The objective was to make a film that will entertain my audience
On the morning of July 20, an eponymous Youtube Account by the name of LargeShortFilms dropped a short film. As literal as that account name was the movie – a short film comprising some of Indian cinema’s most exciting names. Helmed by Kahaani’s Sujoy Ghosh and featuring the legendary Soumitra Chatterjee along with the most impressionable actor on the block Radhika Apte, the movie Ahalya is a modern retelling of a mythological epic.
As of now, the movie has locked in over 4 million views. Not only does the movie further the industry’s new found interest in the short film genre, but it also establishes a much needed feminist retake on the originally regressive tale. But beyond the tale, it is Sujoy Ghosh’s expert handling of the narrative, and the genre that has received widespread applause. In what is a first, the movie released on YouTube and went on to be reviewed by outlets, as genuinely, as a feature length movie.
Pandolin got talking to Sujoy Ghosh about the film and more.
When did the idea of retelling the story of Ahalya come by?
It was a story that stayed with me. And I felt this had the right ingredients for a short film. A film, mind you, something which had a beginning, a middle and an end. Plus the scope to leave some questions unanswered.
Was it always conceived as a short film, or was it ever discussed to be a full length feature?
No no. It was always a short film. I doubt if this can be stretched into a full length feature.
The reception that came Ahalya’s way was great. It clocked in over 4 million views. Do you feel language is not a barrier anymore?
Absolutely not. Actually that barrier was gone long back but someone just needed to reaffirm that. Ahalya did just that. Do we not watch foreign films with subtitles? Even in the cinema halls you see English films with subtitles burnt in. So as long as we can read and watch, language is not a barrier.
The retelling of the epic story is empowering in nature where the blame shifts on to the men who are at fault. Was that something you were striving to correct?
Yes and no. The primary objective was to make a film that will be entertaining for my audience. Then post that if you hear what I am trying to say.. then it’s an added bonus for me.
How did you convince the legendary Soumitra Chatterjee for a short film, one that has him essaying the role of a young girl’s husband, and saying that eyebrow raising ‘I’m not good in bed’ line?
He is a fearless artiste. He is very clear that he is not Soumitra Chatterjee in a film but the character. And whatever the character is required to do, he will do. It’s an incredible thought process from which we should all imbibe.
Many people were quick to bring up Ray’s Professor Shonku and the Strange Doll story. What do you have to say about that?
There have been 21 accusations of various sources and each has accused me with equal conviction. Now I need to decide who to go with. But in all seriousness, it was never written with any of those in mind. If anything, there was a little concept of Medusa in Ahalya. But just a thought.
Was Radhika Apte the obvious choice to play the role of Ahalya?
Obvious? No. Correct? Yes. First and foremost I needed an actress who would speak with her eyes. Then someone who you would never ever imagine as an innocent seductress. Apte was apt on both counts and she really liked the script. Bas, ho gaya!
Was Youtube always the intended medium of the film’s release?
Yes. That is the only window with reach.
The movie watching experience has shifted from the theatre to the mobile phone. For a short film, what were the technical differences in the production aspect that you had to keep in mind?
You need to bear in mind your sound design and your camera lensing. At least that’s what we did but I am sure with time as we progress we will find new things.
It’s very interesting how the first names of all the three characters are kept similar to the actual story. I also noticed how thematically, the first half was much lighter than the second, post the reveal of the suspense. Was that intentional?
Yes, the names were. Because I cannot take it for granted that everyone knows the story. This is my way of hoping that should you find a connect, you can go back and check. But primarily the story should work on it’s own without any reference.
Now, there was no monetary gain from the movie, but short films are gaining traction for their taut screenplays. Would you ever conceive a short film that could be attached before a full length feature during the latter’s release?
No, that may hamper the viewing of a film. I would love to do a short film but not sure if it should be attached to another film, which maybe of a different genre. Unless one is doing it like Pixar where you attach an animated short before another animation film. So the world is the same for the audience.
Do you see short films becoming a viably sufficient industry? How can filmmakers actually make it monetarily rewarding?
Well, I am hoping so. That’s the plan. That’s how smaller cinema or regional cinema can look forward to a bigger audience. All cinema will truly become global.
Will Ahalya be travelling to awards and festivals?
Not sure. We never thought of that. But let’s see.
If you had to summarize 5 main differences between making shorts and making full length features, what would they be?
1. The script
2. The script
3. The script
4. The script
5. The script