By Gargi Vachaknavi
A private viewing of a film?
That sounds exclusive and enticing… made one feel like a star. But it was just a start — a start to showcase what a small group of talented individuals can do.
The idea for the fourteen-and-a-half-minute film brewed over a cup of coffee where writer Tanuj Khosla shared his story with actress Renita Kapoor. Kapoor said she always wanted to play a dark character and the story offered that.
Set in an indeterminate interior, in this case Kapoor’s house in Singapore, the film mapped the life of a stand-up comedian couple in India (and there is no way to figure out where the locale is if it is all within a room). We know the country because the dialogues mention the fact that the husband is a top comedian in India. The movie is mainly conversation between the couple — in a mix of colloquial Hindi with a smattering of English — the way any person would in a well-to do Hindi speaking Indian home.
The story takes a strange twist.
The wife is Kapoor. And the husband? The husband is no less than actor Shishir Sharma, a well-known actor on stage, television and Bollywood in India.
For fifteen minutes, no one spoke. No one moved. And all eyes were glued to the screen that told a gripping tale with a strange twist at the end.
Zafar Anjum, the founder of Kitaab and Filmwallas made his grand debut as a director of this film – The Sacrifice. Why would Zafar Anjum — a writer with a number of books under his belt and some published by Penguin — move to direction and filmmaking?
He gives a candid answer: “For me, good writing is against bad behaviour, as novelist Jonathan Franzen said, and today, when I look around, I find that bad behaviour has become mainstream. From that perspective, writing seems pointless and limited, as though only a certain kind of people are writing and reading while the rest of the world is happily moving into the throes of entropy. We are living in a dystopic world already where bad (if it sells or if it has the numbers or votes) is lauded and good is punished. There is too much of materialism, environmental degradation and violence in the world now where writing has lost its value. Everyone is in a rush. Nobody has the time to enjoy a beautiful sentence anymore. It does not mean that I have stopped writing completely or I don’t admire those who write and suffer for it. On the other hand, I find the medium of films collaborative and exciting. The chances of people watching your film is higher today than their having read your book. At the same time, writing is the backbone of filmmaking. It’s also a form of storytelling which has an immediacy and dramatic effect that is very powerful. Lastly, I had always desired to pursue filmmaking after 40 so I am just chasing my dream.”
And as he chased his dream, he formed a company called Filmwallas, just the way he formed Kitaab for upcoming writers. “Filmwallas started off as digital platform to connect and empower storytellers through the medium of films. It was a natural extension of what we are doing at Kitaab. Filmwallas has produced many short films but for The Sacrifice, it only plays the role of publicity partner,” says Anjum.
Shishir Sharma, the male lead in The Sacrifice, has conducted a number of workshops for Filmwallas. He gave participants time to create their own stories and helped them gain confidence to be on stage, to be free with movements, with touching. Sharma says: “The workshops I do here are like stress busters. Here you can just abandon your daily routines and just let go.” He does “innovations” in the workshops and wants to take it to “another level” so that participants “rekindle their passion for acting”. He said, the workshops “were fantastic” and the film evolved out of the workshops. The workshops help the team to “gel” together.
Anjum explained the process, “The goal of Filmwallas is to empower the creative community. The acting or other film-related workshops helps us foster that community spirit.” And that community spirit helped create rapport among the team so that they could come up with good quality short films.
So how was the team formed? How did they all meet — an actress, a writer cum aspiring filmmaker and a well-established Bollywood actor? Sharma said he met Kapoor through Facebook. Anjum had invited Sharma to act in his earlier short film More Chai Please and that is where the two actors actually met. During Sharma’s stay in Singapore, Anjum also arranged an interactive session with local actors at a restaurant run by Kapoor’s family. That’s when the idea of the workshop was started by Filmwallas and Kapoor’s Noor Productions became a collaborator. “Since then we have been working together as a team, specially Shishir Sharma, myself and Zafar on various projects. For The Sacrifice, we had on board some new people in the team,” Kapoor says.
The story and the script have been by written by Khosla, who is an investment professional by day and a player with words by instinct. Groomed by his writer-mother, Anju Khosla, his passion for words found fruition in writing lyrics, poems and short plays. His scripts have been performed widely in India, Singapore and Canada performed widely. One of his short scripts won acclaim in Australia recently.
Coming from the world of finance, why did Khosla pick stand-up comedians as his subject? Khosla explains: “The crux of the script was a husband-wife duo who are in the same profession and are marred by feelings of jealousy and competition. Also, I needed something for them to fight over in order to raise the stakes for each of them. Their profession as stand-up comedians gave me the ability to do all that and more!”
Kapoor tells us more about how she met Khosla and the script evolved: “Tanuj and I met because we heard about each other through common friends in the theatre. Tanuj called me as he was very keen on writing something for me to perform. So, we both met and clicked very well and decided to start our creative journey together which led to this film The Sacrifice.”
Kapoor has had a passion for acting from a young age. “I have been acting and performing on stage since the age of four. In Singapore, I have been actively performing in theatre, movies, television, commercials and print ads since 2015. I have done six plays in Singapore since 2015 and am rehearsing for the seventh one.” She is now also involved in a film in Bollywood.
And Anjum? What are his plans? Films or writing or a combination of both? “I want to write and direct because I enjoy the entire process of developing an idea and executing it. I love to work with other writers too. So far, all the short films I have made were written by other writers. My next short film has been written by me. I write or make films when I am really moved by something,” he concludes.
Gargi Vachaknavi wafts on a sunbeam through various realms and questions the essence of all existence with a dollop of humour.
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