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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