Making of India’s first period short film with Pranav Harihar Sharma
Recent times have seen a boom in the short film genre in our country. And filmmakers like Pranav Harihar Sharma have been at the fore of this change, playing an instrumental role in showcasing the power of the short format.
After his thriller short Watermelon, which traveled to several festivals and won the Best Editing award at the Dada Saheb Phalke International Film Festival 2016, adman cum filmmaker Sharma now gives India it’s first period short film. Titled 1869, the film is produced by Inorbit Mall and Gang Motion Pictures, as part of Inorbit’s ‘Baccha Bollywood’ initiative.
The intriguing film revolves around three differently-abled children and a mystery that needs to be solved. To know more about this interesting subject and format, we caught up with Pranav who shared the struggles associated with the film, his experience of working with child artists and the future plans for 1869.
How was the idea of 1869 born? How did the association with Inorbit and Gang Motion Pictures happen?
My last film Watermelon did the rounds of some national and international film festivals. So the team at Inorbit saw the film and contacted me. They me told about their campaign ‘Baccha Bollywood’ where they conduct acting workshops for children and even make a short film with child artists from the workshop itself. They asked me to mentor this year’s ‘Baccha Bollywood’ wherein my job was to make the short film. For me, short films are like a good warm-up exercise, so I jumped at the opportunity and that is how this film started off.
I developed an idea for the film but it was not of the scale that they (Baccha Bollywood) were looking to make. Since this is a period film, it became one of the most expensive short films to be made in India till date. There was a lot of research involved, therefore, it required a lot of resources. I gave up my fees to increase the funds for the movie, but we were still falling short. I knew the team of Gang Motion Pictures, so I shared my script with them and got them on board as co-producers.
Was it easy to write a period film in the short format?
Usually writing comes easily to me, but for this particular film, I struggled a lot. The movie involved children, which was a first for me. I wrote a few scripts but didn’t quite like them. I felt that something was missing. I thought of writing about a disabled child, which lead to a script revolving around a blind child, but that did not touch my heart. And I wasn’t confident about it. Therefore, I delved further and then the script became about three children.
At first, it was three blind children, but that was not working well, so I re-worked on the characters. I finally came up with three children out of whom one couldn’t see, the second couldn’t talk and the third child couldn’t hear. However, even after that, I wasn’t convinced and that is when I introduced the climax of the film. It was then that the story took a concrete shape and become about three disabled children and their quest.
Usually writing comes easily to me, but for this particular film, I struggled a lot
Since it’s a period film, it must have involved extensive research. What went into it?
There is very little to no data available about the 1800s. So almost seven months of research was went into the film.
We have shown hospitals and so we had to research the Victorian styled hospitals that existed in India during that time. We researched if the hospitals were common or separate for Britishers and Indians and also the state of these hospitals at that time. Moreover, props played a crucial role as the scenes are set in the hospital. So be it the stethoscope, ink bottle or pen, and everything on the set had to be right. The costumes were also something that we extensively researched on. Another thing that was extremely important was the dialect, since the movie has a mix of Hindi and Gujarati.
The entire research process was very difficult because there is plenty of information available on the era post the 1900s and very little before that, so we really had to dig deep. I had a team that was dedicated to the research and we were looking for all kinds of information, from the clothes that were worn to the way that people spoke during that time. Though the research took a long time, it was strong and therefore, it took me just two days to shoot 1869. Had my research not been strong, I would have struggled with the movie and that would’ve been visible on screen.
Though the research took a long time, it was strong and therefore, it took me just two days to shoot 1869
You mentioned that this was your first experience with child artists. How was the process of working with them?
It was difficult but I really enjoyed it. All the three children – Abhishek Pathak, Kabir Sajid and Vedanth Dattani – are very bright. Since they had to play children that are disabled, they needed to learn and understand the body language. So we conducted workshops with them to help them understand their characters. My brief to Vedanth, who plays the blind child, was to have a slow body language. When you can’t see, you tend to move around slowly by feeling things around you. When it came to Kabir, who couldn’t speak, the brief was exactly opposite. His body language had to be energetic since he uses gestures to communicate. Also, during the 1800s, there was no definite sign language, so we had to work on that as well. Abhishek was playing a character that could not hear. So for someone who cannot hear, the accent would not be clear, so he had to talk slowly. We also worked on the chemistry between the three, which you can see in the movie.
What was the most challenging part of making this film?
I think one of the most challenging parts was the research as it had to be authentic and the second was directing the actors, particularly Raghubir (Yadav). His character did not have any big dialogues; he only had to react to what the children were saying. Having my main and most senior actor simply reacting to situations was like having Amitabh Bachchan just reacting and not doing anything. Getting the children to act was also tough because they were playing characters that were not even remotely like them and moreover, they belonged to another era. Therefore, to make them understand the characteristics was a challenge.
Having my main and most senior actor simply reacting to situations was like having Amitabh Bachchan just reacting and not doing anything
Where next do you plan to take 1869?
This film will soon be premiered at an international film festival; we are currently talking to the people. Post that we are targeting the Cannes, Berlin and Toronto film festivals. We are also planning to enter it for the National Awards. Let’s see how far it goes.