Screenwriters fellowship with a difference
Asia Society India Centre’s executive director Bunty Chand talks about the 3rd edition of New Voices Fellowship for Screenwriters announced recently, the theme of the programme and her expectations from it.
As executive director, please tell us about your role in the new voices fellowship for screenwriters.
Initially before starting such a project in India we did a lot of research on how to go about it, the structure, syllabus, plans, workshops and all the details to make it an enriching programme. My colleagues Rachel and John were involved in the research part. Later we received an advance to start the programme and then since three years I have been responsible for developing and executing this fellowship. My colleagues and I have literally raised this project and found people to work for and in it, to conduct workshops, for the overall application of the research and to ultimately find fellows for the programme. We examine the whole process. We run the project and I oversee the entire project, right from fund-raising to execution.
Are you also involved in the selection of the fellows for the fellowship?
I work closely with Anjum Rajabali, who was also a part of the original research project we did. Anjum and I with other colleagues work on the selection process. We give ideas, help each other, seeing how and who all can be part of it. Brain storming happens together. We work closely and keep a tap on who can become a part of the project. Anjum works closely with mentors.
Making heroine the new hero – was the theme inspired by the recent success of certain women centric films. What is the objective of this theme?
In India and the world, of course, everybody is concerned with what is happening with women. And Films are the reflection of society. One finds how things, spaces, industries are male dominated. There is this stereo typical image of woman being portrayed all around. So we wanted to put together fellowship with a difference, which lead to this theme. A programme which in it’s own way makes an impact. Doing something in this fashion, asking for women to be made the heroes of the script, we are trying to reflect the changing norm of the society. It’s happening, definitely things are changing slowly and we thought this is how we can contribute.
Are there any significant changes in the 3rd edition of the fellowship compared to previous two?
This is the first time we have a theme for the fellowship. Previous two editions didn’t have one. That alone is a very big change. Also something we started from 2nd edition and we have continued it in 3rd edition is getting at least 1-2 fellows from abroad too, particularly Asia. This brings more international range and perspective to the training. We can’t bring them as mentors to teach because mentors have to be from India, due to the long duration of mentoring and commitment required for the project. So we try to get the International presence in form of fellows from other part of Asia. That also makes it different from other fellowships running in this part of the world.
What are your expectations from this edition of the fellowship?
Anjum and I have been discussing this for sometime now. Something we are trying to do is finding stories with future. If we invite 7 fellows, at least 2-3 should be so good that it can be pushed forward to the stage of production. We could make people read and take notice of these couple of good, different and unique stories. We will be delighted to do so. And it would be benefitting if somebody is ready to take it up in the market. We could take it to the producers, make them read it and push them to make them. We are hoping to find 3-4 stories that would interest Bollywood for instance. We have always tried to do that but the stories have to be really strong.
The Time Warner foundation is associated with the fellowship. Could you elaborate on their role? Are they involved in the creative process also?
Time warner foundation are the ones who provided funding for our research. They are not creatively involved. In fact they literally gave us the money and said now you design the programme. They are the people interested in story telling. They grant innumerable fellowships around the world. But this is the only one in Asia. So we are fortunate to receive it. Initially they have helped us with their experience to set up the project. We learned a lot from their other fellowships. Then we designed our own. Now even if they aren’t directly involved in creative process, they love to hear from us, see our reports. They like what they see. We are in the process of reinventing ourselves and they have been encouraging.
The fellowship is an year-long programme contrary to the 7-10 days lab which other institutions offer. How does this benefit the participants? And how is it different from the various courses offered by eminent institutes across the country?
The difference is the duration and the experience, 9 months of enriching experience. Normally the screenwriters labs are of 7-8 days only. We have 2 workshops during the whole programme that is in a way two labs. You take your script to the mentors in various stages of development. You go back incorporate things then meet again to review the progress. Also one is always connected through different mediums of communication. There are so many meetings organised between the fellows and mentors so that one follows the programme efficiently. We have devised an incredibly rich program, which includes discussions and individual mentoring. Mentors who spend several hours with you providing feedback on your drafts.
With the theme being women centric, are you also looking at nurturing more women filmmakers?
It’s funny how things turned up. We in fact, had expected to have more women filmmakers coming to the foray but that isn’t true. There are lots of male filmmakers with heroines as their heroes who submitted the application.
‘Laadli’ is supporting an additional fellowship. Is it specifically for a woman filmmaker? And also does the support come due to the theme?
Laadli’s support is not particularly for a woman filmmaker. Yes, it’s due to the theme that they have extended their support.