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Saturday, July 25, 2015

Why The Indian Audience Needs More Short Stories: A Quick Chat With Director Shamik Sen Gupta, On Storytelling And Playing With Ideas

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Recently I was blown over an ad 'film' that crossed all records in the ad viewing history of sorts. I am talking about the ad that was made for a brand called Anouk, and even though it had three parts to it, the story that got most talked about was titled The Visit, that featured a young couple who were about to meet the parents, only, in this case, the couple happened to be of the same sex - lesbians. And we all know what 'that' does to our society. I loved the ad, especially as I have always supported the freedom of sexual choices in adults, and have believed that love should not be chained down to age, gender and other such unnecessary words or social barriers. In case you haven't seen the ad yet or are not sure about what I'm saying here, check it out HERE

The ad was actually an online release that was made in the form of a short story, and yes, it was made beautifully, nothing crass or unpalatable about it, and thankfully not made in a way in which many of our Bollywood pieces have 'generalized' and depicted females in same sex relationships. Both the girls in this ad were feminine, and there was no deliberate attempt to give one the 'male' identity as part of a couple.

I did write a lot about the ad, and that is how the director of the ad series, Shamik Sen Gupta, got in touch with me. If you would like to read the review of a few short series I loved, including the Anouk one, you can do it HERE

Shamik was kind enough to share some of his works for my viewing, and I was blown by the beauty in his story telling. I loved it, and again, as I have said earlier, I felt really sad that we, as audiences who would love to see more of such stories, are never given a chance to experience them on the big screen. That is what started our chat and discussion, and here is a look at what I talked to Shamik about his story telling and with Pallavi, his co-director for the short film Playground.

Debo: How come the interest in 'shorts'? Did you always want to get into the crisper version of story telling or is it a stepping stone to lengthier versions of the same? 
PALLAVI: Short is a challenging form of storytelling. It is as difficult or easy as features. But short films are economically easier to make. I am interested in both formats as a storyteller.
SHAMIK: Shorts are a form of films in their own right. Apart from a structure and grammar which is different from a full length feature, it also offers immense freedom especially in the new digital cinema age. That said, its also an extremely challenging form - especially when the ambition of most shorts is to find its way into festivals, in front of a discerning audience of cinephiles and jury. Apart from that, shorts are a great way to prepare oneself towards longer formats of storytelling.

Debo: When did you first come up with a short film and what was it about?
PALLAVI: This is the first short fiction film that I've (co) written and directed. I've worked as an assistant for a couple of feature films and as an actor in a couple of films. Before this I've made a student short called 'Skin' along with my classmate Sophia Bosch. 'Skin' held a microscopic mirror to the beauty treatments that the skin is regularly subjected to. After a filmmaking course in Sweden and Bengaluru, my friend Shamik Sen Gupta and I founded a media outfit- Sweet Spot Pvt Limited. Our first project was a documentary- 'Bookshelves at 17000 ft.' that follows an NGO that's setting up libraries in government schools in Ladakh. 
SHAMIK: I started making films in 2011, with Zinfandel, my first short film – which is about the life of a home delivery kid and his voyeuristic tendencies as he goes around a housing complex delivering stuff. Beyond that I have directed several short films, documentaries and ad films. My list of other short films include – In a Flash (2013), Bookshelves at 17000 Feet (2013), Playgrounds (2015) and the Anouk Series (2015).

Debo: As a movie maker, do you see the Indian audience open to short films yet? Or is there more interest in the international audience for the kind of work you do?
PALLAVI: I definitely see a growth in the number of short films that are being made, and a rise in the attendance to short film festivals. But I guess in our country, it will always be a niche audience that will like, view and encourage short films. Our audiences still have to warm up to non-commercial formats of storytelling. World over, the short film format has seen a steady rise in audience. The biggest challenge for short films is exhibition. I guess now with more and more people opting to get their entertainment from the net (net series, internet releases etc) short films too have a chance of being showcased and presented as sale-able content.  
SHAMIK: The Internet savvy audiences in India have access to short films, more than ever. Though, the same audiences are fed and brought up on a diet of formula feature fare. So their expectations from a short are not always aligned to the visions of independent short film-makers. Similarly, emerging short filmmakers delving into this new form have a long way to go compared to world standards. We often see filmmakers going gaga in social media about their making it to the Cannes Short Film Corner. Though this is no small feat, Cannes Short Film corner is just a showcase of shorts from around the world – but selection in that section is not the same as being accepted in the Cannes Court Metrage, the actual short film festival. The standards of the Cannes festival and all international festivals of similar repute are very high, and we Indian filmmakers have a long way to go before we become festival staples.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

You Were Raped? It's Your Fault - Why Did You Go Out??

First let’s check out the story version (which, by the way, is not very far from how it is in reality)…

Anushka Sharma’s character has to head out at night. She gets in her car, starts driving, and is assaulted by four men on the road. When she goes to report the incident, the first thing the officer asks her partner is “Why did you ‘allow’ her to go out at night?”

This may be ‘just’ a movie, but the problem is that this is not something that stays ‘just’ within the movie, nor is there anything just (read fair) about it.

As a nation, we may be participating in campaigns and pride walks and coloring our profile pictures in the hues of the rainbow, signifying freedom, liberation, understanding and love. But what we continue to do collectively as a society is far from the rosy or the rainbow hue. As a nation, we still do not know how to respect individuals, how to treat our women and girls, how to be sensitive to someone’s pain, or how to accept the fact that yes, a woman can have a mind of her own, that she can move beyond the realm of being ‘allowed’ to do things, that a no means a no, and that there are certain boundaries that should never be crossed.

As a nation, as a society, as humans, we have been failing on that front over and over and yet over again.

The Anushka Sharma character was in a movie. Now here is another incident that is not in a story, but in fact, happened for real, as do so many other similar ones, with just the names and faces being different.

For convenience sake and to not reveal any names, let’s call the girl ‘she’ and the boy ‘he’

‘She’ and ‘he’ were friends, and ‘she’ had made it very clear to ‘he’ from the start that that was all their friendship was about. ‘she’ was already happy with someone else and was settled in her relationship. ‘he’ knew about it and was a family friend, being friends with both ‘she’ and her partner. ‘he’ was single and having a good time, and would occasionally tell ‘she’ about the many friends he met or the girls he dated. Theirs was an easy friendship, where they hardly met but could always connect over the phone on a variety of topics like news, culture, society, politics, entertainment and such…

It had been a long time they met up, so ‘she’ and ‘he’ decided to head out to party with friends. They planned a night when everyone would be able to catch up and headed to a bar. All was fine. But then the weather got stormy and they had to wait out at the bar till it got a little better and by the time the storm was a little under control, it got late and ‘she’ was uncomfortable taking a cab home alone. ‘he’ offered to let her stay at his place, assuring her that ‘she’ had nothing to worry, that ‘he’ would sleep in a separate room and ‘she’ could take a cab the moment it became dawn. ‘she’ trusted ‘he’ and was sure ‘he’ knew that there was nothing on ‘she’s’ mind, so agreed to the same.

Once at ‘he’s’ place they went to sleep in their separate rooms. ‘she’ was not happy about the fact that she had to stay back, but knew it was better than taking a cab alone in a stormy night. A weird feeling woke ‘she’ up and she realized it was ‘he.’ ‘she’ realized what was happening but was too shocked initially to react. When ‘she’ saw that ‘he’ was not going to stop, ‘she’ told ‘he’ to stop, that it was not something on her mind and that ‘he’ was mistaken if he thought that ‘she’ thought of their relationship in this way.

Of course ‘he’ took it as a personal insult and made it clear that saying no was the wrong answer, one that was forcing him to act the way he was acting now. Later, after ‘he’ raped ‘she’, ‘she’ tried to search for her phone and call her partner and a cab, but could not find it anywhere. The door had been locked from inside and ‘she’ realized that she would have to play it smart and not make ‘he’ more aggravated, that her first priority was to leave the place and reach home.

As light was approaching, ‘she’ acted normal and asked ‘he’ if he had seen her phone. ‘he’ returned the phone to ‘she’, saying he had taken it away and hidden it because he did not want ‘she’ to leave. ‘she’ did not say anything and instead kept acting normal. Once the cab arrived ‘she’ immediately left.

‘she’ was not sure whether to go to the police or stay quiet about it, but was worried about her health, so decided to go to her doctor and confide. At the clinic, the first question the doctor asked was to ‘she’s’ partner – “how could you allow her to go out at night? What kind of a woman does that? Of course it was her fault that this has happened. And if she ever goes out again at night, she should be prepared to face it again. Who knows, maybe she did it out of choice and is now lying.”  

The doctor also refused to do a checkup, saying she was not allowed to touch ‘such’ cases.

The incident at the doctor’s clinic rattled ‘she’ much more than the real incident. ‘she’ felt tainted and started thinking that it was really her fault that she had been raped, that had she not gone out it would not have happened. She went into severe depression but continued to act normal, trying to make sense of what had happened and what was happening. ‘she’ was also worried about an impending pregnancy and the thought of getting pregnant or having to abort was both killing her at the same time. Whatever little thoughts she had about filing a report were given up after ‘she’ saw the reaction of the doctor, who was a female.

At present: ‘She’ is out of her depression, knows that it was not her fault, and is getting back to life the way she has always known it, but is extremely wary of friends now as much as she is wary of strangers. ‘he’ denied any involvement and told ‘she’ that she was mistaken, that no kind of physical contact had taken place, whether forced or consensual.

Rape Statistics In India:
As per the statistics of the National Crime Records Bureau(NCRB):

  • Rape is the most common crime that is committed against women
  • Every day, at least 93 women are raped in India
  • In almost 98.2 percent of the rape cases, the offender was known to the victim
  • 21,467 cases of rape were 'reported' in the year 2008 whereas the number increased to 33,707 in the year 2013
  • The most unsafe cities in India based on the reported number of rapes are Delhi, Mumbai, Jaipur and Pune, in that order
  • The highest amount of rape cases occur in the age group 18 to 35

Rape Statistics Around The World:

  • According to the UN, women in the age group 15 to 44 are at a higher risk from rape than from cancer, automobile accidents and other health and medical conditions
  • According to WHO, at least 35 percent women have experienced sexual violence from their partner or friend in their lifetime

- Debolina Raja Gupta

And like I always believe in and say:
"Heal the world we live in
Save it for our children" - MJ

Debolina Raja Gupta

Saturday, July 18, 2015

A Bit Of Love And You'll Heal The Wounds....Mine And Yours

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*all rights of the above art work belong to the rightful owner

I came back today after watching the much-awaited movie Bajrangi Bhaijaan, starring my ever so favourite Salman Khan. Of course the main reason of writing this post is not to talk about the movie, but a comment that I made after coming home that made me think of wanting to write a tad bit more.

After witnessing the immense happiness in the crowd post the ending of the movie, the comment I made was, ‘’Maybe we should start screening Salman Khan movies on the India-Pakistan border, I am sure it will end all our enmity and make us human beings, instead of Hindus and Muslims.”

I stand by what I said.

I have always chosen the people in my life based on the love I feel for them or the genuine love and concern they have for me. Religion, caste, language and even geographical restraints have never been a cause of concern or choosing. I do not have any issues eating at a particular person’s house based on what image they pray to, what clothes they wear, what language they speak at home or which part of the world they originally are from.

To me – it really does not make any difference.

A few days back I was discussing about the concept of love and what it means to me. To me, love is not just restricted to being in a physical relationship with someone (of course, that does require love too, at least for me), but what I mean is that love comes in different forms and styles. Love is not just the emotion that a couple may feel. It is very much the emotion that you feel for your parent, for your child, for a very dear friend, for a baby you met a few times, for someone you have only briefly met but know for a fact that you will connect instantly the next time you meet. There are so many shades of love.

And I am the kind of person who grows with love, who needs the different forms of love to sustain, to grow, to continue to live. And I love back equally strongly. Those who know me know that I am a fiercely protective and possessive person, and for those I love, I can go to any lengths whatsoever.

It truly helps me to connect to those special people in my life I really really love, and there are only a handful of such amazing people I am lucky to know in my life – I have chosen it to be that way. I have consciously removed all those people from my life who I do not really love. And every time I am low and out of sorts, all I need is to get back a little bit of that positivity and energy from those I love, and I am back with a bang, fully recharged and raring to go.

It does make a difference – love – especially the type that is not judgmental and does not come with any preconceived notions.

- Debolina Raja

And like I always believe in and say:
"Heal the world we live in
Save it for our children" - MJ

Debolina Raja Gupta

Friday, July 10, 2015

Cut It Out - Just Drive! Guest Post By Landon Biehl

A few days back, I got a mail from Landon, saying that he had read one of my articles Why Do Teens Engage In Texting And Driving and that he himself has been actively campaigning to spread awareness about the same. Teenagers end up putting themselves in extreme danger when they indulge in cell phone or gadget use while driving, and sadly, statistics only show how big the problem is. 

As being an aware and responsible citizen himself, Landon feels it is best to spread the word and share the information with as many people as possible. Of course I wanted to have him here for a guest post. So here is what Landon has to share about the dangers of teenagers who drive while being engaged in gadget use. It's worth a read!

How many of you are tired of constantly seeing cars and other motorists on the road swerve in and out of lanes? Or, nearly rear end another motorist, or run a stoplight where they shouldn’t have? Then, when you pull up next to them and take a glance in their direction, you see a phone in their hand, or up to their ear.