Guest Lecture by Filmmaker, Mr. Mahesh Nair at Digital Academy- The Film School.

Mahesh Nair is a Writer and Director; he has an excellent record as a documentary Filmmaker and journalist prior to working on feature films. His documentary on Mumbai’s Dabbawalas, which he wrote and directed for BBC World TV, has been internationally acclaimed and is often used as a case study by Indian and International Management students. He had the opportunity to work with one of India’s leading Filmmaker, Mr. Ram Gopal Varma for many years. He was Varma’s Chief Assistant Director and was also the co-writer of Ek. His upcoming film“Accident on Hill Road” is due to be released shortly.  
Mr Nair commencing his talk said that the most important factor to be a Filmmaker is the Passion to make films, the burning desire to reach the dreams come what may. It is exactly what drives an individual to a point where the entire focus is shifted to just one goal in life, which in turn can change your destiny. Elaborating on this, he said, “ Everyday when you wake up and think of being a filmmaker and it remains in your mind, that even today, even tomorrow, whenever you wake up and you are not bored, the thought of being a filmmaker excites you and if you are able to maintain it for day in day out….. that is called passion, passion for films and being a filmmaker”. He stated that, as a professional you must be very passionate about your work, and must be sure of your goals in life. Nobody can assure you, but yourself. If you think you have it in you, just absorb it and embrace it so tight that it remains and stick to you as your second skin. Citing his mentor’s example he said that. Mr. Ram Gopal Varma sleeps, drinks and eats Films, for him there is no life beyond Films. 
He advised the students to learn the craft and chisel their skills and talents to be finer craftsmen. He said that, craft is something that you learn and acquire through sheer hard work and perseverance. If Filmmaking is your goal, you can learn the craft by watching various genres of films and as students you need to be zealous enough to watch films and try to understand what part of it excites you and bring out the reactions in you. As filmmakers you need to learn to get the effect for films from within. His suggestion to students was to assist directors and filmmakers to learn the craft and be experts in the trade after finishing Film School.
If you are a writer, go about it discover your true calling and write. This also applies to the other facets of your profession, if filmmaking excites you and gives you creative satisfaction, just shoot. Exploring different avenues of your abilities and frequently working on it is an added advantage in possessing your skills. The reaction you get from people helps in building a strong foundation as a filmmaker, it makes you aware of your own pitfalls.
As a filmmaker one should know the process right from the scratch, which involves pre and postproduction work. The entire canvas is based upon strings of various palettes coming together to form a spectacular sight for the world to see. In order to enjoy this view, every feature of filmmaking needs to be finely observed and acted upon with the final outcome in mind, which can be only done if one learns the trade of managing people and conveying exactly what you want to do. If that goal is not achieved then it becomes very difficult to be a filmmaker. If you want to be a filmmaker you need to learn to manage your team. Rapport building is the most essential thing one must learn in this trade and always work with people who are far superior to you, as it helps raising the quality of the films. The process of filmmaking is all about managing people, managing egos and matching your wavelength with like-minded people.
As a filmmaker there has to be something unique about your own film, there should be a part of you in it, personal branding is necessary to be noticed. He further stated that in order to understand your unique quality, you need to get opinions from people who are closest to you as every individual has a different style and that style reflects in your film. He commented on the uniqueness of the styles by saying, “The more unique it is, the more unique your voice is, the more easily it will be heard”.
Rejection is part and parcel of every profession and one must be prepared to accept it and take it with a pinch of salt. It is important to know how to cope up with rejection and not be bogged down by it. Since people have varied opinions about films, you cannot argue on that, it’s all about perception; therefore a vast difference of views would be there. These reactions and opinions help you become a better filmmaker learn to accept rejection and never give up on your passion.
He further started showcasing the clips of his new movie, based on a true story. The reason to display his work was to give an insight to the students about his realistic approach towards making films. He was passionate about making realistic films but was always rejected, but his passion for making films stood strong besides him and kept him going.
He was highly impressed with the infrastructure of Digital Academy – The Film School and stated that. “The academy is well equipped, offering students the opportunity to learn the craft of filmmaking. They just need to learn and face the world to know the reality of filmmaking”. He also mentioned that students were pretty interactive and it’s nice to meet the students and youngsters to get a perspective of life from them.


Paromita Vohra, renowned Writer & Filmmaker held a guest lecture on Filmmaking at Digital Academy- The Film School, Mumbai.

Paromita Vohra is a Filmmaker and Writer. She has written, produced and directed ‘Morality TV and the Loving Jehad: Ek Manohar Kahani’, a documentary on moral policing and tabloid culture set in Meerut, ‘Q2P’, a film about toilets, and the language of urban development with a focus on Bombay, ‘Where’s Sandra’, a film about sexual and community stereotyping of Christian women, often referred to as ‘Sandra from Bandra’ in Bombay, ‘Work In Progress’ about the World Social Forum which took place in Bombay in 2004, ‘Unlimited Girls’, an exploration of what feminism means to different people in urban India which has won several awards and many more.

Her work as a writer includes the feature films ‘Khamosh Pani’ (Silent Waters), about a woman whose life is transformed by growing fundamentalism in a Pakistani village (Dir: Sabiha Sumar), for which she won the Best Screenplay award at the Kara Film Festival, 2003 and ‘Khamoshi: The Musical’ (Additional Scriptwriting), which was directed by renowned filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali.

Ms. Vohra has conducted many workshops that focus on creativity, politics and media with young people. At the lecture she began by asking the students some questions about the birth of an idea and its progress. The emerging discussion was an inquiry into the concept of creativity and its anatomy. Talking about this she said, “The social background, culture, gender, location, where we come from, make and shape the way we look at the world around us… the connection between the what we are and the world around results in a kind of idea… it is a combination of something very general and something very particular to yourself…” Elucidating her process she said that the birth of an idea is often in a very general space, like perhaps a newspaper clipping which catapults into an interest resulting in an idea. The idea begins to transform as one starts reading and thinking about it. Discovering all the ingredients that make a story engaging all over the world develops the story. Stories are ultimately about interesting events and how characters relate to each other; the plot can be easily made, however, what is of essence is the larger philosophical argument that is the theme of the film.

Another important aspect of Filmmaking is the perspective from which a film is told, every story can be told in an infinite number of ways and it is the decision of the filmmaker to choose where he positions the story. In the non-fiction realm the story is actually a relationship between research and imagination. Explaining this she said, “With research you have to constantly keep looking for what you want to tell, because you can endlessly research on something, but you need to find the story within that you have the urge to tell…there are infinite number of plots but it is only the larger philosophical idea that can have multiple interpretations…”

There is a notion amongst Indian filmmakers that they need to capture a large audiences attention, for which they endlessly dilute their films to make it basic for any kind of audience. But generalizing something does not necessarily make it universal. To transcend barriers a universal philosophical core is needed. Explaining this she said, “You can learn the craft of scriptwriting and it will help you put your ideas into a good script… but you need to have a good relationship with ideas, written material and basically with how people live their lives… because craft is not enough…”

Talking about the conditions of the Indian Film Industry she said, “Sadly, if you have a truly unique idea/ story, no big corporate house will fund you… its always an individual with a genuine interest in the story who will end up financing such a project because in our industry, the Producers only want to know about the stars in your film and stars don’t want to play character roles… that unfortunately is the dynamics of our industry…” In spite of this it is possible to make the film one wants to make if one is prepared to struggle. The misconception that a film is worth something only if it’s a feature film is a dangerous mentality because it excludes many individual efforts that have resulted in very good cinema and it is important to be exposed to different kinds of cinema, because there is always something to learn. She felt that people who are in the field of filmmaking at least should not have such biases, especially because they are exposed to various kinds of cinema. It also depends on how one perceives filmmaking. Explaining this she said, “History is never one thing. Someone after all writes it and as soon as you change the author of a history, the history itself changes. In some sense writing film is like writing history… that’s why I think its important to read a lot of non- fiction and be interested in non-fiction, because non-fiction is just in fact stories about our reality that we tell ourselves…”

Speaking about writing she said that story telling is the same in non- fiction and fiction only the mode is different. For her film ‘Unlimited Girls’, which was about gender and feminism in the urban landscape, she had many conversations with women on the given topics and wrote the film for an audience that would relate to those concepts. She took care to not get embroiled in the ‘target audience’ canard, simply because she feels the term implies a ‘shoot to kill’ approach to Filmmaking. She perceives Filmmaking along with all the other Arts, to be a conversation and just as conversation can sometimes mean one party not understanding the other, what is essential is that one is able to say what one has the urge to say.

She advised the students to be aware of what kind of writers they are and be very clear about what they are good at and especially what they are not capable of. She suggested that they draw from people and places, not DVDs and literature. Concluding the lecture she said, “You have to become interested in people, in the way they speak, their opinions and their roles in a particular situation and story – if you want to tell real stories. Then you script your story in a way that allows for unplanned things to happen. The writing is done to create the shape of your film like a map, you can’t decide everything…”

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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Tel. no.: +91-22-28257009/+91-22-28257008


Sharmishta Roy, renowned Production Designer & Art Director conducted a guest lecture on Art Direction in Cinema at Digital Academy- The Film School, Mumbai.
 Sharmishta Roy has worked on movies like ‘Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’, ‘Kabhi Kushi Kabhi Gham’, ‘Gajagamini’, ‘Fiza’, ‘Mohabbatein’ and many more. She is the daughter of the illustrious Art Director Mr. Sudhendu Roy and one of the first women Art Directors in the Bollywood Film Industry.
Enumerating what Art Direction is all about Ms. Roy said, “The job of an Art Director is as important as that of the Cinematographer or Costume designer, because what we are doing is without speaking a single word, we are communicating the culture, socio-economic status and personality of the people in the story being told…” .The Director asks the Art Director to create an ambience. The job of an Art Director is to create an extension of the Director’s vision or perception of how he envisages a film. This involves looking up references, doing drawings based on research work that involves studying similar films, books or even nature. For the final execution the drawings are given to highly specialized people who can understand and analyze production drawings and finish making them in a very short period, they also keep the construction and finishing under the stipulated budget.
The process usually begins with a script narration by the Director, where he explains the dialogues, the scenario and the characters. The character sketches of almost all the characters are given to the cinematographer, costume designer and the art director, who sit together to design the character’s space, costume and ambience. Explaining this she said, “If the Director decides that the film is set in the 1950’s then the Production designer, which in India is the Art Director, decides the costumes, ambience, lighting and basically visualizes all the elements with the Director. Then he translates this onto paper and realizes the visualizations through a set designer, set constructor, set dresser and set prop designer…” So what the film looks like finally largely depends on the way the Art Direction is done. Every script can be interpreted in numerous ways; the final output primarily depends on who interprets the script in what way.   
Describing her work in ‘Mohabbatein’ she said that for Narayan Shankar’s character (played by Amitabh Bachchan) the ambience, lighting and costuming were made to suggest a rigidity and isolation in his personality, which was achieved by shooting his scenes in a monochromatic tone and contrasting them with the vibrant colorful parts of the students. Speaking about color she said, “You don’t have to be obvious with color, it doesn’t have to scream visually unless the script demands that… Each one of you will develop and have your own kind of styles and practices, some will work and some will not… but you have to be honest to the script and understand what it is about the story that you want to express…”
Like painting, every form of art is a means of expression. Film is a collaborative medium, so at every level of collaboration the film undergoes a change due to the inputs of the various professionals. Enumerating her understanding of what can jeopardize the sanctity of the final film she said, “A lot of my work earlier used to shout out and be boisterous, but with time I have realized that I should mellow down a little and let the film take over… with a certain degree of maturity and understanding I have begun to realize that I need to be humble enough to accept that my work should enhance the film and its characters, not function as a showcase for my talent…” She advised the students to work with groups that they feel comfortable and enthusiastic in, because the production time that lasts more than 7-9 months can become disastrous if the atmosphere is not inspiring.
Story boarding is an important process of Art Direction because it helps to visualize what is required, what is not and to eliminate many unnecessary costs. Even though the dominating star system controls a lot of the shot taking in the Indian industry, as an exercise story boarding helps to create a concise idea of the shots required so that economizing the shots can be easier and faster. Color finds its role in the shots, with this process. Each color has its own psychology and a specific physical reaction. Citing the Hollywood movie ‘The Sixth Sense’ she said, “In The Sixth Sense, the color red was used in every frame where a spirit was around, not blatantly but through subtle objects like doorknobs etc… So if I understand color theory and know how to use it then while I’m decorating I will tend to use the colors that are suggestive of the desired emotional reaction required in the scene…” She recommended the students to read books and material in color theory and to understand the significance of colors in different cultures, societies and other frameworks. She cautioned them against using color literally and urged them to understand the palette and wield it consistently and in an intelligent, balanced manner.
She stressed on the importance of communication in this field, especially between departments, because it is absolutely necessary that the work from all the departments comes together and functions in a cohesive manner. In some sense the Cinematographer and the Art Director complement each other. Explaining this she said, “A lot of times, the things that are discussed in the Direction department don’t reach the Art Director or the Cinematographer, leaving them in a lurch because if dialogues are changed or anything is changed, then they should ideally translate into changes from the Art Director, if they want to be true to a script and want to preserve a nuanced quality…”
She encouraged the students to think about Art Direction as a big responsibility wherein they have to design along with express through the visual framework the soul of a film. One of their key roles is to interpret characters and their spaces. Explaining this she said, “If I’m given a house to do up, then through the script I can imagine the temperament of the character and predict his space through that… but it is not just superficial structures that make up a space, you need to understand the nuances of a space, the influences and the history of a space to recreate it…” There is also a need to be honest to a story rather than ponder to what other people think is the best approach, so one must be sure about what one is trying to communicate.
It is essential for students to understand that each individual has a specialty or a forte, which he/she is good at, so an Art Director cannot do all kinds of films. That is why technicians should seriously consider each project that they do and not jump into each an every project that comes their way. As Ms. Roy’s parting advise, she said, “If you are not willing to take risks then you wont move ahead… Just remember to invest your time greatly in research, analysis and study as well as be quick thinking… figure out things, anticipate things… and when you think something is absolutely necessary for the film, try your best to communicate to and convince your Director to make or finish the set in the way that is required…”
For more information contact:
Tel. no.: +91-22-28257009/+91-22-28257008


  • 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.
For more information contact:

Tel. no.: +91-22-28257009/+91-22-28257008



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.
For more information contact:
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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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Mayank Shekhar is a well known Film Critic and Journalist who has been writing for leading Mumbai dailies. He has been recently appointed by the Hindustan Times as National Cultural Editor. Prior to joining Hindustan Times, Mr. Shekhar was freelancing as a Film Critic and Columnist with Mumbai Mirror, and hosting special review and interview shows on NDTV Good Times, NDTV 24×7 and other national channels for almost two years. He is a member of the Central Board of Film Certification and was the winner of the Ramnath Goenka Award for Journalism in 2007. He has headed the features team at Mumbai Mirror for two years and was also part of the Mid-Day features team for four years.
Mr. Shekhar has also authored a book called ‘Bombay Talkies’, which is a critique on contemporary Bollywood cinema and is in the process of finishing two more books on pop culture.
Starting off with what Film Criticism is all about, he said, “The only difference between me and perhaps all of you is that, you can go watch a movie…like it or dislike it and the matter ends there but I have to explain why I liked or disliked the movie…and the explanation cannot be that the cinematography was excellent or that Amitabh Bachchan rocks!” He felt that the Film Critic should respond emotionally to a film as a whole. The response can combine the Critic’s associations of literature, his life, other films, the industry etc. However, film criticism is ultimately a person’s opinion and cannot be classified as right or wrong because one thing is viewed differently by different people because of the varied circumstances, ages, backgrounds and cultures to which they belong.
It is a known fact that one of the highest read things in a newspaper is the film review. Writing movie reviews then becomes a way of taking a standpoint about anything on the planet, even if subtly with the knowledge that the article is being read. There are two kinds of reviews generally in existence; one where the story itself is so senseless that just narrating it makes for humor writing and the other where there is more to the film than the film itself, for example if the film is doing something different that is testing the waters. Every work of Art, even if unwittingly comes with a point of view, so even a film that is touted as brainless is somehow expressing the point of view of its Filmmaker, so Mr. Shekhar said (tongue-in-cheek) that there are no brainless films only brainless Filmmakers. However he firmly stated that to be a Film Critic, one does not need to have an extensive background in Cinema. It is after all his job at some level to represent the public and the lay viewer does not watch a movie in scenes & shots but as a whole, since they are not masters of cinematic grammar.
Describing the process of writing a film review he said, “Say if you go to a beautiful city like Tehran… or you go for a theatrical performance or even if you go parasailing… whatever it might be you come back with an experience and it is up to you as a writer to pen that experience and express it in any way you want… the mediums can be cinema, painting or writing but essentially film criticism is, coming back from the experience of a film and just expressing what you feel creatively…”
The topic of Film Appreciation is completely different from Film Criticism. Film Appreciation means watching and studying the films of the masters that truly changed the landscape of filmmaking. Emphasizing this he said, “It is important to have watched the films of the masters…you might say that Citizen Kane doesn’t entertain you anymore but it is important for you to know the evolution of various elements… if you are going to be part of the process that takes things forward, then I presume you need to know where things are coming from…” 
Being an intense Film buff, he excitedly recounted the history of new waves in Cinema, citing the progression from Italian Neo-realism to French New Wave to today’s Mexican Frontier Cinema. He felt that it is necessary for one to keep abreast of the goings on in World Cinema, explaining the reason he said, “You don’t want to go overboard with admiration over something that has been copied from somebody else’s work… you might argue that it will be new to the audiences because they’ve never seen it before… but it is chiefly because credit must be given where it is due… people who take movies a little seriously should feel incensed at movies that are copied, because plagiarism cannot have an excuse…” As human beings the brain organizes stimuli into data patterns, it becomes more complex as the associations to stimuli increase. Ideas and thoughts are referenced from these data patterns, so at some level everything is the result of copying. However, direct stealing is unethical; it is necessary for one to build the idea in an individual manner, which is what makes it original.
On being asked about the Critic’s effect on the commercial gains of a film he replied saying, “I don’t think it is the critic’s job to say whether a film works or not…In India film reviews can even be bought! That is why the quality suffers… Essentially, nobody knows what works, what you do know is what works for you and that is what I as a Film Critic should do, tell you what ‘I’ think…” According to him, the idea of a Film Critique is not about agreement or disagreement with the reader/filmmaker, but rather to develop a conversation. It is a medium of dialogue that must also stand alone as an independent piece- with a beginning, middle and end, which can amuse, inform, irritate and do all the things that any writing does.
It is a common misconception however that reviews and ratings are the same thing. A review is a text that encapsulates the writer’s emotional response, his worldview, his opinion and his tastes, thus provoking the reader into a discussion. Speaking of ratings he said, “I don’t believe in ratings, unfortunately the public only seems interested in the marks… the problem is that when I rate a movie poorly, it might be for the very reasons that make you like the film, but when the conclusion is drawn based only on the number of stars…you miss the point of a film review! I am someone who would like to read someone’s opinion about why they liked or disliked a film… ” The film ‘Om Shanti Om’ by Farah Khan succeeded in garnering audiences in the Multiplexes as well as in the small towns. The film is about‘re-incarnation’, which was a popular theme in the Indian Cinema of the 80’s that was produced largely for the masses. The small town audiences perceived the film with renewed interest since it was a new film, which was about an old forgotten theme whereas the educated, Hollywood exposed, urban gentry at the multiplexes perceived the film as a spoof on Bollywood, which it was. A review sounds the perceptions of the critic’s background thus proving that reactions to a critique are just as unpredictable as they are for a film.
Although he cited the examples of Film Critic turned Directors like Jean Luc Godard, François Truffaut & Robert Bresson who made brilliant films, Mr. Shekhar felt that Filmmaker’s don’t necessarily make good Film Critics as the two processes are diametrically opposite: the Film Critics job is about deconstruction, viewing the film as a whole and responding to the film itself whereas the Filmmaker’s job is about construction, viewing the film in scenes, shots & building up the entire film.
Talking about Film Criticism as a profession he said that he fancied a job that was solely about writing Film Reviews, except that it is still not a full time job in India, as the public doesn’t follow specific reviewers for their opinion unlike the west where one finds the likes of Roger Ebert, the famous American Film Critic. Describing the constraints of the print media he said, “That’s the hazard of working in newspaper journalism, we’d all like to work a little bit more on our stories, except that they have to be turned in the next morning…” Urging the students to become active about the lamentable condition of newspaper’s attitudes towards Film Criticism he said, “If you believe in the Newspaper, if you read the Newspaper, then write to the paper, inform it if you find a complacent or appeasing review… make it a strong letter… they cannot ignore the letters of a thousand people… opinions will be printed and voiced…that itself is enough, after all Film Criticism is about an opinion voiced!”
For more information contact:
Tel. no.: +91-22-28257009/+91-22-28257008
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