Watermelon is based on my belief that the world is grey
AdMan Pranav Harihar Sharma’s first short film Watermelon as Director was recently part of the Jagran Film Festival. The filmmaker talks to Pandolin about leaving his advertising career to take up filmmaking full time, the filmmakers that inspire him and why he feels that time is a luxury that filmmaker’s should refrain from using.
Please tell us about your debut film.
Watermelon is a suspense thriller based on my belief that the world is grey. Nobody is black or white, rather people keep alternating between these two shades. The film is divided into two halves – the first half sees a husband as a wife beater (bad), the wife (good) as a victim, and the third guy as the serial killer (bad). In the second half the game changes – the wife becomes the killer (bad), the killer uses his expertise to mask her problem and help the woman (good) and the husband is a dead body now. Dead bodies are always good. So you see, no one stays in their shelves of black or white. They keep rotating in and around the grey area. We are changing according to our situations. My film revolves around this basic premise, exploring the grey area in the human world.
Talk about the ‘colour’ you have adopted for your film.
The process of grading the film is always done on the grade machine. Some filmmakers take the short cut to do colour correction online or by using a smoke machine. But I have adopted the actual grading process for my short film. Most feature films go through this grading process. Every director has his own vision regarding the film color and every frame is graded as per the director’s vision. You see Kaante, Musafir or you see Anurag Kashyap’s films or Karan Johar’s films; all have different and distinct colors and a distinct feel to it. The colors of their films make them unique. So in my film, from the first frame you know what you are going to see. It’s not a family drama but a suspense thriller. That was my effort regarding the color of the film. The color should be such that it supports the theme and ambiance of the film. There are so many silences in the film and the color should help those silences. It can’t be black and white because then you are going away from the grey area one is trying to explore. It couldn’t be colorful and bright either. I had to balance out the colors according to my vision for the theme. So I have created a new grade for the film and named it ‘popping red’. In the film, wherever you see the color red, it’s very bright. All the other colors are toned down. I have created it frame by frame, but now it’s a formula and anybody who wants to use it can do so.
Have thrillers as a genre always interested you?
All genres interest me. The other short film that I have written is also a thriller but the screenplay of my feature is for a children’s film. I can’t share the idea right now but it’s different from what I have previously done and is a woman-oriented film. I love writing and directing all kinds of genre and don’t want to repeat myself. I tried doing the same when I was in the advertising field. Thus, I never got typecast in the 15 years that I worked there. I wish to do justice to whichever genre I am operating in. So if I write a thriller, it will be a thriller from the first frame to the last. In the Indian film industry you can’t say its a horror film from the first frame; all films start on a very generic note. There is drama, then songs, a happy family is shown, then it goes to a secluded place where the ghost comes, so on and so forth. The same things happen in action films, just that the ghost is replaced by a bomb.
We begin films so generically that it has become like a palette for all types of films. But if you see Korean, Japanese or Iranian films, they really do justice to their genres. Nothing is random unlike Indian films. My effort will be to make an out and out single genre film at a time. If I make a love story, then I will stick to ‘love’ till the last bit. We have to be honest to the genre we are catering to. I understand that things have to be made commercially viable, there are producers saying things but then that is where the director comes into the picture. If you believe in something, follow that instinct honestly. Ram Gopal Verma’s Bhoot and Raat are two films I admire. They are completely true to their genre. I am not clear how much business Raat managed to do but I do know Bhoot was a mega hit. He did justice to the genre while making a super hit. So it can happen. In Watermelon, the killer helps the woman not because there is a love story between them. He just wants to help her. The sheer motivation of the killer is saving the lady from the police, when she mistakenly kills her husband, who beats her day and night. The killer is not in love with her. When the credits are rolling I show the way he helped her. So it’s a thriller through out. One can operate in different genres, but be true to one (genre) at a time and refrain from mixing and matching for cheap thrills.
Tell us about the team of your film. How did they come on board?
I worked on a very tight budget. No human resource charged anything for the film. I am not counting juniors though. We only spent on equipment and post production. The DOP, Vishal Sinha, is a friend who I have worked with on many commercials earlier. The actor playing the killer, Prashant Singh, is from theatre who always looks forward to meaty roles where he can perform. The actress Parul Chaudhari is a dear friend and has worked with me in my earlier projects. The music director Hanif Sheikh is also a friend and was kind enough to play the character of the main cop in the film. The producer is another dear friend, Aniruddh Bagchi. So the film was made with a lot of favors from friends. Other than my friends I paid everybody – the sound designer, guys involved in post production, art director.
How did you design the visuals with cinematographer Vishal Sinha?
We used wide angle and Prime lenses basically. I never use zoom because the moment you use the zoom lens you are compromising with your frame. When you want to take a close up, you can’t just zoom in and take the correct frame. It surely saves time but doesn’t give the desired result when you sit on edit. I have shot the whole film in 26 hours. We started shooting at 9 a.m. on the first day and went on till 10.30 a.m. of the next day due to the budget constrain. Short films are still not a revenue generation tool for producers. We had a tight budget so we got little time. In fact I had to drop some scenes on location due to time crunch. I will give my DOP credit for managing the things so well. When you are working with Prime lens, to change the magnification of the shot, you either move objects or you move the camera to get your shot. He actually moved his camera around the subject while quickly changing the light. We did the lighting in such a way that a little camera movement would give us a different feel of the shot in the same location. During the shoot we had to battle the sun as the story happens in daytime. We had to fight the ‘light leaking’ challenge also.
What was your brief to the actors?
Having worked with Parul (Chaudhari) earlier, I was sure about her acting capabilities. I was really impressed by Prashant Singh’s audition. He fitted the character perfectly. I conducted a workshop with the actors a day prior to the shoot briefing them about what is expected from them, discussing their character’s sketch. They rehearsed some scenes together. The discussions helped to clear things, understand the characters and the story. That enabled them to improvise and sketch their characters according to their understanding even while we were shooting. They could perform as per the vision.
Tell us about your background as a filmmaker. How did you venture into filmmaking?
I am an adman having worked in advertising for 15 years. I was always interested in filmmaking even while in advertising. My strength has always been writing. I was planning to get into filmmaking since a couple of years. So I started working towards that goal. In January, I was chosen as one of the fabulous four directors from the Asia-Pacific region in the biggest advertising festival of Asia. They chose me on the basis of my portfolio and experience in the field. When I went there, I met producers from Australia and Japan who proposed to produce films. That’s when I finally decided to take the plunge. Watermelon happened, which has so far been showcased in all the national and international short film festivals including Cannes, Germany, Kerala, Kolkata. I left my job last year and started filmmaking. Currently I am working on my first feature film.
What kind of cinema do you watch?
Every type of good cinema. I am very fond of Kamal Hassan as a Director. Of course, he is phenomenal as an actor too but I watch his directorial ventures with the same enthusiasm, if not more. I look up to Tarantino, Anurag Kashyap and Satyajit Ray as directors. Satyajit Ray for the way he used light in his films. You can very well say that I’ve tried copying his style in my film or say I am ‘heavily inspired’ from it. I love the way he used natural light, shades and shadows, leakages of light, full artificially lit up light. Then I love Francis Coppola for the way he handled his characters. You can learn from the masterpieces and create your own style. Hitchcock created horror in the black and white era when there was no CG, so you definitely get inspired. As a filmmaker, camera is your paper. How you use your camera determines how you are as a filmmaker. Everybody has style. Learning from everybody is important.
What were your learnings while making commercials and now your short film, Watermelon?
I learnt that there is no difference in making commercials and films these days because the commercials are becoming 4-5 minutes long now. We call them YTC (YouTube Commercials). You create characters like in films, then you create chemistry between them, as you have time with you. It’s not 30 secs anymore. I have done 60 commercials. And the last commercial that I did for Dabur – Brave and Beautiful – was also like a short film, being 4-5 minutes long. While doing so and now with Watermelon also, I have learnt how to use every single second in the film constructively. I have utilized even the credits of my film in the story itself. People shouldn’t leave the theatre when the credits start rolling. They should watch the film till the actual end. Everything should be watchable from the first to the last frame. Time is a luxury filmmakers shouldn’t enjoy. You have made the film, you will definitely love each bit of it but you have to be neutral and ruthless while on edit. Shoot leniently, in fact greedily but once you are in post production, edit it like an outsider, or say like a miser. People should say it should have been a bit longer rather than when will this end!
Could you tell us a little about your future projects?
There are a couple of short films that I have written, which I hope to make before my feature film goes on floor by mid 2016. People are interested in producing them. Watermelon is being distributed by Pocket Films in India. While the screenplay of the feature is ready, I also have written two other feature scripts. The preparation for my feature length film should start in 2-3 months. Till then I am concentrating on making some shorts.