Anmol Karnik

Anmol Karnik

[dropcap]”O[/dropcap]ne of the biggest challenges we had was to make the film look real, instigate emotions and drive people into making Maya’s story believable within the realm of fiction storytelling,” says director Anmol Karnik. His short film, Maya, that revolves around post-rape trauma has been selected for the ‘Short Film Corner’ at the prestigious 66th Cannes Film Festival.

The talented filmmaker brings with him a bank of knowledge, technical expertise and thoughtful insight which are a prerequisite for a good film, big or small. In a tete-a-tete with Pandolin, Anmol shares the treatment of this sensitive topic, the approach adopted by the team, the processes involved and the future of ‘Maya’. Most importantly he reveals how a good film does not need a huge budget but methodical planning and sincere efforts.

Tell us a little about yourself. Have you had any formal training in filmmaking?

Movies, drama and music have been of keen interest to me since I was a child. In high school, my friends and I formed a band and we played a few shows in Mumbai. During that time, along with junior college, I began training on advertising films under ad filmmaker Johnny Pinto. I realized that movies were something I wanted to do for the rest of my life and since I had no real connections in India, I left for the US where I completed my undergraduate studies in film production in Los Angeles. In LA, I interned with Warner Bros. Television, California Film Commission and edited films for Oscar Nominated short filmmaker Gregg Helvey and Cannes competition nominee Mason Richards. In 2011, I moved to England and later completed my post graduate degree in the Creative Economy and worked with as an assistant camera operator and in the logistics team of the 2012 London Olympics.

How did the story of ‘Maya’ come into being? What was the essential purpose for making this film?

I returned to India in December  2012 and during that time, the brutal Delhi gang-rape took place. People began talking about rape, analyzing, questioning and trying to understand the very nature of rape. So we felt it was the right time to make a film where we would have rape as the backdrop but post-rape trauma and triumph in the foreground.

A scene from 'Maya'

Saloni Choujar plays ‘Maya’

Why did you choose a sensitive topic like rape for your short film? Was the process emotionally draining in any way?

Rape is something that happens all over the world. It isn’t a local subject but it is also a very sensitive one. This is why we chose not to focus on the act of ‘rape’ but rather post-rape trauma. We felt this could add layers of emotions and people would be able to connect with it at a deeper level. I watched a lot of movies on YouTube that focused on how a person or group got together to rape an innocent girl and I felt that was done to death so we chose a different direction for our story.

Considering the gravity of the topic, what is the treatment you have adopted for the film? Though you have shown the insensitivity of the law, you’ll haven’t delved much into that?

We weren’t trying to question if the law is weak or strong; ultimately it boils down to people and in the case of this movie, the police officer wasn’t a good person. Through him, the law turns out to be negative as well. However, by the end of the film, Maya gets justice and the police put the rapist in jail. The main question we wanted to put forth is whether the law is made to protect the innocent or to punish the guilty.

[pullquote_left]I was looking for something with great contrast, where the blacks and whites are at two ends of the spectrum. We used a blue palette that gave us an unearthly feel but kept the realism looking intact.[/pullquote_left]

Please tell us a little about the team involved in the filmmaking process? How did you’ll come together?

In essence, it was a three people team. Saloni Choujar, the lead actress; Sanjeel Malik, the lead actor who was also the co-writer and editor and I, the director, DoP and the one who plays the rapist. We’ve been friends since childhood and currently work for different production houses in Mumbai. We decided that we wanted to do something of our own and that’s when we talked about making a short film based around rape and ‘Maya’ evolved. The music was composed by Los Angeles based composer Peace Nistades and the sound editing was done by Akash Chopra at Studio5.

The rehearsal process

The rehearsal process

What was the preparation & rehearsal process for the actors like?

Saloni, who plays Maya researched what rape victims feel after being in an incident. She spoke to therapists about the effects of rape and through that, she built her character and her world. Sanjeel on the other hand, who plays Ishaan took notes from the screenplay and constructed a diary of his character prior to his sister, Maya, being raped. This helped him understand and relate to her in a better manner and eased out any miscommunications or conflicts on set. We handled Arjun Dutt’s (who plays the police officer) preparation a little differently. Arjun and I went to a police station and sat in the waiting area for a short time. We observed how the police talk, react to situations and took note of their mannerisms and traits. We decided to work on the character and improvise the dialogues on set to give it a more natural approach.

How did you get into the skin of the rapist’s character?

Since it was a montage sequence, playing the rapist was based more on reactions than dialogues. Unlike most conventional rapists in Indian movies, I didn’t want to show a person who enjoys and laughs while raping a woman. I built the character as a person who has been through childhood trauma and has been deprived of progressing in his career and life. He has been brought down by people close to him and so later, he unleashes his anger and lust onto an innocent girl. On the other hand, he cannot show any of these emotions because he’s trying to lure the girl into meeting him in private. There is an underline tension in his mind, one of being sly, shady but confident in his nasty endeavor.
Who is the cinematographer on the film? What was the essential brief followed?

I was the director of photography with Sanjeel Malik doing additional photography. I was looking for something with great contrast, where the blacks and whites are at two ends of the spectrum. We used a blue palette that gave us an unearthly feel but kept the realism looking intact. We crushed most of the colors in the film and gradually, as the film progresses the colors return. By the last shot of the film, the saturation was brought up to the regular standard. We’re trying to give the viewer a sense of how a rape victim’s world could be and how after she finds courage and dignity to face people and society, the colors are brought back in her life.

What format has the film been shot on? Where have you shot the film?

The film was shot on full HD through a Sony digital camera. It was edited on Adobe Premier with sound design done on Logic and Soundtrack Pro. We used After Effects for color balance and final touches.

The film was shot in Mumbai. The indoor scenes were filmed at my apartment and the outdoor scenes were shot in Lokhandwala and Yari Road. It was a planned guerrilla style of filming; we had no permissions or paperwork. In fact, we were once stopped by the police and had to pay a fine for filming.

The closing shot

The closing shot

What was the kind of budget you had to make ‘Maya’? How did you source the funds?

Maya was what we in the industry consider to be a ‘zero budget venture.’ We borrowed the camera, asked friends to be extras and did anything we could do to minimize costs. We knew this wasn’t a commercial venture so it was decided that we would spend the least we could on making the movie. The composer was kind enough to make the end track of the film for free and the sound editor lent us his services and studio free of charge.

How did the journey to Cannes happen?

Cannes was something unexpected. During the process of filming and editing we never realized the potential of what we were making. We thought it’d be a nice YouTube project and something we could all add to our reels but as we started showing the film to viewers, people said that it created a major emotional impact. I researched through the list of festivals and Cannes was one of them taking place, so we took a chance and sent the film. We were ecstatic to get selected for the Cannes Short Film Corner and it’s been a great boost for our film here in India as well.

[pullquote_left]Maya was what we in the industry consider to be a ‘zero budget venture.’ We borrowed the camera, asked friends to be extras and did anything we could do to minimize costs.[/pullquote_left]

Where there any challenges experienced during the filmmaking process?
Having a tight budget, a lot of challenges arise. One of the biggest challenges we had was to make the film look real, to instigate emotions and drive people into making Maya’s story believable within the realm of fiction storytelling.  One example would be the police station scene that was shot in a friend’s apartment. I had decided to only shoot close ups of the police inspector and Maya and have light coming from a little above eye level, dropping shadows under their eyes, nose and chin. This would draw the audience in and make them believe that we are at a police station (aside the obvious part of the police inspector wearing a uniform) although we show no props, no wide shots or no exteriors.

Have you or are you sending the short to any other international film festivals? Which ones?

In addition to the Cannes Film Festival, we’ve sent the film to the London Indian Film Festival, Jaipur International Film Festival, Mumbai Women’s International Film Festival and International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala. We’ve also been invited to show the film at various film clubs around Mumbai and we’re currently in talks with the concerned people.

Any more upcoming short films in the pipeline?

Yes, I’ve finished writing the script of a short film called “Chor Paani” which is a Buster Keaton, Max Linder style comedy. It’s a silent, black and white love story with the water crises of Maharashtra as the backdrop. We start filming soon and it should be complete by mid May this year.



Production Company: Evolution Pictures

Film Title: Māyā

Running Time: 14 minutes

Production Year: March 2013

Genre: Drama

Synopsis: After befriending a neighbor a young girl decides to go out for a movie and drinks with him. However, she wakes up bruised and wounded on an empty street. This is the story of Maya who goes through a traumatic experience after being raped but finds courage, support and love to smile once again.


Watch the complete film here: