‘Skin Deep’ explores a subject that has never been discussed
After winning accolades at several sort film festivals, Hardik Mehta’s short film, Skin Deep, one of the stories of Chaar Cutting, will be shown on the big screen across six cities soon. In an exclusive chat we speak to Vikramaditya Motwane’s young assistant about his experience putting together his short film.
How did you get down to make this short film?
After Lootera (Hardik assisted on Vikramaditya Motwane on it), I showed my feature film idea to Vikram and he liked it. So, he told me to make a short film. But the contemporary short film scripts don’t appeal to me. He told me not to be so picky and just make a short film. In fact he offered me his own script, Skin Deep. I felt it had a quirky conflict at its core of a guy who has to undergo circumcision before getting married to his girlfriend. The subject is completely unheard of. When I made Skin Deep I was only two films old so I don’t know if I have done justice to his script. And I have made it the way I interpreted it. Skin Deep is his story and screenplay, and I have written the dialogues.
Does that mean you have altered the script to suit your vision of the film?
No, there were no major changes. I only changed the milieu and lead male character’s age as I felt it would go well with what I had in mine. Vikram’s original script had a 45-year-old virgin, who is desperate to lose his virginity. I found that typical and film festival kind of zone. Whenever I thought of making a short film I always wanted it to be a love story. So, I thought of making the story about a couple in late twenties, which is not the way Vikram had envisioned Skin Deep. But he gave me complete liberty to make it my way.
Another reason for changing the male character was that I wanted to cast Naveen (Kasturia) in my film. Naveen and I have been friends even before Skin Deep. I have watched him go through the struggle of going to auditions, etc. I just felt he was natural for this role.
That means Naveen Kasturia was the original choice for the male lead, what about Aditi Vasudev for the girlfriend’s role?
I met Aditi when I had gone to meet Naveen. Both were returning from the shoot of Amit Masurkar’s Sulemani Keeda. When I saw their interaction I felt I could cast them as a couple. I told Naveen to ask Aditi if she would be open to do a short film. Because she had done Talaash and Do Dooni Char I was apprehensive of approaching her. Naveen spoke to her and told me that Aditi doesn’t mind doing a short film, but she wanted to read the script. I was more than happy to give it to her.
In India, circumcision is not an openly discussed topic. What was your family and friends’ reaction to the story of Skin Deep?
My wife (Akanksha Tewari) was pretty cool about it and happy that Vikram gave me the script. I showed my parents a rough version of the film. They didn’t react. They are coming back to Bombay and I plan to show it to them again. The only time it was slightly awkward was while shooting the circumcision operation scene in the film. When I checked out the operation process on YouTube I was groused out. I knew I can’t shoot it the way it is done in reality. So, in lovemaking scenes sometimes the camera focuses on the characters’ faces which depicts what the body is going through instead of showing the act. Similarly, I captured the actors’ (Naveen, doctors and nurses) facial expressions for the operation scene. I think lighthearted approach is the best way to deal with serious topics.
Is this your first short film?
During my advertising days, back in my hometown Baroda in 2005, I had made a short film titled Chal Meri Luna. Luna was a very popular vehicle back then, which was phasing out and motorcycles were taking over.
Who are the producers of Skin Deep?
Skin Deep is produced by my friends, Niraj Kothari and Devang Bhavsar, who own Inglorious Films. I direct television commercials and independent videos for them. They suggested that we make some corporate films and utilise that money to produce Skin Deep, which was very brave of them. They were the ones who pushed me and told me not to worry about money. Phantom provided me 16 mm film, the leftover stock of Udaan, it’s rare to shoot on it in today’s time. They also took care of the developing the film, colour correction and DI cost.
How did Skin Deep become a part of Chaar Cutting, a compilation of four short films?
Once you make a short film the only platform for it is film festivals. So, I sent Skin Deep to New York Film Festival, Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles, International Documentary & Short Film Festival of Kerala (IDSFFK), etc. Skin Deep was shown on a Saturday evening at IDSFFK and it was a full house, people laughed at the right moments and the overall reaction was very good. Some representatives of Bangalore International Short Film Festival were present at the screening, they asked me to show my film at their festival. I was more than happy to give them the film. Then, one of the guys from Jamuura (A Pune-based website for film buffs) was present at BISFF. They had some deal with PVR, so they shortlisted Skin Deep, Blouse (by Vijayeta Kumar), Manila Running (by Anuj Gulati) and Bawdi (by Vivek Soni), and titled it Chaar Cutting for a wider release. The film will be screened at PVR cinema in six cities: Bombay, Delhi, Kolkata, Bangalore, Pune and Ahmedabad. So sending a film to film festivals does help.
How long did it take you to make Skin Deep?
One year, but the shooting happened over three days. There was one month of location hunting. One of the production assistants and I roamed all over Bombay on a bike and came up what we thought were the best locations in terms of budget, story and not-seen-type for the film. At the end of day, short films are watched by filmi crowd. And they know all the locations in Bombay. So we wanted to get something authentic. After I shot the film I didn’t edit it for long as I got busy on Lootera’s post-production. Once that film got released I completed the editing, sound design, digital intermediate, etc. In September 2013 I sent out the film to festivals.
What visual look did you have in mind for the film?
Once I knew I had super 16mm camera I knew what kind of look, in terms of grain, depth and exposure, I could achieve with it. The larger idea for the visuals was that it should give a feeling of a bada shehar chote aadmi ko kha jata hain. So, I had to roll the camera and place actors accordingly. I wanted to show the big city and actors as a prey. For instance when they are walking on a sky-walk I have shot the whole traffic jam in the background to create that feeling. That was my idea in terms of mood and setting. It was not something Vikram had thought. He envisioned his script it in a different way. But I moulded it as per my vision. Mahendra Shetty was the DOP, so I knew that it will look great.
What was the biggest challenge you faced to make Skin Deep?
In digital, one can keep rolling without worrying about memory. But I had limited number of film cans so I could only have two-three takes of each scene. Even the actors had to get it right in those many takes. However, it also gives one precision and one can’t indulge. Another challenge was that we didn’t have permission to shoot for every location. So, we had to do some guerrilla shooting. Mahendra Shetty was very good with that. You can always beg and book for interiors, but you can’t control exterior shots. For instance we had shot one track in Goregaon hills where police landed, so I had to manage with the two takes I had.
What is your plan after Chaar Cutting releases?
I have made a documentary, Amdavad Ma Famous (Famous in Ahmedabad). It’s about the kite runners in Astodia area in Ahmedabad, where Muslim kids run all over the neighbourhood to catch kites. I shot this documentary over a period of two years and during Uttaran (kite festival) in 2014 and 2015. I have edited most of it. Now I am waiting for funds for sound design and music. Post June/July I intend to send it to film festivals. I am very excited about the documentary as it has turned out well. It is 35 mins long. I have invested my own money in it. Assisting Vikram gives me the experience of feature film-making and money to make what I want to do. I’ll continue assisting as well as work on independent projects.
Tell us how you got into film-making?
Actually I did my B.Tech in dairy and food in Anand, Gujarat. After working at Amul for a while, I realised that I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to give myself a second chance to my career. I used to read a lot. So I joined an advertising agency as a copywriter in Baroda. That’s where I got exposed to art and design. Slowly I realised that films are the baap form of all art, it incorporates all kind of art. So, I thought of pursuing film-making because I loved movies. I would spend all my salary on movies. There was a local film library, of which I was a member and watched one film every night. My father thought I had lost it ‘coz everyone would go to sleep and I would watch French and Japanese films. I think he also thought I was watching porn. Then I applied to FTII and Jamia Millia Islamia. I didn’t get a call from either place. Next year, I applied again, I was working in advertising. Finally, I cracked the exam and interview at Jamia. I was there for two years, studying MA in Mass Communications. Towards the end of the course, in 2008, filmmaker Dev Bengal conducted a very interesting workshop called Script to Screen. It was such an enriching experience. Dev Bengal had asked each one of us to pitch a script and I think he liked my idea. Anyway, towards the end of the workshop I went up to him and told him that I would like to assist him. Some weeks later Dev Bengal’s producer called our professor to inquire if I was still interested to intern with Dev. I packed my bags and took off to Bombay because I always wanted to be in Bollywood. I learnt a lot from Dev and got an exposure on practicalities of film-making. He was very good with his juniors and interns. I will be indebted to him for life. I worked with him on Road movie. Around that time Udaan had released and I liked it so much that I wanted to work with Vikramaditya. Luckily, I found the contact of his first AD and got my first film as an assistant, Lootera.