Priya Bhattacharji, speaks to two directors on how the genre is bridging gap between commercial and indie cinema in the country

Short films, once a niche product more suited for the festival circuit has currently taken over the Internet and how. Thanks to the genre’s ever increasing popularity, all kinds of filmmakers, ranging from no-name directors shooting with their smartphones to established players wanting to say a new thing have hitched their wagon to this rising star,” read the Jio Filmfare Short Film Awards information section.

It was interesting to note a highly Bollywoodised entity (where no-names and established players are clearly demarcated) embrace this dynamic independent genre—an acknowledgement of the genre’s creative potential or an #act #to #jump #the #bandwagon, one might wonder?

For ages, ‘shorts’ have been the stepping stone for feature film-making, restricted to the status of calling cards of aspiring filmmakers and student diploma films. With time, filmmakers have realised their potential and now the genre is slowly stepping out of its shell, so much so, that it has its own buzzing ecosystem. Muhammed Asim Qamar who has directed Muftnosh, says that, not only are short films capturing people’s attention, but “any fiction/nonfiction video on Facebook or Whats app that entertain or enlighten people qualifies as a short film.”

Proof that the role of the short film has evolved from an amateur’s calling card, to a tool of powerful telling lies in its massive line-ups at various film festivals. Entries for Royal Stag Short films, Pocket Films, Jio Filmfare and Shamiana the short film club all stand full. Festivals are now forced to acknowledge the often ignored genre that might lack the exaggerated big budget escapism of Bollywood but has the power of storytelling by democratising cinema. Chandan Roy Sanyal, Bollywood actor and short-film director says that, “Raj Kapoor, Bimal Roy, B.R. Chopra did not make films to be art or commercial, they just told stories which will be watched for generations. Be it Bergman, or Welles, or Herzog, or Jarmusch, or Gulzar, or Vishal Bhardwaj. Cinema is for all. It shouldn’t be categorized in any two forms –commercial or independent. “

But the fact remains that such demarcations have existed and played on the audience, so much so, that for the longest time, the widely held belief was that the short film was a minor league to prove one’s cinematic talent. Although these ideas are now slowly being challenged as big league talent in the country takes to the genre, to prove their versatility and desire for experimentation. Take for instance Naseerudin Shah in Interior Café or Manoj Bajpai in Taandav. “Short films are being made in large numbers today, with film industry actors taking interest in the genre, it’s becoming more popular. There is no better way to promote and inform the wider audience about the genre,” says Qamar.

Sanyal, who has acted in commercial blockbusters such as Rang De Basanti and Kaaminey, says that, “I have been acting for a while. I use short films to express my other unsatisfied creative juices. I made two consecutive shorts called 35MM and Azaad where I did not compromise on any aspect of film making. They just happen to be short. Hiroshima (his latest short film) is a window to my mind. I love surrealism and fantasies and that’s my genre in films which no one attempts in India.”

The rapidly growing short film subculture in India attempts to showcase raw talent yet it represents a fraction of the volume of short films floating online. In an age of online hyperbole – most films claim to be “award winning” – making it difficult to identify great stories from great social buzz.

“Short films doesn’t mean a free camera, free location, free actors, free costume, friendship. It’s a serious genre and has to be respected. Unlike west where it’s a respected genre, there is no code of conduct here – anybody and everybody can make a film which is good but the quality suffers. Most of the shorts you come across are immaturely made. I want shorts to grow but in an organized serious manner, “says Sanyal.

With shorts making its mark as a unique format of cinema in India, does it escape the notorious nepotism of Bollywood where connections trample talent?

Some rules are universal, it seems.

“Royal stag and Jio Filmfare are excellent initiatives and can be very helpful in promoting upcoming short filmmakers in refining their skills of storytelling, but, this will work only if these initiatives are not corrupt. Some recent observations show that they favour only films made by directors who cast known faces of the industry. Short films with no face value are ignored or not selected for any awards or screenings or film festivals. Great treatment, stories, concepts are likely fall prey to this,” notes Qamar.

The real growth of short film culture lies in distribution – the task of bringing high caliber shorts, closer to wider audience, in ways familiar to them – implying a need to step further from the film festival and online circuit. The true strength of shorts – stories of universal resonance has to be leveraged to reimagine its reach.

Sanyal says, “Theatres, television should support shorts as stories of a shorter duration. Paid live streaming websites like Amazon , Netflix , and the likes should definitely encourage short films since they are short and need much more nutrition and exposure.” As of now, there is an anticipation brimming, an eagerness palpable among film makers and film enthusiasts – to create short-film viewing into a mass entertainment form where relatable stories precede bankable stars.

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