My first short film
Two days ago, I garnered the courage to watch the first short film I ever made. It was for my 'fiction project' at film school. The year was 2012.
I remember being intent on coming up with my own story (and not adapting something). All of us had to make our own films as directors and double up on others’ films as crew. It was a nice system that encouraged collaborations (in some cases, animosity) amongst students, some of which continue to this day. I give myself credit for knowing back then, that it was a time to ‘experiment and fuck up’. Writing my own story was the ‘experiment’ and actually making it into a film, was the ‘fuck up’.
Leading up to this project, we had had a really good scriptwriting course. So I took great effort and wrote multiple drafts of my film and such. Or at least it seemed like ‘great effort’ back then. But my guide—Arun Gupta, who incidentally conducted the scriptwriting course—wasn’t impressed with my script one bit. We had to choose ‘guides’—a faculty member as a mentor—for all our projects. Reading the first draft of my script, he had remarked, “Why are you trying to make ‘Dev D take 7’? These are the kind of films they make at the institute”. He was referring to the ‘Film and Television Institute of India (FTII)’, the country’s premier film institute, from where he had himself graduated. Even if he hadn’t mean it as such, I had wondered if I should take his comment as a compliment. But I am certain today that FTII students make far superior films than what I ended up making. During this back and forth in drafting my script, I particularly remember him asking me, “Why are you so angry? It is such an angry script. I didn't know you were so angry. The world is not so bad.” I was left wondering how he had figured that out about me. I, too, didn't know I was angry—I was almost relieved at finding out.
As has always been the case with me—of being overcompliant—I took his comments to heart and was very disappointed in myself and my inability to write a good script. I removed the bits that were ‘too angry’, and proceeded to production.
I don’t remember much of the shoot, only that it went haywire, and I just didn’t get along with the actor. I remember smashing my phone into the ground and into pieces during one shot, because I was fed up of this actor's insistences and non-cooperation. I had notions of what it meant to be a director: you must be angry, you must be in control, everyone must listen to you. Ideas that I had picked up from my limited experience on shoots. (Although, toxic work environment continues to dominate many sets.)
When I looked at the rushes after the shoot, I was completely dejected. It looked very bad. I somehow put together a film on the edit table. I had to show the film at my semester jury—an open examination of all your work during the semester by faculty, and where any fellow student could sit and watch you get grilled—and my film was not received well. Obviously. Some classmates had made very good films. I hadn't.
All through this period of three-four weeks, I sulked and brooded and let the world know that I had made a bad film while continously being disappointed in myself. I seemed to be the most in shock about it than anyone else.
I was so scarred that I decided not to go home during the semester break—as ‘penance’, if you will; as if watching films and reading books for three weeks (what I had decided to do during the break) was going to reverse this 'wrong'.
A few days in, I spoke to my guide again and told him how disturbed I was about the experience. He heard me patiently and said—“what you are undergoing is called ‘self-indulgence’. You made a film. It didn’t turn out as you expected it to. You now need to move on to the next project.” He seemed to know that my self-confidence had taken a hit, even if I didn't know it then. He added, “Look, it’s not that you don’t understand the ‘craft’ of filmmaking. A lot of this is also our fault as faculty members; we end up saying something and it affects the students a lot. At the end of the day, this is all just an opinion.” I decided to move on, packed my bags and returned home for the rest of the vacation.
At the end of that academic year, when the film students had to show their films at the auditorium for the entire college (as was the practice), me and another classmate—both of us incidentally had the same guide—decided not to show our films. When he learnt of this, he turned up when we were having chai and got hold of us. "This," he said "is your only opportunity to show this film you have made. Don’t let go of it. It won't matter. And it is not such a bad film. You will regret not showing it.” He somehow convinced me to screen my film.
At the screening, the brutal audience of twenty somethings laughed at odd places in my film, cheered for the wrong things, booed and clapped much before the film ended. Lol. I stood at the back, in the dark, clenching my teeth, waiting for it all to be over. By the end, I was laughing with them and taking it in stride. I guess I was finally done 'grieving'. It was an important step to go through.
The hubris to think that I would make a 'stellar first film, nothing less'—and not doing that had sort of crushed me. It was a big blow to my ego; I seem to recollect all this after a decade.
In the many years that have gone by since, I continue to feel a crippling inability to move on from things. Writing a script continues to be a struggle. I continue to undergo some sort of a ‘self-indulgence’ where I lick my wounds for far too long. Maybe I’ve generally lost some confidence and feel that I'm not 'good enough'. Maybe I’m just scared. Maybe it’s a mix of everything. I don't know. I do know that I continue to struggle with 'perfection'—the same 'perfection' I chronically suffered from a decade ago. I have been finding some success in overcoming it, even if much slower than I would want.
It is really embarassing to be sharing this film. What is, however, notable is the themes I wanted to explore through the film—religion, caste, sexuality, morality. Maybe I need not have explored all the themes at once in the same film, with just one character... in under 15 minutes!
I wrote this logline for the film yesterday: A suicidal man decides to re-examine the morals he has lived by.
I'm unsure if any of the above comes across in the film. I will stand here at the back, clenching my teeth, hoping for this screening to be over. Enjoy.
Watch the film below.