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  • Writer's pictureRAJULA SHAH


Mentoring first time Directors in Second Wave Pandemic, 2021

7 week online course designed for FTII

The un-narrated life is not worth living –Socrates

When someone asks you who you are, you tell your story. The chief characteristic of the specifically human life…is that it is always full of events which ultimately can be told as a story, says Hannah Arendt. We know that stories if told, like to be heard; if heard, like to be remembered and if remembered, like to be reTold.

Asking the question- 'What is Cinema?' a la Bazin, now again, a century and a half into cinema’s history seems significant. Born at the end of the 19th century, it goes on to become the most important invention, even making the 20th century as it seems to mii- Cinema’s century. Coming in the intersection of Science, Art, Industry and Technology, there is hardly a discipline it has left unaffected in the due course.

It is believed that twenty first century human is fortunate to yet possess an organ that makes her aware of her own conditioning and enculturation and by dint of it may enjoy greater psychic freedom than her ancestors did. Monk-filmmaker Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche sees Cinema as the perfect place for deconditioning. It does so by providing us the same tools of Seeing and Hearing that have in the first place gone into our conditioning of becoming human. It is also of special significance here to remember that he sees making good cinema as good Buddhist practice...

This is where Art and Entertainment look away in contrary directions, even undoing what the other does. Entertainment thrives on keeping intact the conditioned responses of the audience as much as Art attempts to challenge them. Conditioning being essentially cultural in nature, entertainment is bound to be inherently local, of limited significance whereas art is inherently universal, timeless and thus of immeasurable significance. The measurable, imitable, popular and commercial aspect of Entertainment makes capital and (by extension) market a necessary corollary for it and leaves Art outside the accepted rhetoric of success and failure. To recall J Krishnamurti on copying: “One of the fundamental causes of the disintegration of society is copying, which is the worship of authority.”

Much as these seem like simple yet difficult ideas to put into practice, they are also really the ones worth the while. Or so I sense.

This course, is attempting something difficult with getting close to understanding the nuanced and complex role of a Director in the making of a film. With mii training of learning all stages of working through making a film at the Film school and the subsequent film practice since, I wondered if through mii sessions I was conjuring the image of the Director as the super human, required to know practically Everything! Right from the forming of an Idea for the film, to the Treatment, Imaging, Framing, Lensing, Designing of Space and Sound up till the Edit, no stage was outside her/his ambit.

What is a Director's vision, really? Is s/he actively engaged in every department of work needed to realize the vision? Is it even possible? What about the collective practice of cinema? Where are the other people and how does one learn to work with them?

Yes, it is a collective art, distinct from many other art practices. And each member of the team coming into the process here plays a critical part in the realization of the whole. But this is an online course. The others are not yet here. And there is no way of getting through this by bringing them in conceptually. Moreover, there are films to be made at the end of the course. And the participants are free to form their respective teams outside of the classroom. The onus of making the others part of the process and vision however is on the Directors.

However as the course progresses, it becomes an even more difficult exercise with everything falling right into the disastrous second wave of the COVID pandemic. Each class inevitably begins with asking the well being of everyone and their loved ones as much as listening to each account, as the bizarre scene explodes outside all around us, throwing up a lot of confusion and inexplicable stress. While strange events continue to unfold over the course of time, we consider suspending the course. While many struggle with their own illness, or of their family, everyone agrees that there is something in this daily practice, in the intense engagement with the creative process that seems to help them in mysterious ways to wade through the everyday trauma, enhanced more by the apocalyptic view of the media... With everyone's vote for it, we take a week long break instead, to wait for the ones who were forced by personal circumstances to drop out or miss sessions, to join back in.

As it happens, eventually the situation gets better and worsens. The formation of teams outside of the classroom does not seem like a possibility anymore. Everyone is confined to their homes, some by themselves, others locked in with their families. That it is a more or less familiar story with everyone, helps create a strange bond amongst all that is difficult to explain. Time expands. Moments stand out. Creative process intensifies.

Mukul (mii associate) & I, feel the need to revise plans totally. Most participants, apart from not yet feeling like a Director themselves, have never held a camera before, imagined a soundtrack, edited or told a story in their own voice. As we go along, most ideas start to fall apart as concepts. What comes of use is invariably what we have dealt with rigorously in the everyday exercises, working through our own experiences while trying to understand the many diverse components of filmmaking. The idea of the Director needing to know Everything seems to become a requirement now. In her/his memory of the experience and the visualization of the same, Everything must come together. As always, everyone learns from each other.

As the divisions of fictive and factual begin to mix and merge to reveal an 'other' reality, I propose as a uniting theme, working with what we are all trying to process anyway- the isolation caused by the pandemic and the shades it brings out for all across the distances and differences. We decide to build upon a set of films strung together by the idea of 'An evening falling across India.' It is tough.

Given the hard facts of the changed circumstances, not everyone is able to go on to actually accomplish the uphill task of actually completing their first film all on their own. Some are only able to do it halfway. Some others are able to take it to its finale with uncanny perseverance and rigour needed to see it through. It is not possible to bring a judgment on the quality or aspirations of the films or filmmakers. I can only sense that the ones to see it through, would certainly have something to stand by them later, if they do choose to continue the practice.

For those interested in the creative process, I have put together a package of films coming out of this engagement. The learning through any filmmaking processes is often always more than what reflects in the films. However in retrospect, the entire exercise has become such a record of the times we lived through, speaking of an experience we all share in, that it can hold some value for others as well.

Also because of the way these films have eventually made themselves, the experience of watching them is added value. With most Directors, apart from doing everything else, even requiring to walk into their own frames, after pressing the record button and exiting frame to cut the shot, it speaks of a unique process. The films therefore do not seem to fit into any of the certified genres nor categories, acquiring a newer form, revealing other possibilities.

We had a very long, all day screening of films and lovely discussions around the entire exercise, its process and possibilities with ace filmmakers Deepa Dhanraj and Hansa Thapliyal. It was a joy to hear them respond to the films and to know that they found it worthwhile.

You may, if you like, watch the films on the link below. If anything strikes you about the creative process, do share your thoughts as comments, on the experience of watching these.

Being Director part A:

Being Director part B:

Password: BD2021

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