[A]fter winning at the South Asian International Film Festival and the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles, Neeraj Ghaywan’s short film Shor has now won the Satyajit Ray Foundation’s Short Film award at the London Indian Film Festival. Ghaywan tells us about the experience of making his short film while assisting Anurag Kashyap on Gangs of Wasseypur:
When did you realize you wanted to make films?
I quit my job in Hindustan Times as a marketing manager hoping to get closer to cinema. I was a closet cinema addict, working as an editor for PassionForCinema while at HT. So I took a pay cut and joined a production house. Unfortunately, I was doing the same corporate job and there was nothing cinema about it. I was burning out when Anurag Kashyap (who I knew from PFC days) had called from Madrid. He asked me to hop on to this side of cinema. Over an hour we spoke, I hung up, went straight to my desk and put in my papers. And then it hit me, I had actually quit my job. I was hesitant. I told Anurag “But I don’t even know if I have it in me. Is it worth such a big jump?” He said, “How would you know if you have it in you if you haven’t done it?” I was convinced on that one line. And then I asked him “So what CTC will you offer me?” He drew a blank and till today I cringe about the question I asked him. Anyway, convincing parents about quitting a high paying job, not marrying for ‘few years’ and living off survivable income was the toughest. Frankly speaking, every AD has the same story and mine is not any different.
What kind of a learning experience was it assisting Anurag Kashyap on Gangs of Wasseypur?
The three years spent on Gangs of Wasseypur was a paid film school. It might seem metaphorical but it truly feels like a second life. My life has completely turned upside down. I work ten times more than corporate life but I am ten times happier. It’s an extremely non-hierarchical place to work at AKFPL. You have every freedom to learn and grow. From research, to pre-production, to production, to post production, to marketing; I have covered every gamut of filmmaking, that too for two films. I couldn’t have asked for a better platform to start with.
And then what led you to make your own short film?
Everything I learnt on the sets of GoW, I wanted to put into practice immediately. I wanted to know if I really have it in me or am I whiling my time here. There was this competition from Tumbhi.com for short films. I wrote the draft of the short film and pitched it to Anurag. I worked on Shor while working on the post production of GoW. It was tougher than working on the sets of GoW. Juggling between three films’ post production was quite a challenge.
How was the idea for Shor born?
I read this research snippet about a woman doing a research on the influence of hormones on relationships. The hypothesis that she arrived at was that people are vulnerable to fall in love in dangerous situations. I had forgotten the article but it stuck in my subconscious and eventually led to an idea about the human condition at the face of death. When we embrace death, our most vulnerable time, we find our truest side. We confront what really matters to us. That became the basis for Shor.
How did you manage funds for the film?
Tumbhi.com funded this project out of short film contest. They selected the script to be funded. I found the actors for the film on their portal.
What are the challenges you faced while working on Shor?
One challenge was to get the culture and milieu of the characters right. I used to take auto rickshaw rides and speak to the drivers at length, recording the conversation on my phone and later make notes from it. I must have spoken to some 40 odd rickshaw drivers to arrive at 4 of them who were from Banaras (as the characters in Shor are from Banaras). I conducted a focus group with these people, inviting them to my house.
Then the post production took way longer than I had anticipated. I was working on the post-production of GoW and I made Shor in between all the running around for GoW. That was the most difficult part. I had to teleport myself from one studio to another studio, one film to another. Both films were equally close to my heart and it was difficult juggling and two timing.
Which camera and sound device did you use? Why?
We shot on Canon 7D as the motion capture is better on a 7D as against 5D. We didn’t take the boom mike because we were shooting guerilla. We managed to shoot in sync sound with couple of lapels and a mini sound recorder for ambience.
Are you working on a feature film next?
I am currently finishing up the post production and marketing for GoW. After which I am going off to write my feature script along with Varun Grover.
Your advice for short filmmakers?
I’d say don’t compromise and be patient. Don’t be in a rush to “let’s just do it”. You are not doing a favour on anyone by making your short. And nobody is going to like it, praise it, promote it or even judge you because you put in a lot of hard work. Every film-maker works hard and a film is going to be judged for the film and not how it was made. So don’t compromise on your gear, your narrative or your team.