Abhay Kumar, whose short film Just That Sort of a Day has emerged a hot favorite in the festival circuit talks to Nandita Dutta about his film, future and much more…
For hope of who we will be tomorrow
From the nothingness that we are today
[T]his is the prologue to his film, but Abhay Kumar is a little more than nothingness now. His short film Just That Sort of a Day has premiered at Rotterdam, been in competition at Tribeca, IFFLA and Gulf Film Festival and recently won the Best Short Film at Busan International Short Film Festival and New York Indian Film Festival. While it is being hailed as experimental, to the filmmaker it is a product that has emerged out of his joblessness, and an attempt to capture randomness, albeit meaningfully.
“It started with a bet between me and my associate (Archana Phadke) in mid-2009. She thought it was really easy to create something in stop-motion while I thought it wasn’t. In January 2010, we came up with the first sequence of the film,” Abhay reveals.
Each frame of the film, which was in the making for 10 months is hand-drawn. Just That Sort of a Day cannot be tagged as an animation film, though it had made wonderful use of the medium in the most innovative manner! Tribeca considered it as the first ever animation film from India in competition, but Abhay and his team would like to call it a “hybrid film”. What that exactly means is for the audience to discover. All one can say is Just That Sort of a Day uses stick figures to touch your heart and numb your mind. “I wanted people to feel the film, more than grasp it,” says Abhay and he has succeeded in every bit. Watching his film is a rare experience!
Neither Abhay nor his associate Archana is an animator. But there is little doubt about Abhay being an innovative story teller. “I was trying to tell a story in a way it had never been told before. The idea was to portray chaos, the amount of chaos we are surrounded with in our daily lives. We are all so fragile and are held together by thin strings,” he says. He is reluctant to share what the films means to him personally as he likes people to have their own interpretations of the film. That said, Just That Sort of a Day makes for a compelling second watch. You will be left with a jigsaw of unresolved thoughts in your mind after the first watch and it becomes almost imperative to watch it for the second time to put the pieces into place. “It’s not a film where one can instantly decide..’oh I like this’. At times, people get in touch with me 2-3 days after the screening of the film talking about how it stayed with them”, says Abhay.
Much has been said about the randomness in the film now. The working title of the film too was “Randomness” until the team realized that every other person on Facebook has an album of assorted photographs called Randomness! Then Just That Sort of a Day was thought of, which according to Abhay is “the ultimate escapist line that everyone uses”. So basically, every one of us has encountered thoughts as random as the characters in the film and then written them off saying ‘It’s just that sort of a day!’
In the film, there are unnamed characters resembling each one of us, thinking about arbitrary things in life. There is nostalgia about the past, thought for the present and concern for the future. There are clouds of confusion and sudden moments of utmost clarity. There’s life in 14 minutes of the film and here one cannot view the artist in isolation from his art.
Abhay is anxious about his career as a filmmaker, which stems from the streak of independence and madness that he has. He doesn’t like to assist anyone and wants to figure his own way to making his mark in the film industry. “People have devised a way things are supposed to be done. We need more and more people to break the pattern,” he says.
He also thinks that most of the independent directors in India are not well connected with each other. “I met many of them for the first time in film festivals abroad,” he deliberates, “We should all be unified, and helping each other.”
Like most independent short filmmakers, Abhay wishes things were a little different in India. “There is too much vagueness about everything. There are no festivals dedicated to independent films,” he laments. He is also bogged down by the painstaking process and humongous amount of paper work that precedes the submission of films for film festivals. “I spent 2 K to make my film, and 60-70 K couriering it to film festivals. There is absolutely no support for filmmakers from the government. If I had that much money, won’t I invest it in the film instead? Even in small countries, there is a film board which takes care of all these expenses. Here I’m researching on my laptop, missing deadlines, making tapes and it goes on,” he says.
When recounting the process of making Just That Sort of a Day, Abhay seems very proud of his team which comprises Archana Phadke as the illustrator and Shane Mendonsa who has composed the soundtrack for the film. “We have spent 2-3 months on the music alone. It was not an easy film and after a lot of meditation, Shane came up with an unprecedented soundtrack for the film,” he exclaims.
This twenty-five year old filmmaker who did his Bachelors in Journalism and Mass Communication from Delhi has come a long way from making spoofs in college to creating an award winning film. “While making funny spoofs in college, I realized I was good at mixing visuals, sound and text in an entertaining way. Then I thought of taking a step ahead and joined St. Xavier’s Institute of Communication in Mumbai for a one-year course in Film and TV Production. That gave me confidence,” Abhay shares.
All it takes is a look at his earlier short films like Mera Ghar, The End, Udaan (all available on YouTube) to get a sense of how maverick this boy from Chandigarh is, and how intense his desire to do things differently. He sees himself making Sci-fi and psychological thrillers in the future. “With every film I do, I want to try and push the envelope. I can’t wait for long to make my first feature”, he confides. Till then, he wants to keep writing and making short films.
It’s not going to be a cakewalk for him, and he knows it too. Light heartedly, he says, “I think about leaving it all and going back home at least 700 times a day. Maybe I can go back to Chandigarh and open a stationery shop there.” He knows he won’t. He is here to stay and make it big, rather soon.