Azaad: A Timely Reminder of The True Meaning of Freedom
“Freedom didn’t come cheap to us, it cost us an entire generation. And it’s important to remember that freedom is constantly evolving.”
Actor-filmmaker Chandan Roy Sanyal’s latest short film titled Azaad, released just ahead of India’s 69th Independence Day, comes as a timely reminder of the price our forefathers have paid for freedom, and the ever-evolving nature of what the term really means. Both written and directed by him, the film is now live on SonyLiv.com as well as the Sony Liv app.
The short film format coupled with some snappy editing makes for a quick-paced watch that follows the titular Azaad, the grandson of a freedom fighter, who has just returned to the country, and his girlfriend Akira, who is excited to explore his roots, as they make their way to his hometown in Rajasthan. The couple is bonding with the jolly taxi driver, cheekily named Toba Nek Singh, and enjoying the drive when Azaad suddenly spots four men on bicycles who overtake the car, smiling as they pass.
The change in mood is immediate; Azaad is thrown into an evocative black-and-white flashback sequence of his grandfather telling him the story of how he and three of his friends (played by Noel Manasseh, Amol Parasher and Sudeep Modak) had taken up the treacherous task of delivering a pistol across the border, risking being killed by the British soldiers stationed along the way. Set in 1942 when the Quit India Movement was at its peak, the non-linear storyline spanning two generations keeps the audience rapt as the story unfolds, narrating the bloody sacrifices made for the greater cause of freedom. After racing through three timelines depicting the events that took place, the loose ends are neatly tied up with Azaad going to his grandfather’s school and saluting those who had martyred their lives for this azaadi.
“The idea behind this film was to instil a sense of faith and confidence in our country,” Chandan Roy Sanyal says. “I felt like there was a need to revise the way we look at ‘azaadi’ or freedom and I wanted to see if I could do this through a film. I got the idea when I had gone to a theatre and the national anthem started playing before the film, as customary. It sparked the thought — why don’t I try to incite this sense of patriotism through a film? As an artist, I also wanted to pass on this message to the youth of the country, and what better form than the digital medium today?”
As for the medium of the short film, he shares, “There is certainly a different sort of romance and beauty to be sitting in a dark, cold theatre and watching a film. With a short film however, it is highly accessible and can be watched from anywhere. As a filmmaker, it also helped avoid the often tedious process of marketing, distribution etc. involved in a film, as Sony Liv took care of that entire aspect for ‘Azaad’. I really think that this is the future of cinema — where a short film is being released online and the audience is able to be a part of that online premier. I also feel like short films make it possible to put out story-driven or content-driven ideas.”
When asked about his experience with short films so far, he says, “I like to think that I am working backwards — when I started off, I was writing feature films and I dealt with a lot of days of frustration and angst, trying to figure out how I want to tell my stories. I realised it was more important to focus on the content than anything else, and so I turned to the format of short films, which allowed me to do that. My first film was ‘Hiroshima’ followed by ’35mm’, which is doing the rounds of festivals now, and now I’ve come out with ‘Azaad’.”
Adil Hussain, who plays the grandfather in the flashback, shares his experience of working on the film, “Chandan has known me for a while, and it was a pleasure to work with him. When an actor wants to direct, it is a delight to be a part of the production because of the mutual language that we share.”
On his process of acting, he has an interesting take, “I’m quite selfish as an actor, I like the process of acting or the act of acting much more than what comes after it — that, for me, is the dessert. I love the moment when I’m actually acting and if I don’t enjoy that, it’s a futile activity. I really enjoyed the format and the narrative style that Chandan had put together, although it was a little hard to keep track when I first read the script.”
Jokingly touted as ‘Swades meets Rang De Basanti’, the film was shot over the course of a mere 3 days, with shoot timings leaving the crew barely a few hours to catch some sleep before coming back on set. There is a lot of heart and soul that’s been put into the film along with the hard work though, and it shows.
“I like to bring my theatre culture into cinema,” Chandan Roy Sanyal elaborates on the team dynamic. “Where everyone is equal and everyone gets together to make a film with a solidarity. I think theatre is a way of life that teaches you how to grow with a sense of camaraderie, and most of the crew included friends that I’ve done plays together with, for years. There was definitely an unspoken understanding between us and this is because of our collective love of theatre, which is constantly thrumming our hearts.”
As for whether it is acting or direction he enjoys more, “I really enjoy directing, it’s fun. Being an actor, I understand how the actors’ minds work on set, and it’s incredible to have that level of understanding with the people you work.”
The cohesive team effort definitely reflects in the final product, and if a little vague, the message of recognising what you owe to society and being grateful for the freedom we have today in the small ways that are possible, is one worth remembering long past Independence Day this year.
AZAAD will be telecast on SONY TV on August 15 at the following times –
SET HD 10 am
MAX 2 pm and 8 pm
SAB TV 9 am
PAL 11:30 pm