Honest Storytelling is What Matters to Me
Shaadi, Sex, Aur Parivaar, screened at PSBT’s Open Frame Film Festival and Forum, is borne out of the individualistic choices of women when it comes to marriage and the thoughts behind these life-changing decisions. The film is centered around four women’s thoughts on body image, sexuality, love and identity and what their perception of being empowered is. Also one of the four characters in the film, Aman Kaleem, talks about filmmaking and how it is essential for it to come from a place of honesty.
Tell us about your filmmaking journey till date.
I come from a very middle class family in Aligarh and pursued my higher education – my bachelors and masters in mass communication from Jamia – from Delhi. After two years of my masters, I found my calling in filmmaking. For half my life I thought I wanted to write, but after my masters I was convinced that I am better at telling stories in a very visual format and that’s how my interest in cinema started. I started watching a lot of films and that inspired me to go in that direction. Making films yourself takes a while and I was very aware of that when I graduated. I was 21 when I got the chance to be one of the programmers for the Goa Film Festival, where I had to select films for the world cinema section. It gave me a lot of exposure and learning time in terms of what is a good film and why should I include this film. From there onwards, I got selected for the Young India Fellowship, a yearlong liberal arts program where I was convinced that I have to start my own company, now Red Stone Films, that does visual content for a number of organizations. We’ve had a very prestigious clientele from Microsoft to the UN to WWF.
How did the idea for Shaadi, Sex, Aur Parivaar germinate?
I wanted to make an independent film about things that affect me and are close to me because I feel you can be more honest in your storytelling if you do that. All my friends were getting married and when you’re the only one not getting married, you tend to question the reason behind your decisions and what is influencing the decisions of the people who are taking this step. I pitched this idea to PSBT, it was well-received and that’s how I made the film.
How did you zero down on the characters and stories you wanted to include?
It is a 26 minute film – that was the format given to me – and I just wanted to do three characters then, not too many but also to include some diversity. What drew me to these characters were the choices that they made, who they fell in love with – it was a very political choice and these things were very important to me and formed the stories of the everyday life of a woman. I wanted to have interesting characters that reflect reality and that women can connect with. When you watch the film, you can connect with one woman with one point of time, another woman at another point of time – one character was not encompassing all that and that was the intention to include different, interesting and brave points of view, not only extreme ones. Because I come from UP, I am very familiar with the state and the characters are too from the state. I am a Muslim girl so I wanted to have that story as part of the film. I am the fourth character in the film.
How did you approach your interviews to get the three women to open up to you?
I did not meet any of the girls before the shoot and that was very purposely done. The way to make anybody in a conversation, especially the kind of conversations we had, is to also let yourself go and share your own experiences. I had deliberately kept a very small crew of two who were behind the camera so they could get candid. Our interviews would go on for very long and I had to edit a lot eventually.
What was the idea behind including your mother and your letter to her in the movie?
The reason I included my mother was because I wanted to have someone asking the questions – and a reason why I was asking the questions. It was a very difficult step to include myself because you also become equally vulnerable onscreen then and your life gets put out there. It was important too because as much as I wanted to tell their story, I also had to tell where I am coming from, what is my motivation behind asking these questions. Also, aesthetically and visually, it put the story together.
Tell us more about using animation in the film.
The first reason was that I was not allowed to shoot one of the girls directly, you will see that it has been done very differently – blurred shots, shots from behind the curtain. This also added a lot of texture to the film, it has brought out the film in certain ways and I didn’t look at it as a disadvantage. Therefore, I also needed more visual material. Animedoc is a very popular genre in the documentary segment and I thought it’d be very interesting to do that. The second reason was that the animator who I worked with is a really brilliant guy and I wanted to work with him and see how it comes across. Then when we got this character of the girl covered in the scarf and in black, I really liked the character and it brought a different visual element to the film.
Tell us more about Media for Change.
Media for Change was conceptualized and founded under Sanjeev Chatterjee as my Experiential Learning Module (ELM) when I was a Young India Fellow. It is a platform where filmmakers and storytellers come together to tell how a story just doesn’t change the world but also changed them. I think it was a brilliant idea and it also won the best ELM award that year. I am still very much a part of it today.
How do you approach filmmaking?
Picasso once said that you are only artist if somebody buys you. I do believe that as an artist you should create work that makes the society reflect but you should also have somebody who is ready to pay for your art. The idea of making a living out of making films was very clear in my head. That pushes you to learn new forms and technologies and pushes you tell stories that interest a certain people. You cannot tell stories that are just about a niche audience.
Second thing that really matters to me is telling an honest story. It is important for me to raise questions that concern our everyday life and choices and I don’t want to tell a story that comes from a space of dishonesty. My films are very much about the life I live as a Muslim woman in this country and the challenges I face. I cannot talk about something that is way out of my world.
What can we expect from you in the future?
I like interesting films that have something to say. They won’t all necessarily be about serious issues but films that people would want to see. That’s my expectation from myself. There is Angels of Stone, a fifty two minute documentary that did really well last year. I also want to do a series of films about marriage and love. I am going to make as many films as much as time and energy allows me.