People are making great short films in smaller places – Umesh Kulkarni
Our workshop also caters to people like architects, painters and MBA students who feel like they should do something in cinema
An FTII graduate, Umesh Kulkarni is known for his acclaimed Marathi movies like Vihir, Vaalu, Deeol and Highway. Not to mention, his short film Girni won a National Award in 2004. He is a writer, director, producer, short film-maker and a film teacher too. To teach young film aspirants the basics of cinema, his upcoming film workshop ‘Shoot a Short’ will be held in Mumbai from 7th to 10 January 2016.
Pandolin.com spoke to Umesh on the phone when he just completed his schedule in Pune for the movie he’s producing called Jaundya Na Balasaheb(Never Mind Balasaheb), which also happens to be the directorial debut of his long-time partner-in-crime Girish Kulkarni
Sometimes the kind of impact that a short film can make is more than the feature films.
Where did the idea of conducting short films workshops come about?
So, I studied in FTII and we were making short films of 5 mins, 2 mins, 20 mins as a part of our curriculum. Many of these short films got selected in the International film festivals. We got opportunity to visit these festivals because of our films and that’s when I realised the kind of films made outside India were quite amazing- the kind of experiments they were doing, the kind of films that were coming out. I went to a lot of festivals like Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival (France), Hamburg International Short Film Festival(Germany), Jeonju International Film Festival (South Korea) and saw that the potential that these movies have is quite unexplored in India. I realised that it’s such a powerful medium and it can be explored in a diverse way. It’s like a miniature painting or a short story; it’s a form in itself. Sometimes the kind of impact that a short film can make is more than the feature films. I thought I will continue to keep making short films, even when I start making feature films.
When people started making short films using more and more of digital equipment, I was eager and happy that lot of great short films will be made. But that was not the case, because when you saw those short films in India, we realised it’s not enough just to have the camera. It’s important to know what is the language of cinema. Lot of young students and films enthusiasts used to come to me almost for 2-3 years, people who have made a short film and wanted to show it or people who have an idea and wanted some kind of guidance on how to make that idea into a film. Initially, I used to meet and explain, but later I realised it’s completely impossible to explain it in 2 hours. Kuch bhi batane ke liye bhi it will take me 3-4 days. So that’s where the idea of ‘Shoot a Short’ workshop emerged from.
When I was making short films myself, I was trying to figure out a way that this form becomes more popular, more seen and people know about this form. So, we started a short film club in Poona in 2012 where we used to curate short films. So, I wanted to sensitise audience to this form of short film, because no one is reading today; I don’t want to say no one is reading but cinema is today’s medium and we really can explore things which can be a way of expression of today’s youth. I also wanted my friends to see the great short films I saw outside India and I also wanted to connect with the short film makers in India.
What kind of education does one get in these workshops?
It’s a workshop for those who want to make a short film and don’t know how exactly to go about it or it is for those who have made 1-2 short films and realised it’s not actually what they thought of making. It’s really for all those people who are aspiring to make different stories through the medium of short films. We are trying to talk about the basics of cinema as a language, then the idea of short films, its offers and possibilities. We are also going to touch upon fundamentals of short film making, scripting, stages of preproduction, what is a short, editing, sound design; basically; from an idea to a film.
This workshop is not only for people who see filmmaking as a fulltime profession. It’s also for people like architects, painters and MBA students, who really feel like they should do something in cinema and they don’t want to do a 3-4 months course or an FTII course.
Even a smaller city like Nashik has a short film festival.
You’ve made quite a lot of short films yourself including your National Award winning film Girni (2004). How have things changed for short film making since then?
There is a tremendous change that I have observed. One is that the equipments are accessible. The whole democratisation of the medium is a very encouraging thing. If you have a 5D camera, if you have people interested in making a short film, all can come together and make it. The other change I saw is that I can slowly see different voices coming from different areas of India and it’s not limited to cities and metro-cities. People are making great short films in smaller places. In a way, we can see a lot of dialects are coming in, new experiences are coming in. Also, I have seen my friends who are not in cinema who have expressed themselves by the medium of short films, which is also a very encouraging thing, otherwise these stories would have never come out.
Another thing is, previously, when I used to go to festivals, there used to be 1-2 films and that scene is also changing a lot. The kind of support that some countries in the west get to make short films, we don’t have that kind of support. We just have agencies that produce short films. The other change I have seen is there are ample of short film festivals. Even a city like Pune has 8-10 short film festivals, then there is Kerala Festival, and MIFF used to be there for a long time. Even a smaller city like Nashik has a short film festival. So makers are getting to know what exactly is happening when they are screening their films which was very difficult earlier. There were no places or films where you could screen the films.
Apart from screening, the viewing has increased so much. You can put your short film on internet and it is open for the world to watch it. A short film like Ahalya has got thousands and lakhs of views. It’s a great thing for a short film as earlier it was quite difficult. Also, for the last 4-5 years, we are trying to persuade the channels to show the short films and some channels are thinking about putting short films as a program.
Right now, it will be an overstatement to say that you can make short film and sustain yourself. But, if the form gets established in our country when our people would really like to pay some money when they go to a site to watch a short film or when people go to a short film festival or when channels would really like to buy the content. Like, in France and Germany, channels do show short films and they do pay the producers. We need to really wait, struggle and make short films which will definitely compel to showcase them and pay money to the short film makers. It will take some time but it needs good content, that’s the key thing. But as there is no commercial element to the whole short film making, people know that they can experiment and go all out. That’s not the way to earn their money. So sometimes I think of it as a positive thing. When you know that it is a form to understand life, understand yourself and you look at it more as an expression and not as a commercial activity, that gives you a lot of possibility.
In a way, whatever we make, our influences, our personality and our being do come in the picture.
Rangaart productions will be producing one short film after the workshop. What will be the criteria for the selection? Will it be more technical i.e. looking at what learnings have the makers taken back from the workshop or will it be idea-story based?
The criteria of the selection will be pitching. Whoever comes to the workshop will have to write a script and present it at the pitching session and they will have to convince the panel why they want to make the film. We also see whether they can make the film because they have thought about making the film in all aspects, and that’s the kind of criteria we are looking at.
You’ve made acclaimed movies like Vihir, Vaalu, Deeol and are an FTII alumni, the kind of films anyone makes has imprints of life that one has seen while growing up. According to you doesn’t it limit the potential of a director/writer? Shouldn’t films be made by keeping influences aside?
In a way, whatever we make, our influences, our personality and our being do come in the picture. It also depends on each kind of artist, what exactly one is trying to explore. Some artists try to understand themselves and their society, or the relationship between the society and the individual through their medium of art. Some people are trying to understand the philosophy of life. Some people are making art so that they can make money. And some do so that they have other things to explore, they have a passion about something or as a social cause. It depends on where one wants to get at.
Before making a film, there are lots of ideas you want to express, you don’t know why you want to express them. You are also curious what will happen in this process. So many of my films are my personal films but they are not completely based on my own life. We are of course fictionalising it. They are not completely my stories. I like to understand things that are around me, the nature, people. So, that’s my way of understanding life. I always thought we will try to create new stories, or challenge existing ones, but whatever we do, we will try to create it from our own experiences. I don’t know if it is right or wrong or how it should be.
Even in our workshop, we are not claiming that this is the way of making a film. Because I am making films from several years and also making short films, so I would like to tell them that this is also one of the ways which one can listen to or explore. Students who come to the workshop also should find their own way to look at films.
In your films, characters have a relationship with their surrounding almost like they will have with a real person. Is it something that you do with a motive or is it because it’s a village and people don’t have access to urban recreations like mobile phone, cars etc.
Perhaps you haven’t seen my last film ‘Highway’, because it has lots of cars (laughs). As a human being you want to establish relationship with your surrounding which includes nature, human beings, society, universe and you are trying to find different ways to do that. That’s what my search is all about. So automatically people who become characters are also connected to the things around them. It also has a lot to do with my creative partner Girish Kulkarni- his visions and his life. The characters are created because we want to see and interact with different people. I also travel and like to know and talk to different kind of people. So it’s an extension of my desires invariably.
What I am actually seeking is to know what I’m seeking. And what I’m hiding is I want to know why I am hiding it.
Is it a boon or a bane that directors get slotted to a particular style thereby leaving them slim chance of erratic experimentation?
You can always see that how people tag you because once you make Vaalu, people will ask you when are you making Vaalu 2. Then if you make Vihir, then they feel disappointed. Then some people who like Vihir; will ask you when are you making Vihir again. And where there is a film like Highway, all of them like it or all of them don’t like it. So it depends on the filmmaker. No one can actually put a tag on you and then you have to behave exactly like that. We have to experience the freedom of what we want to do and how we want to do. As soon as some kind of comfort zone is created, I try to break it. I don’t know how successful I am in breaking those things but I definitely try.
We don’t have stars in Marathi, we have good actors and well-known actors.
The space of Marathi cinema is gradually gaining foothold plus multiplexiation is on full steam. How do you see the two co-exist? Because, people often go to see ‘popcorn cinema’ in a multiplex.
It’s not true that Marathi movies always have rural settings. Like Sachin Kundalkar films, they are always very urban, then there are films based in Bombay. Even Double Seat which was a hit film last year was a Bombay film. So there is definitely the beginning of a new wave which we have to acknowledge at this point of time. I am not saying we have arrived but it’s definitely a good beginning. It’s a good space to be in Marathi films right now because you can make the film that you want to make. Good actors are ready to act in films of young filmmakers who have different ideas. You can get a producer here if you have a good script.
You also have a possibility to release these films once they are made. That’s what I am calling a better space or an environment. And then there are films like Killa, Court, Fandry, Khwada. So there are different kind of films which are being made, some of them don’t have any stars. We don’t have stars in Marathi, we have good actors and well-known actors. So people are watching these films in theatre. Of course, it’s not easy. We are making 100 films but not all hundred films are getting that kind of audience.
There are very few films which are actually getting an audience because all Maharashtrians audience understand and follow Hindi, so there is a big conflict which we keep facing all the time that we need more slots, more space to screen our films. But still, I see a positive sign. The budgets are increasing; we have better resources now than what we used to have when we started. So as a whole, we are in a better space but we have to work on our distribution and we have to sustain this enthusiasm by making good cinema.
Tell us something about the recent movies you have seen and you have enjoyed watching.
I really enjoyed watching Khwada, Bridge of Spies, Margarita with a Straw, Kaul(Marathi), Chauthi Koot. I also saw a documentary from Joshua Oppenheimer called ‘The Look of Silence’ which I really enjoyed.
Which movie for you was the best movie of 2015?
I think Chauthi Koot.
There is a line from your movie Vihir– The one who’s seeking believes that everyone is hiding. So if you don’t hide, he won’t find you even if he sees you… So, what are you seeking in future and what will you be hiding?
That’s a tricky question… What I am actually seeking is to know what I’m seeking. And what I’m hiding is I want to know why I am hiding it.
Any upcoming projects you’d want to talk about
We are producing two films. One is Jaundya Na Balasaheb(Never Mind Balasaheb) which is the directorial debut of Girish Kulkarni. We are also producing another one which we are yet to announce.