We hope that the Indian audience opens up to non commercial cinema
Today several filmmakers in India are pushing the envelope of independent cinema in a creative fashion. But with the evolution of India’s independent cinematic medium, there was a requisite need for a vehicle that helps carry this work to a ready audience. Here comes Fliqvine, a website thoroughly, and might we add, passionately dedicated to showcasing independent cinema made by voracious filmmakers.
Roohi Dixit, the director behind the compelling Scattered Windows, Connected Doors, a documentary featuring eight enigmatic women is one of the many directors who has found Fliqvine to be a fascinating medium for her work. Together with her creative partner Ziba Bhagwagar, Roohi brings to fore intriguing pieces of visual work. Pandolin got talking to Roohi Dixit about documentary filmmaking, independent cinema, and finding an audience for the same.
You come from an Advertising background. Was filmmaking always in the pipeline?
I started out as a writer in an Advertising Agency, but I always found myself gravitating towards the film department because I have always been interested in the science of cinema. Being in the creative department in an agency can be heady, more so if you are a visual person. Someone or the other is always writing a film, talking about a shoot, or presenting a film in an agency. There is a lot to learn. There is great access to film work happening from around the world. That’s how I started writing film scripts at first, and eventually joined a production house.
When did the partnership with Ziba Bhagwagar happen?
Ziba and I met at Trends Ad Filmmakers while working as assistants to the director. There was so much work happening there at the time, and we often found ourselves working together. It was just the kind of creative energy one needed to experience in a production house. We were doing multiple things at one time. You can’t really explain that synergy, you either have it or don’t. And Trends was a great school where it came to getting work done when things got sticky. At the same time we spent a lot of time watching cinema, discussing cinema and understanding the nuances of being a filmmaker. It was a natural progression for Ziba and me to start telling our stories. In 2003 we started our production house Zero Rules, and we have been making films since then.
What are the kind of movies you work on at your production house?
The canvas of filmmaking is amazingly vast and embracing. More so now than ever. So we do all kinds of films. We started out with Advertising films, which we believe is a great format in understanding the business of communication. Filmmaking is an expensive medium of self expression. Someone pays you to make a film, and you are answerable for what you do with that money while not compromising your own creative vision. In 2011 we started toying with the idea of making larger format films and we shot a short documentary about two photographers. Shortly after that we embarked upon Scattered Windows, Connected Doors, a full length documentary. And we are now ready with another film Spaces Between which we will start talking about soon.
Where did the idea for Scattered Windows, Connected Doors (SWCD) come about?
SWCD is a film about conversations with urban Indian women, it came from conversations we were having with other women, (being urban Indian women ourselves) it’s a film about choices that the urban Indian women make. Sort of an existential quest. We wanted to document these conversations and try and understand the mindsets via the 8 women we chose. Also we wanted to make a positive film in an environment that is increasingly hostile towards urban women. Our struggles, feelings, everyday thoughts as human beings and especially as women are a collective existential dilemma but we need an environment of positivity. So no matter what our struggles are, or our choices have been, we need more positive voices around us if we are to bring any change. We need to inspire and be inspired. And that we must continue our journey.
How did you choose the eight women who came to be a part of Scattered Windows, Connected Doors?
It was extremely hard. We wanted a right mix of energies. We wanted to mirror women we see in our neighborhood, in our offices, and understand their back stories because it is these women who have had the courage to make their choices. We wanted to say that you could be a Rekha despite many pitfalls and rise up. You could be Preeti and not choose to work in the traditional sense, and yet be an author. You could be Swati who has had the courage to understand the value of her freedom. You could be Anusha and live in a metropolitan city as a single woman. You could be Shabnam and passionately dedicate yourself to your calling. You could be Sapna and carve out a name for yourself, live according to your terms. You could be Vidya and fight for what you believe in. You could be Shilo, travel around the country to seek your inner calling with a childlike innocence. It took many months of research and juggling of dates but eventually it all fell into place. It was exhilarating and intense to shoot with each protagonist in SWCD. Each one had a unique story and perspective.
What are the biggest challenges behind shooting a documentary?
Being a documentary filmmaker comes with its own set of challenges, on one hand it allows you the freedom to explore your stories on the other hand funding those stories is a big challenge. After funding and making the film comes the task of putting your work out there to be seen. Be it film festivals or screenings. Every film has its unique journey. Some problems are solvable and some not. You live and learn with each film. Having the right people to collaborate with and the right people to help you along the way is a very important element of shooting a Documentary. Documentary space is evolving everyday with exciting work coming in from all parts of India. There’s so much that one doesn’t get to see. We wish to see more documentaries in main stream theatres and not just in festivals or screenings.
What is the advantage of having Fliqvine as a movie hosting website?
Fliqvine allows one the freedom to watch indie work coming out of India. What could be a better way to see work which is otherwise not available anywhere. Once the festival circuit is over, it becomes the filmmaker’s responsibility to somehow put their work out there to be seen. On the other hand there are not enough opportunities to do so. Fliqvine bridges the gap. It’s a great community for filmmakers to interact with each other and collaborate as well.
Do you think film hosting websites pave way for the popularity of non-commercial work? Or are they limited to the viewers who seek these websites out?
Non commercial work must find a way to be seen. Film hosting websites offer a way for that work to be seen for those who are interested in such work. It’s a great alternative as opposed to a film not being seen at all.
What are the financial realities behind shooting a documentary film?
In the context of documentary filmmaking in India we found that funding a film is the toughest process. There just aren’t enough funds and avenues. Especially if you want to make a film that is technically at par with the international standards. Somehow there’s a dated idea that documentaries have to look a certain way. For the lack of funding, filmmakers sometimes end up compromising technically as well. It’s catch 22 you cannot not tell your story and yet you cannot tell it the way you want to. Personally this limitation has lead us to innovate while shooting our films, making our own rigs, planning it a certain way, and cutting down on the crew by doubling up both in production and post production.
How was the reception towards the movie like at various international film festivals?
The film has resonated with a lot of the global audience; we aren’t that much different as human beings. It was heart-warming to see how many urban women from different parts of the world could relate to the film and its content.
What do you think about the available platforms in India for non-commercial cinema?
We hope that the Indian audience opens up to non commercial cinema and starts engaging with it, and that can only happen if more people know about what’s happening in the non commercial space. With online portals such as Fliqvine and others the option of that platform now exists. We are hopeful.
How important is having a creative partnership, such as the one you have with Ziba?
It is extremely important. Filmmaking is an intensely personal experience and a very taxing one too. You never make a film alone. If you are not working with the right people it can be the worst experience of your life and theirs. You are always working against time and money in stressful conditions. You have a great responsibility towards the vision which has to be communicated correctly to the people you are working with. If you do not have that understanding and that level of comfort with your creative partner, you simply cannot make a film. Not in the way that it should rightfully be made.
There are a number of small, independent production houses coming up all over India. Do you feel that this is truly the time for independent cinema?
We hope that it is.
Are you looking at commercial filmmaking as a next step?
Our next film Spaces Between is a part fiction, part nonfiction film based on a public performance by the artist Nikhil Chopra. The film explores the mind of an artist, and his creative process. We are also working on a fiction film and are looking for partners to collaborate on this project.