Sisak is a silent revolution – Faraz Ansari
He has directed Sisak, India’s first silent LGBTQ short film. He doesn’t want to stop here and aims at directing a feature length film voicing concerns about the community. Because filmmaker Faraz Ansari feels that Bollywood, at large, has been very unkind to the portrayal of homosexuals. The community has been stereotyped as effeminate, criminals, wife-snatchers, depressed loners, sex maniacs and what not. Faraz who has worked on projects like Stanley ka Dabba and Gippi, looks at Sisak as his gateway to directing Ravivar – a feature length film with a homosexual protagonist. He dreams of casting Ranbir Kapoor as its protagonist. Such aspirations, his style of filmmaking and the journey of Sisak were discussed at length in a chat with Faraz. Here are excerpts.
From where did the idea of this film take birth? What is the story behind the title ‘Sisak’?
In 2013, I finished this film called Gippi with Karan Johar. Post that, I wanted a small break from films so I directed a play called ‘The Lion King’ in Nainital. After I finished that play, I had time to invest in writing. So, I wrote my first feature film script called Ravivar, a socio-politicial satire, which has a homosexual protagonist. I wrote that film and then went around every production house to pitch it. They all read it and loved it. But the bottom line would be, ”Oh, we love this script but we can’t back it because it has a homosexual protagonist”. I went into depression after that. I had invested six months in writing the script and here I was, getting rejected from all corners. I spent an entire year trying to pitch it to production houses. The processes in the Indian film industry are extremely slow. People take months to get back to screenplays even after reading them. In that phase of depression, I started traveling a lot in the Mumbai local trains. Without any motivation, I would wake up and take a local to Churchgate and keep traveling back and forth listening to music or reading a book. I just wanted to get disconnected.
The first few days just went by without anything major happening. But very soon I started noticing stories around me. These were not the ‘Veer Zara’ kind of stories but they were real stories about real people. I remember there was a guy who used to board the train from Marine Lines station and another guy who boarded from Mumbai Central station. They both used to sit and share their earphones to listen to the same music. Throughout their journey, they never spoke to each other but still, there was a sense of proximity between them. These were unspoken, undiluted and unadulterated relations between two men. And that excited me as a filmmaker. The basic plot of Sisak is two men meeting in a Mumbai local and falling in love.
The film is called Sisak because when I first narrated the story to my mother, her first reaction was that this film is the word “Sisak”. I too realized that the title was quite fitting to what I had written.
How difficult was it to shoot the film considering that you were shooting in public transport?
As you know, in our country there is no money for films. On top of that, if you are making a short film that’s set in a Mumbai local train, then you must be prepared to face the fact that there is going to be huge amount of money involved. The rent for shooting in a Mumbai local is about three lakh for an eight hour shift. That was huge for me! Plus, I had a lot of movement planned in the shots, which required the compartment to be empty. My DoP’s biggest concern was shooting the film without permission. So, we came with a better solution to the problem. We decided to shoot the film in the night in guerilla style.
Our shooting shift would be between 10:00 pm to 12:30 am over a period of three nights. We had planned that if the cops came, we would all disperse in different directions. Thankfully, this part of the plan didn’t have to be implemented. Every day, before boarding the train from Andheri, we would do a board meeting of sorts where all our signaling codes were decided. For us, the code words for a cop were ‘Samosa’ and ‘Lollypop’. My AD’s, actors and producers would stand on the gates of the train to keep an eye on the cops. In front of the camera, we were making an emotional film but behind the camera it was mad fun.
How did you go about casting the two characters? Was it difficult due to the nature of the film?
I did face problems when it came to casting. I tested around seventy actors. A lot of people were apprehensive because of the subject of the film. They did not want to work because they thought that playing a homosexual character at this point of their career wouldn’t be a great idea. There is a misconception that if you play a homosexual, it gets extremely difficult to be cast in other bigger projects.
My audition style was unique. I would just give the actors a book to read. The last thing I wanted them to do was to act as if they were reading. The brief was simple, just read the book! This is the toughest thing for an actor to do. Actors get used to getting scripts for audition and they are always expected to perform. I was concentrating on their real self rather than performance. The audition footage is hilarious. There were some people who were acting as if they were reading the book. Adding to that was the fact that I had never done casting for a silent film. So, for me also, it was getting increasingly difficult.
I realized that I needed to do a workshop with the actors. That was the time when I saw a short film which featured Dhruv (The protagonist of Sisak). He played a depressed writer in the film. It was an okay film but Dhruv’s performance struck me. I immediately wrote to him asking whether it’d be possible for him to audition. When I met him personally, I saw a unique character trait in him as he spoke very little and used his eyes a lot to express. He was very raw as well. The other guy Jitin Gulati is a friend. He wrote to me asking if he could audition. I auditioned him and he just nailed it. The film is about strangers. As a director, I love actors who can surrender. I made my actors meet each other just a day before the shoot. It worked in favour of the film.
Why did you decide to make a silent film? Did it not make things difficult for the performers?
My biggest realization after making this film was that making a silent film is very difficult. When I went to film school, the first scene that I was supposed to direct was a dialogue sequence. That is basic. No film school teaches you to make a silent film. Yes, we did have exercises, but those were two minute montage sequences. Nobody teaches you to make a twenty minute silent film about love.
I don’t know if I will ever make a silent film again as it was extremely difficult to control the urge. There were times when in the middle of a take, I wanted to ask my actors to just speak a word. Having said that, this whole experience has made me realize the strength of silence. You have to push your actors to emote five lines in one shot. Adding to that was the fact that we were shooting without permissions. This meant no scope for retakes. Most of the shots that you see in the film were the first takes rolled. We did not have the budget to hire camera for a fourth day of the shoot. At times, dialogues cover up bad acting and poor direction. But here I did not have that backup mechanism as well (Laughs). Jokes apart, I feel that silence is the loudest! It has an inherent quality of consciously involving audiences.
Who are the other people who were part of this film. Also, was it challenging to get producers for the film, again, because of its subject?
First thing in my mind after writing the script was that I needed money. In my mind, I had a budget of 40 thousand for the film. I did a film called Silvat for Zeal for Unity. That film was directed by Tanuja Chandra and the producer was Aparna Sud, the production designer of Neerja. I read Sisak to Aparna and she asked me how much I needed to make this film. I told her that I am putting 40 thousand of my own, but if I had 20 thousand more, then I would be really comfortable and we would all have food to eat. She gave me 25 thousand and strictly told me to feed everyone. That’s how Aparna came on board.
My DOP Saurabh Goswami has worked on some of the major projects in Bollywood. Saurabh’s aesthetic sense is very close to mine, which is a little left of centre. Saurabh had shot my first short film called Siberia. In my mind, I had no other person to shoot my film but Saurabh. He is very good with handhelds and preempts the emotions. He understands the nuances so well. I sent the script to him. He loved it and agreed to work on it.
Pritam Das did the sound for this film. He’s one of the most astute artists when it comes to designing sound. I approached him and he said there is so much to do in your film as there is no dialogue. But I convinced him.
Lastly, my AD’s have assisted me on television shows and they wanted to work with me again, so they hopped on.
What makes this film different from the other films or web series being produced in the same genre?
Most LGBTQI+ films are stories of coming out, of tragic refusals by parents of their children, of gay bashing, of honor killings, of all these tragedies. While all of this stands true, and films should be made about it because the world needs to know, my film is way different because it is about love. What is this whole fight about section 377? It is about love. What is this whole revolution and all these pride marches about? It’s about acceptance. How will acceptance come? The answer is love. And that’s what Sisak is about. Yes, silent because the law has taken away the rights of same-sex people to love. Yes, no physical intimacy because then, they will be criminals. But how can any goddamn law take away the right from two humans to love? No law can do that. Its inhumane, just like section 377, just like parents who won’t accept their children, just like the society that won’t accept such a massive minority because they love people of the same gender. That’s why, Sisak is a silent revolution. It gives you a closer look at two individuals who want to love each other, want to be together, but how can they? We will make them criminals if they do so, banish them, cut them off from the society.
Sisak shows you how love happens, silently. Without words, without any physical intimacy, no monologues, no speeches of acceptance, no patronizing the audience to understand a homosexual better but only showing the audience, how fragile the two of them are, like the rest of us and how they long to love, like the rest of us. That is what sets Sisak apart from other LGBTQI+ films, web series & shorts.
What are your filmmaking aspirations?
My first feature film is called Lottery. It’s about a couple in their 50’s. It’s a film about loneliness and freedom that everyone seeks after marriage. It’s a very off-centre concept. The next film that I want to make is Ravivar. I am also writing a rom-com, a super hero film and a psychological thriller. These are the five films that I am simultaneously working on. Hopefully, in the coming year I will start shooting my first feature film. We have just got a producer on board. We are now approaching casting directors for that film.
I want to make all sorts of films that have the capacity to touch and transform lives. Filmmaking is a massive responsibility, which I have realized after making Sisak. I am flooded with messages from people across the globe who have just watched the teaser. People are coming out to me. Suddenly I have become a crusader of the community by just making this short film. As a filmmaker, everything that you are going to show is going to echo from the universe. You have to be Batman, Spiderman and Superman, all in one.
I want to cast Ranbir Kapoor as the lead in Ravivar. Recently, he said in an interview that he is open to playing a homosexual character. I look at it as a sign from the universe.
After films, some day, I want to direct musicals for Broadway. I want to direct an American show starring Lena Dunham, Mindy Kaling, Brooke Elliott and Miranda Hart. And someday I want to direct a massive commercial for Chanel.