Whistling Woods alumnus Abhimanyu Kanodia’s holiday season film, Jangle Bells seems promising and full of good cheer. The film produced by Connect.1 was released across the brand’s YouTube, Facebook and Twitter platforms today.​ Replete with melodies from Monali Thakur and featuring the talented Namit Das, this is a film that’s perfect for the chilly weather and a cup of hot chocolate. Here’s what Abhimanyu has to say about his maiden professional venture.

Abhimanyu Kanodia

Abhimanyu Kanodia

How did the idea for the short film come about?

It’s quite an interesting story actually. I was on a trip accompanied by my singer friend, and he’d often be singing along the journey. Listening to him sing as we travelled made me realise how important and beautiful music was for us. That was when I decided to make something related to the human voice, to music. There is a magic in music that is uplifting and can instantly make anyone feel better if they’re feeling low. Based on this core concept, we then developed a screenplay around the two characters in Jangle Bells.

Is this your first film?

Actually, I’m a film graduate from Whistling Woods and just finished my course in July 2015. My diploma film called Kathakaar was with Piyush Mishra and did pretty well in the film festival circuit in India as well as internationally and won at Jagran Film Festival. I’ve also made a documentary on Chinese culture called Beyond the Tides but those were made when I was a student, so I’d consider Jangle Bells as my first professionally made venture.

How did you shortlist Monali Thakur and Namit Das for the film and what was working with them like? What were the briefs you gave them for their roles?

I personally feel that if you cast well, half the job is done, and it becomes very easy to tell the story well. They’re not exactly conventional actors, but they each are very distinct when it comes to their work and I admire both immensely. Namit’s work in Aankhon Dekhi and Wake Up Sid was fantastic, and I love how he portrays characters that are so easy to identify with, and not the generic ‘macho man’. He’s an ‘aam aadmi’ like any of us. Monali, of course, is a great singer and for this role, I wanted an actress who could sing so as to minimise dubbing. She also complements Namit’s characters very well, as a character who’s outgoing, cheerful and bubbly. I saw her in Kukunoor’s Lakshmi, and thought she’d fit the role well.

When I met Monali, I knew that she’d be able to channel Mitali. More than guiding her, it was just about communicating the character’s traits — which were pretty close to her natural self — and she took it from there. With Namit I did a few script readings because it needed him to get into the character and there was more of an emotional graph, but he too picked it up quickly after that.

Monali Thakur in a still from the film

Monali Thakur in a still from the film

What are some of the classic hit songs Monali is going to be singing, and how did you curate them? How creatively involved were you in the musical aspect of the film?

I created a list of songs that Monali’s character could sing, and thankfully, both the actors trusted me a lot. A lot of the list was old, melodious songs that my mother used to make me listen to (sometimes forcibly) as a child, which I only learnt how to appreciate much later. Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosale’s melodies are out of the world, and some of my favourites are ‘Chalte Chalte’ and ‘Ajeeb Dastan’. I also had to choose songs that Monali would be able to sing; ‘Sawaar Loon’ that she’s sung is of course a very melodious song, and I chose the rest of the songs accordingly.

So I shared the list of songs with them and fortunately, they really liked it, so there was really no debate or discussion after that.

What are your thoughts on the appeal of short films to this generation, and what is the future of shorts?

A lot of young people in Bangalore, Mumbai, Delhi and all over India are making more short films and there are many more festivals for these as well. Now, I think, what needs to be figured out is how to use these for commercial purposes. I think all the best short film creators should come together and plan for a release, so that everyone can benefit from them. Watching them on a big screen is a completely different experience.

What are your favorite Indian and international ‘holiday season’ films personally?

Most of them are around Christmas, of course, that being the holiday season. The first film that comes to mind is Home Alone, followed by It’s a Wonderful Life. Eyes Wide Shut by Stanley Kubrick is another great one, although of course it isn’t as feel good (laughs).

When it comes to Indian films, first of all, we have so many festivals all over the country. In India, we also don’t have a ‘holiday’ season, we have movies about vacations like Dil Chahta Hain and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, which are of course, completely different. Hopefully, more films will talk about the holiday season at the end of the year after Jangle Bells because it’s such an introspective period, where you think about what you’ve done in the past year, and what you hope to do in the next one. Sometimes we get really frustrated with the past year, but it’s okay — there’s always a next year to hope for, and that’s the message at the crux of Jangle Bells.

There are many people, especially those living by themselves in Bombay, who often feel depressed as they are by themselves during the holiday season, and I hope that this can bring some good cheer and positivity to them as well.

Namit Das

Namit Das

Tell us about your experience working on the film with Connect.1 and what were the challenges along the way?

I was at Whistling Woods for two years, which is also associated with Mukta Arts like Connect.1, so working with them was like working with family. There was a great comfort level and atmosphere on set with the cast and crew, and I was very confident that we would be able to work smoothly and focus on what was important. They also had a sort of confidence in me, that I’d be able to pull it off, so that was gratifying.

As for challenges, I feel like every film has its own challenges. For this film, there were a lot of subtle things that we worked on, such as the colour palette in the background which helped in changing the mood — from slightly faded, sombre colors which went on to brighten up over the course of the film. That was a real challenge, while maintaining continuity at the same time. Our concentration level had to be 100% at all time, even though it was something that the common man might not pick up on.

What do you hope the film will leave viewers feeling and what is the takeaway you hope viewers will be left with?

I want the viewers to feel really great about life, because that’s the point of being alive. I feel that sometimes we get so depressed, we lose sight of what we really want — especially with our generation, which is under so much pressure. We don’t have to look for happiness in specific places, they can happen at any small, random moment, and we need to live through the struggle for those moments, whenever they turn up unexpectedly. So stop looking so actively, and maybe you’ll find your Santa.