle films.
Aftab started his own New York-based Film Production Company called Stride Films. Some of his recently produced films include ‘Unfreedom’ which is a contemporary thriller about a society torn apart by political, religious, and sexual turmoil set in New York and New Delhi. Some of his other productions are ‘Where Are You Sophia’, ‘Margaret’, ‘The Brief-Case’, ‘Batter Up’, ‘Love Lies and Seeta’, ‘Guns and Guitars’ and many more. Aside from films, he has worked in commercials and music videos for Walt Disney, Sony, Cossette Communications, Devito Verdi, and MTV.
Aftab harped on simplicity. He advised first time filmmakers to keep things simple as complicated things are amateurish. He also delved on innovating on creative ways to tell a story. Aftab said to students, “Complete something that you have started.” Citing his personal experiences, Aftab said, “When you have an idea, sleep over it and start pursuing it only when you are sure about it.”
Deliberating on the futility of thinking big at the first go, Aftab said that things take time to happen and everything doesn’t happen in one go. He advised aspiring filmmakers to take up filmmaking stories that are close to their heart.
Aftab also stressed on the importance of improving skills – not just storytelling skills but technical and commercial skills as well. He urged everyone to learn something new every day. According to him, an aspiring filmmaker needs to be confluent with all different elements of the art form and has to plan well in advance. Also, he said that it is important to ask questions to people who know rather than scampering here and there.
The very talented Amit V. Masurkar took over the mantle from Aftab and gave an impressive peep into his personal journey as a filmmaker. Amit is known for directing the critically acclaimed ‘Newton’, selected as the Indian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 90th Academy Awards. He is also known for directing the independent comedy film ‘Sulemani Keeda’. Amit bagged the Asia Pacific Screen Award for Best Screenplay for ‘Newton’.
While talking about the importance of research in filmmaking, Amit said, “Researching for a book is different from researching for a film.” Emphasizing on the importance of personal ideologies, Amit mentioned that a movie is eventually the product of what the filmmaker believes in. He added that a movie also stems from the realization that a created status quo is benefitting some people and there is a crafted notion that everything is hunky dory.
Talking about ‘Newton’, Amit mentioned that like other filmmakers, he also wanted his movie to be watched by everybody and be palatable. Asked a question if the Indian viewers have evolved, Amit said that people’s accessibility to different kinds of movie has increased significantly. In what seemed like a reference to the evolution of the industry, Amit said that filmmakers now are not just competing with other domestic filmmakers but with filmmakers from across the world. Consequently, there is an opportunity for people to experiment with offbeat content.
Amit stressed on the importance of having a fixed curriculum for film students. He added that a filmmaker needs to be extremely honest when he is working. According to him, making short movies these days isn’t really difficult, if one has the right intent. He advised students and youngsters to understand themselves as any creative pursuit ultimately is about self-realization.
Talking about OTT platforms, Amit said that these platforms are not very different from television channels and if the right content is given, these platforms would lap the same up. Amit ended his discourse by urging everyone to question anything and anyone to have a better and more comprehensive view of the world.
The experimental Bejoy Nambiar spoke next and started through his own journey in the world of movies. Bejoy Nambiar marked his foray into commercial cinema with the critically acclaimed ‘Shaitan’ in 2011. His latest Hindi directorial venture was ‘Wazir’ starring Amitabh Bachchan and Farhan Akhtar and produced by Vidhu Vinod Chopra. Bejoy is the winner of Sony Pix’s filmmaking reality show ‘Gateway to Hollywood’. Bejoy has also directed such appreciated short films as ‘Rahu’ and ‘Reflections’.
In short, he put forward his journey from theater to short films and from short film to feature films. According to Bejoy, the maximum importance needs to be given to screenwriting as that is exactly where the entire process of filmmaking starts. He stressed on the importance of understanding what the audience wants and then modifying the content of the movies according to that.
Bejoy advised people to do filmmaking courses to make their journeys easier. He also emphasized on originality and inspiration. Bejoy also talked about the importance of working under a filmmaker as that significantly helps in understanding filmmaking as a separate art form. He pointed out that making movies or telling stories these days has become extremely easy as anyone with just a mobile phone can make a movie.
Although Bejoy doesn’t believe in censorship for OTT platforms, he also referred to the peril of excessive leeway being taken by many OTT platforms in showcasing explicit content. On what exactly is the difference between OTT platforms and cinema, Bejoy said that OTT platforms allow binge watching, which is not possible in a movie theater.
In another response to a question from the audience, Bejoy responded that the film industry has indeed been impacted by the Covid-19 lockdown but how it bounces back would largely depend on how the pandemic pans out in the next two months.
The day came to a grand end with a colourful and vibrant cultural festival that was organized by MARU MANI and was beamed online from Jodhpur in Rajasthan. The cultural performance was partnered by the Jaipur-based Lok Samvad Sansthan and the Jodhpur-based Rupayan Sansthan (Rajasthan Institute of Folklore). The cultural fest was curated by Kuldeep Kothari, the Secretary of Rupayan Sansthan and was conducted by Kapil Mirdha.
Dr. Sunayan Bhattacharjee
Assistant Professor at Adamas University