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Anukul, Juice, Chhuri, Jai Mata Di, Khujli: The best short films of 2017

There’s a reason that short films have their own category at the Oscars (even Filmfare has created a special template just to acknowledge shorts).

Over the last few years, the quality and quantum of short fiction features has increased manifold. In some cases the script, direction and performances outclass big budget full-length feature films. Innovative storytelling, thoughtful content (recurring themes included infidelity, gender discrimination and city life) and impressive acting defined the films that populated the internet in 2017.

There’s also a notable proclivity towards the public service, do-gooder messages or a pandering to brands looking for surrogate advertising, in these films.

Keeping this in mind, and restricting my list to Hindi language, here’s a curated pick of some of the finest shorts (under 40 minutes) of the year (most are available on youtube.com), in alphabetical order:

Shefali Shah in a still from Neeraj Ghaywan's Juice. Youtube screengrab

Shefali Shah in a still from Neeraj Ghaywan’s Juice. Youtube screengrab

Anukul
Director: Sujoy Ghosh

A modern take on a Satyajit Ray story, in this 21.54-minute film, Parambrata Chatterjee plays a robot in the service of a schoolteacher (Saurabh Shukla). Anukul throws up a number of questions as humans resist the takeover by artificial intelligence and the robot begins to questions morality and conscience. Detailed production design and seamless, if slightly leisurely, storytelling makes this a provocative film with subtle performances.

Chhuri
Director: Mansi Jain

After Chutney, now Chhuri — Tisca Chopra could write a short film manual on satirising infidelity and the reactions of a wife to a cheating husband. In Jain’s 12-and-a-half-minute film, Chopra’s reactions cut like a knife as she takes on her husband (Anurag Kashyap) and his paramour (Surveen Chawla). This one is enjoyable mostly for the way Jain creates tension and power play between Chopra and Chawla.

Chumbak
Director: Prabhakar Pant

This one almost blew my socks off – almost, because it was one of the few films to test a different genre. Dark, twisted, experimental and edgy on one hand but theatrical with stilted dialogue on the other, Pant squanders the gain of the first three minutes in the remaining seven. Chumbak makes it to this list for its darker theme, and for what it almost was.

Death of a Father
Director: Somnath Pal

Somnath Pal’s exploration of grief, loss, ritual and mourning is beautiful and inventive. At a fraction over 10 minutes, the Hindi-Bengali language animated film follows a son as he mechanically goes through the motions after his father’s death, barely finding time to mourn. The colour palette and weather-beaten human figures add to the sombre mood.

Dekhne Main Kya Harj Hai?
Director: Himanshu Rai

It takes Rai just 6.51 seconds to capture a vignette of family life. Ayesha Raza and Brijendra Kala play parents who skillfully connive to guide their otherwise reluctant daughter (Priya Chauhan) to consider an arranged match. Funny, and sly, this short respectfully balances the position of a modern, emancipated woman with that of her concerned and perceptive parents.

A still from Jai Mata Di.

Jai Mata Di
Director: Navjot Gulati

At just a shade over 10 minutes, Gulati’s satire on urban living captures a slice of Mumbai life with humour. Set around the story of a young, unmarried couple looking to rent an apartment, it paints an accurate picture of the component characters, in particular the broker and the building society secretary. Shriya Pilgaonkar and Shiv Pandit play the couple whose bid for a flat can only be secured by ‘mom’ (Supriya Pilgaonkar) — and maybe a little ‘divine intervention’.

Juice
Director: Neeraj Ghaywan

Between chicken kebabs and office banter, Manju (Shefali Shah, superb) is serving snacks to her husband (Manish Chaudhari) and his office colleagues. In the kitchen, over the sound of spluttering spices, the women are chatting about their domestic lives. There’s a broken fan, a jar of chilled juice and a caustic comment on society. How do you tell a complete story with layered script and taut character interplay all in under 15 minutes? This is how.

Khujli
Director: Sonam Nair

Want a summary of Fifty Shades of Grey and an explanation of BDSM? Watch Neena Gupta and Jackie Shroff as a middle aged couple trying to spice up their lives in this naughty, funny, charming, kinky short. The 15-minute Khujli might just have you checking online shopping sites for fluffy pink handcuffs.

Naked
Director: Rakesh Kumar

At 14.30 minutes, Naked feels long. But Rakesh Kumar’s film delivers a powerful message. The two-hander featuring Kalki Koechlin as an actress caught in a controversy and Ritabhari Chakraborty as a rookie reporter interviewing the star makes comments on both the vacuousness of celebrity journalism and on violence and abuse of women.

Syaahi
Director: Varun Tandon

The coming of age story of schoolboy Vansh (Himanshu Bhandari) who learns about peer group pressure, family, responsibility, repentance and absolution through one small impulsive act. With passable performances by the adult actors, it’s down to Bhandari to carry you along his journey in this undulating hilly town. The almost 30-minute narrative feels more long than short, as we stand on the sidelines of the lives of a struggling writer and his family.

The Affair
Director: Hardik Mehta

In just over 6 minutes, Mehta uses irony to spotlight the issue of privacy in a crowded city like Mumbai. The seafront might be the only place where you can catch five minutes of respite and intimacy. Amit Sial and Khushboo Upadhyay play a couple trying to steal time in a city that makes it hard for you to take a break, but it’s Mumbai that the hero and villain of this succinctly told story with a twist.

The Good Girl
Director: Ritesh Menon

Another female-lead two-hander, Gurdeep Kohli and Plabita Borthakur play mother and daughter, respectively (and impressively). The 11 minute film is set in a bathroom. Using sound design, silences, performance, space and script, Menon tackles issues of pre-marital sex, unwanted pregnancy, parental guidance and conforming to a template of ‘the good girl/boy’.

Also check out:

PaniPath by Jai Mehta is a cautionary tale about the importance of conserving water told from the viewpoint of a low-income family with a moving performance by Tejaswini Kolhapure as the mother.

• Sumit Aroraa’s The White Shirt is a languid relationship drama where the shirt is a symbol of a couple’s (Kritika Kamra, Kunal Kapoor) connection and disconnection.

In The School Bag director Dheeraj Jindal’s film looks at the impact of militancy and violence on the innocent through the story of a mother and son. Rasika Dugal and Sartaaj RK deliver heart-rending performances.


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ASC Awards: Roger Deakins wins top cinematography honour for sci-fi film Blade Runner 2049

Legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins has won the top award for a theatrical release at the 32nd annual American Society of Cinematographers Awards, for his fantastic and surreal imagery of Denis Villeneuve’s film Blade Runner 2049, as reported by Variety.

Roger Deakins. Image from Twitter/@TalkFilmSoc

Roger Deakins. Image from Twitter/@TalkFilmSoc

This is the fifth honour for the cinematographer by the prestigious body, including a Lifetime Achievement award in 2011. Deakins has already won the Golden Globe for Blade Runner 2049 this award season, and is the current favourite for an Oscar, an achievement that has eluded the veteran cameraman, known for his work in The Shawshank Redemption, Fargo, and The Assassination of Jesse James. Traditionally, in the 32 year long history of ASC Awards, thirteen winners have gone on to win the Oscar as per the same report.

Blade Runner 2049, saw Deakins build on Ridley Scott’s original and influential neo-noir futuristic world. The film was marked with giant, intensely illuminated holograms advertisement interact with the lead actor, and a glitch-ridden virtual Elvis Presley performance in a low-lit abandoned Las Vegas auditorium. The dusty, apocalyptic vision of the Blade Runner universe was deftly crafted by Deakins for the 2017 sequel.

“He has to be Roger Deakins on every shot. He has all the pressure of the world on his shoulders. He’s very, very focused. He doesn’t talk very loud. He doesn’t like to repeat. And his crew…his crew would die for him,” Villeneuve, who has collaborated with Deakins on his two earlier films, Prisoners and Sicario, told Vanity Fair.

ASC Awards also honoured lensman Mart Taniel with the spotlight award for November. The honour focuses on excellence in world cinema. Taniel beat the exquisite Hungarian movie On Body and Soul, which is also up for an Academy Award this year.

Published Date: Feb 19, 2018 13:02 PM | Updated Date: Feb 19, 2018 13:02 PM

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North India’s angry young men: Snigdha Poonam examines a generation’s anxieties in her new book, Dreamers

Upon reading Dreamers, Snigdha Poonam’s splendid cultural study of a generation’s appetite for ruthless ambitions and change, it’s apparent that India’s young men from the north are driven by a peculiar hunger. They chase fame, fortune, power and lofty dreams just like every other millennial but these small town youth are unlike their city counterparts. It’s an unquenchable anger that sets them apart — anger that their country was spoilt by the Congress, anger that corruption was at its peak, anger over their lost izzat, anger over the lack of jobs… Enough anger to make them want to be famous, important and rich beyond their dreams. And while some of them are lucky enough to realise their dreams, some others are stuck in an illusion forever.

Poonam, who writes for Hindustan Times, travelled to India’s towns and villages in the north, besides her own hometown of Ranchi, to find out what these young Indians wanted. “The idea was to [go to a small town] find out four or five people whose stories stood out and follow them for a year to see how close they get to their dreams. As I progressed with that brief, it became a larger project,” she says. Initially, Poonam chose four people in and around Ranchi, but as she travelled to other places, it became 6-7 people in 3 or 4 locations, to whom she kept going back for anywhere between a year and three years.

Snigdha Poonam

Snigdha Poonam

South India and its millennial population feel like a glaring omission from the book, but Poonam says she chose north India for a reason — that it was “representative of the frustrations of this generation because it does more badly than south India; its level of education and employment is poorer. More logistically, the book was never meant to be a sequel to Butter Chicken in Ludhiana [Pankaj Mishra’s travelogue on small-town India]. I was doing the opposite thing; I wanted to limit the number of people and places,” she says.

Among the people Poonam meets is Pankaj Prasad or ‘The Fixer’, an entrepreneurial young man in southern Jharkhand, who is a small-time lobbyist and liaison — an important link between the  state administration and citizens — or rather a go-to man for villagers ready to pay him for sarkari services. Then there’s the founder of WittyFeed or ‘The Click-Baiter’, a startup that thrives on American obsessions from Kim Kardashian and lip-sync battles to banal listicles on Katy Perry’s weirdest faces. To match success stories, Dreamers also has a chapter on the disputers — the angry young men complaining about the future of this country and turning to various Hindu groups who tend to their anxiety. Like Vikas Thakur, with his funky tattoo and beach sandals, who wants to become a politician because he wanted to stand up for Hindus. Or 19-year-old Arjun Kumar who cannot wait for Valentine’s Day year after year because it’s the only day he can deal with couples the way he wants, with an iron rod.

Poonam also gifts us with a rare chapter on an angry young woman — Richa Singh, who fought the Allahabad University elections and won and moved on to mainstream politics. Just like the south Indians who are absent from this book, women too are very obviously missing. But it wasn’t intentional, says Poonam. “I met young women too who had dreams, but when you talk to young men about their dreams, they’re not just talking about their own dreams but also what they want for their country and what they want from the world.” For many young women dreamers, “it was about changing their own lives and in some sense that itself was a huge leap for them to take and they weren’t going to talk about how India should go back to becoming the glory of world civilisation. A lot of the anxiety about their place in India and India’s place in the world was very manly,” she says.

To round off, Poonam has the strugglers as well — men who dream big, plan elaborate and push hard but still remain at the lowest possible level, men like Mohammad Azhar who dream of becoming Bollywood superstars but instead get exploited.

The underbelly of Dreamers not just gives us a peek into toxic masculinity and anger, but also uncovers the appeal of religion, specifically Hinduism, to these men. What does it offer them in a way of appeasing anger or giving them something to move forward? According to Poonam, it offers them a basic sense of identity, honour, and masculinity. “When I spoke to these young men, they were not speaking about religion per se because I knew more about religion than they did and they didn’t connect with any texts, they didn’t have the most basic understanding of what they were fighting for, starting with cows,” she says. And most of the angry men just ended up being Hindu. “I was looking for anger in general, but what I found was that the minorities — young Muslim and Dalit men — were busier looking ahead in terms of opportunities, whereas the Hindu men were looking at the past, at what they had lost, and wanted to restore the old order. Religion had very little meaning in their lives…”

Book cover for Dreamers

Book cover for Dreamers

Essentially, these men always saw a society that’s constantly conspiring against them and their Hindu heritage. They also saw a leader in Narendra Modi — someone like them who’d made it, from tea vendor to Prime Minister — who promised them the India they wanted, whose politics aligned with theirs and whose rhetoric reeked of Hindu nationalism. Modi would transform their beloved India back to its glorious past, they believed. Poonam says that the growing young population she talked to were political in an ambitious, idealistic way in that that there should be smooth roads, no corruption, and trains running on time. “But there was a general hope in Narendra Modi and a lot of disappointment in how Congress had steered the country since independence. That is very common and a lot of that was borrowed perception,” she says.

Poonam writes that less than 17 percent of India’s graduates are immediately employable and only 2.3 percent of the workforce has undergone formal skills training, which means that the country needs to educate about 100 million young people over the next 10 years, “a task never before undertaken in history”. Yet these young Indians, who have grown up with Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and “cultural values of their grandparents”, are creating opportunities for themselves in various fields with the help of the ubiquitous internet. Facebook especially, Poonam says, is a tool through which young people are able to manage how other people see them. “The sense that they can manage their perception is very common among young people even in the villages. Even if you want to have the slightest of part to play in politics — and these are the people who are doing this at the block, tehsil level — Facebook and WhatsApp is where they like to do that and they’re becoming really good and smart at it.”

Perhaps this is how young Indians will change the world, one status at a time.

Published Date: Feb 19, 2018 13:15 PM | Updated Date: Feb 19, 2018 13:15 PM


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Jayam Ravi on upcoming space film Tik Tik Tik: ‘It’ll be a milestone in the history of Tamil cinema’

Actor Jayam Ravi, who established his career by starring in Tamil remakes of several popular Telugu films in the beginning of his career, made really interesting choices in the last three-four years which has paid off handsomely.

From playing a boxer in Bhooloham to turning into a zombie in Miruthan, he was last seen on screen playing a tribesman in Vanamagan. As he awaits the release of Tamil cinema’s first space film Tik Tik Tik, in which he plays an escape artist cum astronaut, Ravi opens up in an exclusive chat with Firstpost about the experience of working in the film which is unlike anything he’s done in his career so far.

Jayam Ravi in Tik Tik Tik.

Directed by Shakti Soundar Rajan, the film marks Ravi’s second collaboration with the director after the zombie actioner Miruthan. Recalling how the project materialised, he said: “After the release of Miruthan, Shakti called me one day and said he has two scripts – a big project and a small film. He asked me which one I want to work on. I told myself that I’m anyway not going to be around to do 200-300 films. Even if I do one film, the experience should be equivalent of doing five projects. I conveyed the same thought to Shakti and that’s when he pitched the idea of Tik Tik Tik.”

As much as Ravi was excited about the idea of starring in a space film, deep down, he was hesitant. “Initially, I was very hesitant. But I always look at positives over negatives in anything I do in life. When Shakti pitched the idea of Tik Tik Tik, I saw many positives. A lot of people didn’t attempt a space film so far is because of the misconception that we can’t shoot in India and the high cost involved. But Shakti and I had faith in our script and we found a VFX studio (Ajax) in Chennai which delivered the kind of output which was beyond our expectations. We gave them some test shots to work upon and they came out really well.”

Despite his faith in Shakti and the script, Ravi said a lot of people couldn’t believe they could pull off a space film. “When I told some well-wishers and friends that I was going to do a space film, nobody believed in me or in the project. They looked down upon the idea itself. The bigger challenge for us was to script a movie like this in the first place. It needed a lot of vision and clarity. I could foresee the result when I read the script but nobody believed in us expect our producer. But I was quite confident because audiences have always supported whenever I attempted something different. Even though the execution was very strenuous, we were thrilled with the output which was beyond our satisfaction. It’ll be a milestone in my career and in Tamil cinema,” Ravi said, heaping praise on his director.

“A project of this scale and vision requires a lot of research work. Even while shooting, Shakti had to look after so many things as this is a script that’s powered by logic. Since it’s about science and space, he had to keep in mind several things when on the sets. We had to make sure that everything looked believable. Shakti was well backed by art director Murthy. They complemented each other so well. This is a film with a lot computer graphics and most scenes were shot on green mat. A lot of planning went into the shooting process. Everything the actors could touch was actually built from scratch. What the actors couldn’t touch which was mostly everything in the background was created with the help of CG.”

Nearly 80 percent of the film was shot in zero gravity condition. A race against time thriller, it’s a story of five astronauts, who go on a mission to stop an oncoming attack of a meteorite. “As most of the shooting took place in zero gravity conditions, we had to be attached to the harness. We’d wear the space suit and then be attached to the harness for long hours. We’d shoot from morning to evening and most of the times we don’t even take a break because taking off the suit and putting it back on was a time-consuming process.”

Having grown up watching space films such as Deep Impact, Armageddon and 2001: A Space Odyssey among others, Ravi hopes that children celebrate Tik Tik Tik as this generation’s space film, which also stars his son, Aarav, in a pivotal role. “I really hope children warm up to this film. When we made Miruthan, it was passed with an A certificate by CBFC, so it was not suitable for children. I’m sure Tik Tik Tik will appeal to children as well,” he said.

Published Date: Feb 19, 2018 14:01 PM | Updated Date: Feb 19, 2018 14:01 PM


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