• Renowned Music Director, Shamir Tandon conducted a guest lecture on the subject of Music in Cinema at Digital Academy- The Film School. Shamir Tandon made his debut as a Music Director with Raveena Tandon’s ‘Stumped’ in 2003 and has 13 films to his credit so far, including ‘Rakht’, ‘Page 3’, ‘Corporate’, ‘Traffic Signal’, ‘Bal Ganesh’, ‘Superstar’ and more recently ‘Jail’ among others. He is one among the very few music directors of today who has made legendary singers like Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle, Jagjit Singh and Manna Dey sing to his tunes. He composed the album ‘Asha and Friends’, which had some interesting duets by Asha Bhosle with actor Sanjay Dutt, actress Urmila Matondkar and Australian fast bowler Brett Lee.

He has to his credit more than 150 advertising jingles; audio visuals for popular brands like Coke, Pepsi, Liril, Reliance, Taaza, Samsonite etc. and has done the world cup anthem for the last World Cup where he made 11 leading singers sing in one song. He has done an MBA and was a Cost Accountant by profession. He worked with Singapore-based Virgin EMI, a very big multinational corporation, as CEO of Virgin Music India. He moved on from Virgin in 2006 as a country head to pursue his dreams of composing music. Today, he has been Managing Director and Music Director both with equal ease. Mr. Tandon began by speaking about his unusual career graph, which began in merchant banking, Hire Purchase & Lease and then took a major shift to entertainment when VIRGIN EMI music set up shop in India. The usual mentality of the corporate world regards the creative professions as secondary, however, his passion for music succeeded in luring him towards the music industry. He soon realized that Bollywood films dominated the entertainment industry in India and that any music can thrive only if it is connected to the films.

The Music Directors were generally undermined and led very low-key lives. Citing the successful careers of artists in the west, he inferred that the reason why Indian music composers who make hundreds of songs, don’t find any returns is the lack of a stoic copyright system. He said that the only way things can change is if the new generation of professionals and viewers/audiences creates an environment where creativity and copyright is respected. Demystifying the creation of music in the industry he said, “Often it is assumed that the Music Director is solely responsible for the music of a film, the fact is that there are many people collaborating to make the music come through… the music arrangers and programmers often are the creators of the instrumental ‘climb’ before the song is sung… and bring together the different bits of music to create a song…” Although the composer through his inspiration creates the seed, which is the tune, the final output is a result of a great degree of collaboration and teamwork. He extolled the brilliance of legendary singers like Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle who he has closely worked with, venerating their dedicated and disciplined attitude towards ‘riyaaz’ (practice), which fuels their beautiful voices. He lamented that today’s singers concentrate less on their voices and more on creating an image thus making their intrinsic product weak. He relies on the knowledge he accumulated from the corporate world to work in the field of music.

 Explaining this he said, “Creative impulse is important but you have to understand consumer preferences and market your music in tandem with their changing tastes…” He stated that any creative process finally boils down to man management, hard work and talent selling. He advised the students to develop an in-depth knowledge of anything they do so as to be able to accept any challenge that comes their way. In the actual act of composing there is no way to say whether the tune incites lyrics or the other way around. He cited the example of the legendary R.D. Burman who being a Bengali and not knowing Hindi very well, would compose his tunes while mouthing nonsensical Hindi words. In relation to a film it is the Director who defines the musical boundaries for the Music Director, he decides the fabric of the music he wants to dress the film in. Describing the magic of creation he said, “There are no schools for Music Direction, even if there were any, they’d teach you some instruments, some ragas and tones etc. what one can learn are the tools and the elements employed to create a song, but the creation of something itself can never be taught…” He said that having no classical training in music does not restrict him in any way simply because the ragas and the technical aspects come naturally/ instinctively to him, which is the result of extensive exposure to music, constant experimentation and conscious study.
He suggested to the students that they should always remain open to new technology as that is the only way they can survive. He recounted the time when he had to make a recording with the great singer Asha Bhosle, while she was seven seas away in the US; so the song was recorded over the Internet and was one of the first of its kind for the Indian industry. He said that it was made possible only because Ms. Bhosle was willing enough to try something new. He concluded the lecture by advising the students to look at opportunities outside of Mumbai also, so as to derive more knowledge and not just be steeped in Bollywood. He illustrated the need for traveling and encountering different cultures, by discussing the influences of Scandinavian music on some of his songs and the enrichment it brought. He reminded the students that passion should always be the driving factor.

Digital Academy offers courses in Screenplay Writing, Film & Television Direction, Cinematography, Film & Television Editing, Sound Recording & Engineering, Production Design, Producers Course, Film Making, Acting and Animation & FX.
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Kunal Kohli, renowned Writer & Director of the films ‘Hum Tum’ and ‘Fanaa’, holds a guest lecture on Filmmaking at Digital Academy -The Film School, Mumbai.
Kunal Kohli is a Hindi Film Director and Writer. He has made films like ‘Mujhse Dosti Karoge’, ‘Hum Tum’, ‘Fanaa’ and ‘Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic’. He started out as a film critic in the late nineties and hosted the show “Chalo Cinema” on Zee TV. He also directed about 24 Music Videos before finally giving up Video and Televison for films. He started his production house Kunal Kohli Productions in 2007 to make films for himself and launch new directors.
Kunal Kohli began by stating that he came from a regular Indian middle class family, which made his journey into Films a difficult escapade, explaining this he said, “I’ve been in this line since 1990 and it takes a lot of time and a lot of struggle… that is why I chose TV first… because I knew it would be more difficult to break into films…” He elucidated that to survive in this industry all one needs is passion and the willingness to fight for that passion. Another thing he believes is that learning Filmmaking is the same as learning to live, which is why honesty is a key quality that any Filmmaker should possess.
Talking about his film ‘Mujhse Dosti Karoge’, he said, “Mujhse dosti karoge didn’t work simply because it wasn’t from my heart… I had a film which had all the elements of a hit film, but what was missing was the most crucial element, the director’s soul, I was trying to be someone else and so I was rejected, because originality always succeeds and to know whether you are being yourself or being someone else you have to treat your thoughts with honesty and it is difficult to do that…” His disappointment with ‘Mujhse Dosti Karoge’ led him to understand that being afraid of failure is the first step to failure and thus he decided to make a film that he believed in, resulting in the hit film ‘Hum Tum’.
Describing the difficulties he came across while making ‘Hum Tum’ he said, “It was a very difficult film to make… I was ready to accept any failure that would come my way and so I gave it my best… when I was in doubt I asked myself if this is the film I want to make and if I felt convinced about it then I would do it passionately…” A three-hour film allows one to narrate a story that can take place in an hour, a few years or maybe even across centuries, but how one uses the time is what matters. While writing a script, he advised all the students to write each scene as if it were their last, making sure that every scene has a moment.
On the clichéd and formulaic nature of Hindi cinema, he said, “I love Hindi cinema, I’m not embarrassed by Hindi films nor do I have a problem with being ‘filmi’ in certain realistic parameters and that’s the beauty of Hindi cinema, that some clichés work and sometimes some don’t, but at the end its your conviction that makes it work not your calculation…” Commenting on contemporary films he said that today’s protagonists have interesting jobs and are well defined, whereas earlier they used to be vague. This trend has made writing a script easier, especially because characterization has taken an important role. On this topic he said, “When you write about a character you have to know everything about him…from what he likes to eat, how he speaks, what he likes to wear, to what his interests are, you should have at least a 3 page character sketch… In fact when I think about the characters in my films I don’t think they are fictional, they in fact will live longer than I will… I mean look at Gabbar Singh’s character from ‘Sholay’, he is still alive and kicking!”
Mr. Kohli attributes all his knowledge of Filmmaking simply to watching films an innumerable number of times, especially movies by filmmakers like Vijay Anand, Manoj Kumar, Ramesh Sippy, Raj Kapoor, Guru Dutt, Bimal Roy, Raj Khosla and many more. He feels that as students of Filmmaking it is important to study a filmmaker’s body of work.
In Filmmaking problems relating to weather, lighting conditions, crew, production, equipment etc always exist, but to be a good director it is important to have man – management skills, to be able to handle people and to be able to inspire the crew, including the light boy sitting up on the rafters despite these problems. Describing his process he said, “I plan my scene at the location, then call my actors and show them what I want… at this point my actor’s suggestions are taken into account and they are sent for their make – up etc, here I watch the entire scene like it were a play after which I discuss the whole thing with my DOP, who gives me his inputs about how to shoot the scene and we gradually breakdown the shots…” On set he never says ‘Cut’ as soon as the desired scene is done, because he likes to wait awhile to let something magical happen. He explained that Filmmaking is a lot about being fluid, allowing things to happen on their own and ‘going with the flow’ while always having a plan. As there is no perfect way to shoot a scene, it is mostly about what the Director is convinced about.
On being asked about his stint with Film Criticism he said, “When I couldn’t make films I decided that since I love films so much I might as well talk about them and figure out what people like and dislike… the best way to do this in fact is to see a film with the public and you can tell if the film will work or not… In that sense I was a strange kind of film critic…I wasn’t too concerned about my own viewpoint, you could say that I was a populist kind of critic or reviewer…” In the field of Television he learnt how to work within a time constraint and a budget, and turned out to become very disciplined. With these events in his life he illustrated that everything can teach one something but only if one is open and willing to learn new things at all times, which essentially is the only method to learn Filmmaking, since it is all about taking things from life and becoming a Director hardly stops that learning process. He advocated exhaustive scheduling and planning, as that is a very crucial part of the process of Filmmaking. Finally, without any prolific parting words and with a courteous thank you he concluded the lecture and wished the students good luck.
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Mr. Onirban Dhar, renowned Writer & Director of the film ‘My Brother Nikhil’ and ‘Bas Ek Pal’, holds a guest lecture on Filmmaking at Digital Academy –The Film School, Mumbai.
Mr. Onirban Dhar is an Indian Film Director, Editor, Writer and Producer. He was born in a small town in Bhutan. In 1986, he moved to Kolkata where he studied comparative literature. Having an interest in Filmmaking from a very young age he also attended the film institute in Kolkata simultaneously. After participating in a workshop organized by the Max Mueller Bhavan he won a scholarship to study Filmmaking in Berlin. Since he got back about eight years ago, he has been working in Mumbai, as Editor and Director of a number of corporate videos, serials, music videos and Films.
Mr. Onirban commenced the lecture by speaking briefly of his history and what eventually led him to his present day. He said that as a new comer he had worked as an editor, producer, art director and many more things, simply because he wanted to increase all & any inputs that would make him a better Director.
Talking about his momentous film ‘My Brother Nikhil’, he said, “If I wanted to then I would have made my first film 6 years ago, but I would’ve had to make it the way other people wanted it to be made… For me the reason for making a film is so that I can tell my story, its not commissioned work, its something that gives me creative satisfaction and helps me grow as a human being…” In his initial days he would write scripts, with which he would approach producers and stars that would get scandalized by the script. This led him to search for an idea whose production and finances, could be managed by him and a few friends. He made sure that this strategy did not make the film look like a low budget production but rather strived for a budget that is appropriate for the subject.
While he was working for the serial called ‘Men Only’ produced by renowned Director Shekhar Kapur he stumbled upon a person called Dominic Dsouza who was the first known HIV+ person in India. As he researched the man he began to form a picture that stayed long enough, to motivate him to write the script of ‘My Brother Nikhil’. He had originally planned to make it in the Digital format however with the support and encouragement of his Actor friend Sanjay Suri, he proceeded to make the film on Cinemascope with the intention of releasing it in theaters. Karan Johar viewed a rough cut of his film and was completely enthralled, which led to the Yash Raj Banner releasing the film and providing it the countrywide platform it required.
The film has garnered international acclaim and has traveled to many international festivals, it is also widely used by NGO’s for AIDS awareness, sexual awareness, Human Rights Organizations and has been touted to be a compulsory film in schools too. Speaking about this, he said, “The film is firmly about accepting differences & showing it to school children is the best way to educate children about understanding diversity…” Speaking about the making of the film, which was shot in 29 days, he added that budget constraints trained him to look at what was possible with whatever resources he possessed.
The characters according to him are the most important aspect of any film and in casting for a character it is important to preserve honesty towards the character as it finally makes the script come alive. To be accurate with his characterizations he interacted with many NGO’s to be able avoid stereotypes, clichés and make sure that he does not send out a wrong message. Elaborating on this he said, “As I was writing the script, Nikhil became a homosexual character and portraying him as anything else would destroy him and I’m glad that my actors had the guts to play the roles in such a film… How you project your characters always sends out a message about you as a human being and every film sends out a message…”
Having worked on films with shoestring budgets he advised the students to plan exhaustively for their films, stressing on aesthetics he said, “It is important that when you start shooting you think of styles… not by referencing other Directors but by evaluating your scripts on the basis of what mood you want to project through the scenes and essentially how you will integrate content and style, because even style has to have a very specific reason…” He spoke about his second film ‘Bas Ek Pal’ where he had tried to find an intrinsic visual style, by playing around with colors, characters and styles. He cited Kieslowski’s films: Red, Blue, and White as an inspiration. He suggested that filmmakers should always try something new instead of presuming that no one will understand and said, “Cinema is supposed to be watched by the audience on a big screen so you can play around with the visuals… Unfortunately, in India people are so used to everything super-lit, with fast cuts and the whole television style that they don’t recognize the beauty of the frame or what it can express…” When asked about which actors he would like to work with he said, “I don’t write scripts for actors, I want to write stories that I want to tell and then see who fits into the role… I hardly find myself yearning to work with any particular actor mostly because that choice has to come innately from the character…”
Recollecting his days as an Editor he said that as an independent professional he aspired to be wholehearted towards his work and so never allowed the directors to be present when he made the first cut. Explaining this he said, “I’m not just a machine operator, I respect myself and its important that I am given that respect… sometimes you learn that something you did, is not working for the director, but you have to try it first, so you have to learn to assert your creative sensibilities and not be scared all the time…Trust your instinct but at the same time be open to criticism…”
The modest Filmmaker presented to the students a promo of his film ‘Bas Ek Pal’ which he had edited himself and proceeded towards the strenuous aspect of filmmaking: the film’s promotion. He described his disappointment at the state of film promos today wherein there is no concept or narrative just a random assortment of shots with music that is not corresponding. He said that as a filmmaker he specifically looks for Producer’s who allow him creative independence and no interference as that is the most productive work environment for him.
He advised the students to distance themselves from their scripts by making as many people read them and since filmmaking is a collaborative medium he suggested that they should trust their team. Concluding the lecture he announced his aspirations of becoming a better Director so that someday he will be able to produce films for first time filmmakers.
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