We hope to play our part in reviving poetry in popular culture – Devanshu & Satyanshu Singh
From writing soulful poems in Vikramaditya Motwane’s Udaan to creating the novel concept of ‘Film Poem’, brothers Devanshu and Satyanshu Singh are reintroducing the magic of poetry amongst urban audiences. With their first film poem, Ishq Ki Ijaazat, the writers cum filmmakers expressed their endearing take on the highly controversial article 377 and the response to it was overwhelming. The duo who received the Special Jury Award at the National Film Awards for their short film Tamaash, recently released Parwaaz, their second film poem, which is all about ‘wanderlust’.
The Storytelling Twins (that’s their Youtube channel and very rightly so) speak to Pandolin about the birth of their film poems and what goes into creating these fine pieces of art.
Firstly, please could you throw light on what a ‘Film poem’ exactly is? Also why did you choose poems as a medium?
‘Film Poem’ is the name we gave to an idea that we had about developing something for online consumption. However, ‘Film Poem’ is not necessarily an original term so we won’t say we coined it but it does justice to the idea. We wanted to create 4-5 minute videos, much like music videos, but instead of having a song, it’d have a poem being recited. We love poetry and are learning film-making, so it was exciting for us to combine the two. Also, we had written the poems in ‘Udaan’ and so many people loved those poems. So it was time to revive that. It may be wishful thinking, but we hope that by doing this we play our part in reviving poetry in popular culture, to whatever extent possible. Comedy sketches, music videos, and short films etc. are available for the internet consumer in large numbers today. If poetry were available like that, we’re sure to have takers.
How did the concept of your first film poem, Ishq Ki Ijaazat take birth? And why did you choose article 377 as your inspiration?
We were definitely affected by the debate going on over article 377 and felt that the voice is very angry and lacks a reasoning that the homophobic world would listen to. We just felt like expressing our take on this without hurting anyone’s sentiments, and more importantly, presenting homosexuals as not only normal but also endearing people. The image of two boys bonding over a video game was the first thought that came to us. And that guided us. Also, we wanted our first film poem to be socially relevant and widely covered by the media, which actualy happened. So, it was a good pilot to the series.
Could you take us through the process of writing the lyrics of Ishq Ki Ijaazat?
Each poet must have his or her own process. In our case, it is mainly Satyanshu who writes the poems. The first task, after deciding the topic, is to find one line that defines the tone of the poem and guides us. It may take days to reach there. But once we get that one line, things become much easy and it is only a matter of sitting down and writing it. “Do ishq ki ijaazat, ilzaam ab hataa do” was that line for us. This line sets the tone of the poem as an assertive statement without being disrespectful and covers almost everything about the widespread disapproval for homosexual love. Once we got this line, Satyanshu sat to write, which is mainly an intuitive process that differs from poet to poet. It was very clear that we would like to cover different aspects of this, like transexuals, different sections of the society, closet homosexuals, that it has been prevalent since ages and should be accepted as normal, and most importantly, that it is someone’s right to love that we are violating by standing against it. Each stanza in the poem tried to cover one or more of these without breaking the tone.
In terms of the music, what was the brief to composer Mehar Chumble and what was the expertise that he brought to the table?
Mehar was our student when we taught at National College and is one of the most talented artists around. For our first two film poems, we discovered some reference tracks and shared those with Mehar, so that he could understand what we are trying to do. But the best part about working with him is that he will do something entirely different from our reference without actually going out of our brief. It is a long process and there is a lot of to and fro. The idea here again is to find a track that even in its preliminary stage gives you the feeling that we are going in the right direction. Then we work on that and build on that. Devanshu mainly works with Mehar on the music with Satyanshu being the bounceboard. And we are so proud of what Mehar has done.
How did you’ll zero in on Huma Qureshi to lend her voice to your words? Why a female voice specifically?
We always knew a female voice will suit the poem much more. The tone of the poem is assertive and cold, and a female voice naturally brings a certain tenderness to it. We always wanted to make it an endearing video and not an angry statement. Also, we knew having a celebrity on board would help the video reach out to many people. And we needed a celebrity whose diction of Hindi and Urdu is perfect, otherwise the entire point of the pleasure of poetry will be lost. Devanshu met Huma around the same time and she appeared to fit this role perfectly. Most importantly, when we shared it with her she really wanted to do it. Her enthusiasm and passion for this completely charged us up and we had a really enjoyable time during the dubbing. We must thank her for what she did for this little effort of ours, and thanks to her, the video did receive widespread media coverage.
With your second film poem, Parwaaz, recently released, please tell us the inspiration behind it?
‘Parwaaz’ is the Urdu word for ‘Udaan’. Satyanshu had written this poem immediately after reading the script of ‘Udaan’ way back in 2009 but the poem could not be used in the film. For our second film poem we decided to use this poem and shoot it with Rajat Barmecha, the lead actor from ‘Udaan’. It was a fun idea and Rajat is a friend so he agreed readily. Now, we were very sure that this poem will talk about wanderlust. To go with the spirit of the poem, we decided to shoot without a script. We had absolutely no idea what we were going to do when the four of us, including Sahir Raza, our DOP, left Delhi in Sahir’s car and reached Himachal. But it was seven days of fun. And the images found their way into the poem, almost so seamlessly that it’s difficult to believe that it was so unplanned. It was a tremendously enriching experience.
Who has composed the music for Parwaaz?
In the second film poem, Mehar worked with Ayush Arora – another young and talented musician, and the two did everything – from composing the music to producing it. The music is very different from that of the first film poem, going with the moody, abstract nature of it.
How crucial would you say is the choice of narrator for a concept like film poem? Who has narrated Parwaaz and how would you describe his/her contribution to the entire poem?
The choice of the narrator is extremely important because the literary and aural pleasure of the poem is to be communicated only through this voice. ‘Parwaaz’ has been recited by Chandan Roy Sanyal, who also is a dear friend, and extremely passionate about the arts. When we dubbed with him, he had to wait for two hours in the studio because it was not free but he didn’t complain even once. We were humbled by his dedication, despite having a very informal and amazing relation with him. Plus Chandan is very much like the spirit of this poem – he too is a wanderer. He immediately connected with it. It was an amazing session and his voice has given a new texture to the film poem.
What is the visual treatment employed for Parwaaz?
‘Parwaaz’ was shot without a script. We just kept roaming about the towns in Himachal in Sahir’s car. We definitely wanted the look to be very different from ‘Ishq ki Ijaazat’ and it shows. We were looking for human moments and visuals that could resonate with the idea of the poem, with the idea of an endless flight. Shooting in nature is always a great joy and we fell in love with Himachal. But we were very sure that on the edit table, the visuals have to be stitched together in a way that they do justice to the poem, and complement it. With every passing day of shoot, slowly but surely, the film started emerging before our eyes and then it was a pleasure to edit it.
Tell us about the ‘Qyuki’ platform and how did they come on board your projects? Did you’ll explore any other platforms as well?
We had already decided on making ‘Ishq ki Ijaazat’ on our own when our managers from Tulsea Talent introduced us to Qyuki. We already had the poetry recorded in Satyanshu’s voice with the reference music track and we shared it with Samir and Sagar at Qyuki. They loved it and instantaneously offered to fund and produce it for us. It was an incredible feeling – to be able to do what you want to, without spending a penny on it. They gave us complete control over the projects, and helped us promote the film poem in a way we could have hardly done on our own. We feel fortunate to have them as our partners in this. And after meeting them, we obviously do not want to look for any other platform.
What next lies in store for your film poems? Is this going to be a series of film poems? Do you’ll plan to take it to any other mediums – a television release maybe?
We really hope to come up with film poems as frequently as we can. Unfortunately, our other work-related commitments do not allow us much time for this. Also, these are 4-5 minute videos but they require a lot of our time. If you pay attention to just the subtitles, you will realise how much effort goes into it. But we really want to keep doing this and create a body of film poems. We are also very sure that these film poems will be as diverse as possible, not only in terms of genre and mood, but also accessibility. We are going to experiment with new forms and designs – the online media enables us to do so. And then, things may find their way into other mediums as well, including TV. Let us hope to keep creating what we believe in.
Watch the video of Parwaaz here:
To watch Ishq Ki Ijaazat visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jvC2NkxxSSs