Bharathan Kandaswamy’s Master Class at AISFM

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Keeping each session fresh and interactive, bringing in a whole new perspective that would benefit students are the Guest Lectures here at AISFM. Students’ gain new insights and get to interact personally with them, thereby strengthening their belief of having taken up the right career choice.

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Visionary leader and renowned film personality Bharathan Kandaswamy held a Master Class at AISFM earlier today. The veteran shared his thoughts and experiences with the students and the students on their part, asked questions and gained a great insight and knowledge into the world of films be it complete management of the preproduction and production process as well as marketing and distribution arrangements.

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Bharathan Kandaswamy has represented Indian film industry in several international festivals and conferences such as Cannes, Toronto, Los Angeles and Tokyo International Film Festivals and has over two decades of (24 years) of experience as Executive Producer of films overseeing many big budget films such as Roja, Muthu (Dancing Maharaja), Saamy, Kuselan etc.

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Be it in the field of literature or diverse aspects of film-making, many a personality have graced the campus earlier to hold a Master Class. In the past Amitabh Bachchan, K.Vishwanath, Anupam Kher, Mahesh Bhatt, S S Rajamouli, K Vishwanath, Vikramaditya Motwane, Vijayendra Prasad, Lakshmi Manchu, Amish Tripathi, Teja (director) amongst many others have come to AISFM.

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Australian team holds interactive session

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AISFM is constantly creating new avenues that would be a learning experience, while keeping each session fresh and interactive and bringing in a whole new experience that would benefit students. Students’ gain new insights and get to interact personally with them.

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Taking a step in this very direction, AISFM held an interactive session with Ms. Robyn Kershaw and Mr. David Redman from Australia, wherein they shared their experiences with the students. The students on their part, asked questions and gained a great insight into their working styles and methods.

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David Redman is CEO and one of the founders of Redman Entertainments’ subsidiary, the Instinct Entertainment media group and has worked in the US, UK and Australian media and telecommunications industries with over 20 years of practical experience in fund raising and corporate and project management for various media businesses and projects. He has worked with a range of companies including Paramount, Universal, Village Roadshow, Channel Nine, Macquarie Investments, Island Records, Recorded Pictures, Hoyts, Virgin Interactive and Adlabs.

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David also line produced the Adlabs distributed Bollywood hit comedy, Singh is Kinng, produced the Village Roadshow distributed comedy Take Away and the Hoyts/Nine distributed comedy You and Your Stupid Mate.

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Robyn Kershaw is a producer and company director with RKP, a film and TV production company and RKPix a company focussed on multi-platform works. RKP and RKPix have produced feature films, TV, games, animation, short films and webisodes. Robyn is currently in development with Dollhouse Pictures on their first feature film and a number of Indian filmmakers including Nandita Das.

“I am more of a visual story-teller”

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“I dream in 35mm”, says he and reminisces about how the fascination for it all started. “It all started in my childhood when I was seven years old”, he adds.

That’s Shaneil Deo, who is the talk of the town these days, thanks to his excellent work as a cinematographer in the recent Telugu thriller Kshanam. The visual feast and stunning frames in the film attracted movie goers. His work on the short film Layla got him several international offers but he chose to come to India when the makers of the movie approached him at an international film festival last year, because the story of Kshanam intrigued him.

“I have always been inspired by the world of photography and filmmaking. Using both as a medium, I have learned to channel my thoughts, capture fleeting emotions and use them to create beautiful memories. I believe in expressions of individuality, which lies for me in snapshots, editing and cinematography. Through films and photographs, I strike to capture all elements and create the most unique representation of the world around me,” says the talented cinematographer.

In AISFM to conduct a hands-on workshop on the finer nuances of cinematography, Shaneil spent good two-days with the students. Spending some ‘moments’ with the ‘Kshanam’ cinematographer, here are the excerpts of our conversation with him.

  • You say you have been inspired by the world of photography (and filmmaking). Is cinematography then, a natural transition?
    Absolutely! My father was a photographer, so I got my first camera from him. And I started doing photography, by shooting family birthdays etc. and I was inspired by movies and moving pictures, and that led me to try out of curiosity which then led me to cinematography.
  • Which medium are you most comfortable with?
    I enjoy both photography and cinematography, but I am more of a visual story-teller, so it comes down to cinematography. I actually feel photography is harder than cinematography, because you have one chance and one time to capture the moment and with cinematography you have 24 frames to tell a story, so I find it a little easier and I prefer cinematography in that sense.
  • Within photography, do you prefer the black and white format or the colour format?
    I love the drama that black and white creates. So, if the lighting is falling on a face and you just shoot in black and white, then you can isolate and make the eyes focus on a specific part. That way I enjoy black and white photography or monochrome as it is called.
  • “I dream in 35mm”, says your status on a social network page; how did the fascination for it all start, can you share more about the first thing that attracted you to it all?
    I was about seven years old and I had gone to a movie. I don’t remember which movie, but I walked in and walked out after watching the movie and felt like I have never felt before. The emotional adventure and roller-coaster ride that I went through after watching the movie, with goosebumps on my body, that’s when I realised that this is something that I can do and would love to do. One simple movie that made me feel like I never felt before, and I had decided what to do.
  • What’s coming up next, work wise?
    As of right now, I am finishing up the remake of Vicky Donor, after that just negotiating couple of pictures. I went to Cannes and met some producers and things have not materialised as of now, but I am in talks with a French team.
  • From SFO to Hyderabad, has it been difficult culturally?
    The journey has actually been amazing. Culturally it has been very different. I was born in Fiji and raised in the US and I don’t have any family in India. My first trip to India was in 2013 and I was there for one month and it was a culture shock at that time. The culture was different, the language was different. I don’t speak Telugu but I speak Hindi. I only knew about Bollywood movies and never knew about Telugu movies per se. So coming here now, after three years, was okay to adjust because being here once before, helped. People are nicer and very cool to work with and it has been fun. I haven’t picked up the language yet. They all teach me bad words first (laughs). But besides that I am pretty comfortable and I can travel on my own now.
  • How has your trip to Hyderabad been? What do you like most about our city?
    It’s been good. But I despise the traffic. The food I love! (he says with a big happy grin). I have tried every biryani house in the city. I am not big on eating rice but biryani is something that is out-of-this-world! I have tried biryani in the States and it is nothing like the biryani in Hyderabad.
  • Any tips for our students?
    First thing I would like to mention is dedication to the craft and what I mean by that is learning; to not stop learning about the craft. Just because you learnt a technique does not mean that, that is the only technique. There are so many different ways and techniques in doing that same thing. The field we are in, photography or cinematography, there is no one way of doing things, no right or wrong. It’s the way you perceive something. It’s how impactful you can make the frame, that’s what counts in the end. So I would say, focus on learning the craft, push yourselves, get out of your comfort zone, learn new techniques, try new things, be at it, regroup, reassess and try again. But most importantly, be dedicated and be self-confident. Even if you don’t do it right, you will try some other way. I grew learning through trial and error. I didn’t go to a training school and I wish I had this training facility available for me when I was growing up. There were schools back home, but it didn’t work out for me. We are in an environment where you can ask questions, there are people who have more experience and have done this before, so use that facility. Ask questions; bother them with lots of questions until you get the answers. So there is no reason that they cannot learn.
  • Your thoughts on studying at a film school per se and learning on the job?
    I feel that they both go hand-in-hand. At school you learn a lot, you learn how things are set up and you take that knowledge and learn how to apply it on the real set. On the set, it is good to see what is happening, but if you don’t have the knowledge of how it is happening and how to apply it then it is just like looking at the sets. So taking this application that you learnt at school and then going and seeing how things are implemented, that makes more sense for someone who is new. So this background of studying at a film school is critical.

He ends the discussion saying that he learnt Hindi just by watching Bollywood movies. Any favourite stars? “I would love to meet and if I get a chance to work with, then someone of the calibre of Irrfan Khan, I like his powerhouse performances,” he signs off with a smile.

Nassar: “A chain of emotions makes up a film”

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Veteran film actor, director and producer, who has worked in the Indian film industry for over 30 years, visited AISFM recently for a master class with our students. The actor had previously come in for a quick chat with our students, a few months ago.

Nassar made his acting debut in K. Balachander’s Kalyana Agathigal (1985) portraying a secondary supporting role, before moving on to play villainous roles in S. P. Muthuraman’s Velaikaran (1987) and Vanna Kanavugal Avatharam (1995), a film based on the backdrop of a folk art troupe, marked his directorial debut. The actor visited the school for a Q & A session with our students wherein he spoke about his experiences working in the industry and gave tips to our students for their future.

The session commenced with a question by a student wherein he asked Nassar to explain how a director approaches every actor to act in his movie. Nassar jokingly said that this can be answered either truthfully, which will end up being funny yet scary, or he can answer this by stating how an actor is supposed to handle accepting or rejecting an offer. He then went on to say, that every director must first put his script down on paper. Only then will he be taken seriously. His writer must have the patience to sit down and travel with every character through a special journey. Only then will the film be gripping. The director merely has to shoot this travelled journey, scene by scene. Now, what an actor must do is completely different. He must read the entire script not just his parts, stick to the script, but not follow it blindly. Knowing this difference is what makes an actor’s work shine through.

Choosing which actor is suited for a particular role must be given to a casting director. He understands the script, analyses it and comes up with options on who can play the character in question. He needs to study the character and choose his options ‘A’, ‘B’, or ‘C’ and present this to the director. The only thing a director must do is finalize from the options along with the casting director.

Nassar spoke about how our Indian industry is different from the one in the West. “I have worked in around 400 films throughout my career. Out of these, for at least 300 of them, I was given around a week’s notice before the shooting was supposed to begin. As future directors, this is something you must try to change in the industry.” To all the future actors in the audience, he said “The numbers of films you do; do not make you a better actor. The type of acting you do, does” He then went on to speak about art films. The market for art films is less, their budget is less and hence they need good acting in the film. They hunt for good actors. That is why the quality of art films is so much better than that of mainstream cinema. We try understanding art, but art is not something that can be understood. There needs to be a discussion with oneself for that revelation to happen, he said.

He then called a direction student from the audience, for an impromptu session. He gave the student a film’s situation and asked him to say what he would do if he was the director of that film. Soon after this, he went on to speak about the importance of a scene. “A scene is like a bead in a beautiful string of beads. It is not complete in itself. Like that, a chain of emotions make up a film. As far as acting is concerned, an actor is hired as a professional. He needs to act like one too. The director knows the process of the film, and as a director, it will be your job to explain to the actor what he is supposed to be doing.”

Nassar went on to explain the importance of sticking to aesthetics while being modern, to commence the end of his session. He spoke about dialogues, how using too many of them are not suitable when one wants to make good cinema and how the idea behind the dialogues matter more.

“We are changing fast, but we are not progressing. Previously, we were scared, because the production cost was high. We had to make sure we were able to maintain the flow of emotions from one scene to another in as few takes as possible. Now, you are in a digital age. You must be able to exploit this to its fullest extent. Let us grow digitally. Let us grow technologically,” he concluded with a smile and then obliged the students who wanted to capture this interaction by taking photos with him.

Aayush Agarwal: On FreshFace, Acting & the importance of Moisturizing!

Our student Aayush Agarwal recently took part in the Hyderabad Times Fresh Face 2015, and was the 1st runner-up. We caught up with him recently for a quick Q&A session. Here’s what our young star had to say!

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Q: What was the first thing that came across your mind when you were crowned 1st runner-up?

A: It was a beautiful feeling. The fact that I was able to even come in 2nd place in a competition that is as vast as this one, is what made me feel happy. As far as not winning comes up, I’m okay with being second, because this is what will make me strive to come 1st the next time. It will make me work harder. That is a plus point according to me.

Q: What can we expect next from you?

A: I have a few short films that are lined up. Also, I am auditioning for another feature film where I am supposed to play the younger version of Rana (Daggubati), so let’s hope that gets through. Apart from this, I am also playing the junior version of the actor Shashank (Siddamsetty) in the upcoming film Yathartam (AISFM Student Grad Film). Shashank has won a Nandi Award, so that’s a big honour for me to be able to work in the same film as him.

Q: How did you come across this competition and what were the things you underwent during the hunt?

A: Clean & Clear goes to several colleges and has auditions in their campus. I, however, was informed about it by my friend that there were open auditions being held at Inorbit Mall, in which anybody could register. That’s where I auditioned. I acted in the 1st round and cleared it. There were about 1000 students at this level. In the semi-finals, 20 of us were shortlisted. Designer Ganesh Nallari took us shopping and gave each one of us a makeover, so that was fun! He also choreographed the ramp walk that each of us had to do in the finals. A quick introduction session along with a talent round then happened, which determined whether you are a finalist or not.

Q: What did you do for the Talent Round?

A: I acted and danced. I performed on the song Aala Barfi (Barfi) and proposed to the judge Regina Cassandra at the end of it (laughs). Then I transitioned into acting by saying the dialogue from Pyaar ka Punchnama. I had three minutes for my entire performance, so fitting all these elements and making sure I’m doing it all right was a challenge for me.

Q: What is the secret behind your Clean, Clear and Fresh face? 🙂

A: (laughs). The secret is that I use my Clean & Clear facewash followed by a moisturizer. On a serious note, I know where I want to go, and I know I need to have this if I want to move forward. I need to take good care of myself if I want to get into this field. So yes, that’s my secret!

From script to screen – learning the art of seamless transition

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The third semester of the MA (Film + Media) course at AISFM is a hectic time for students. Deep in some of the most complex subjects of their specialization, they also prepare to produce their graduation films.

And this year too, screenwriting students have been buried in their laptops, or staring into space, as they contemplated story concepts to pitch to faculty panels. And helping them in this process was screenwriter/filmmaker Charudutt Acharya.

He recently visited the school for workshop on screenwriting with the students. For students grappling with perfecting their scripts for their final project, the session was an eye-opener.

“Before the workshop I was happy with what I had written for my film, but Charudutt sir pointed out so areas I could improve to make the script great. The sessions not only helped developing my graduation film, but also helped me as a writer, Said Sasinder Pushplingam, an MA (final) student.

Megha Subramanian, screenwriting faculty at AISFM was pivotal in roping in the filmmaker for the workshop. “I met Charudutt in Berlin during a screenwriting competition. I was impressed by his skill as a writing mentor and his accessibility to students. When we began the process of selecting a teacher for this workshop, I immediately thought of him,” explained Megha.

Acharya has co-written and produced two Hindi feature films – Dum Maaro Dum and Vaastu Shashtra. His directorial debut, Sonali Cable, hit screens last year. “Since Charudutt just finished directing his first feature film, the script-to-screen process was still fresh in his mind. He was perfect for the workshop,” said Megha.

An intensive four-day series of feedback and writing sessions, the workshop was scattered with discussions on the current industry scenario. The sessions included analyzing the variations in writing approaches, reading film treatments and watching the films.

Students also learnt about translation from initial story to screen, individual and group feedback sessions on the students’ film scripts and writing sessions, to incorporate feedback.

I’d thought I was more of a director than a writer – someone who would direct the scripts that others wrote. However, Charudutt Sir helped me understand the importance of writing as well,” said Purushottham, an MA (final) student.

In addition to his work in films, Acharya has a significant body of work on Indian television, writing for popular shows like Crime PatrolJassi Jaisi Koi Nahi and Galli Galli Sim Sim. This helped him give students a better perspective on how different writing for films is Vis a Vis TV.

“The one hour session felt like 20 minutes, said Mansoor Ali Patel, adding, “I got a better understanding of how the industry works – how the work I do as a student ties it to the real world. I really enjoyed the workshop.”

A graduate from FTII, Charudutt, also holds an MA in feature film screenwriting from the Royal Holloway University of London. He is the recipient of the British Council’s Charles Wallace India Trust Award for ‘Mid-career Fellowship for Artists’ for the year 2006-2007.

Chris Higgins, President, AISFM, said, “It has been an incredible experience for our students to hear a different perspective with feedback on their writing. It has also been valuable for them to learn more about the industry and how their ambitions match the current scenario in terms of being a working writer and director.”

 

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In search of a forgotten tune & tradition

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A lost song, a forgotten voice and the fading strains of a thumri – the journey to discover the life of Rasoolan Bai is a mesmerizing one. The Other Song, a documentary by filmmaker Saba Dewan takes a close look at the life and times of the legend, also known in those days, as a courtesan or tawaif.

On this voyage of discovery, the film also explores the art and existence of tawaifs, and features the haunting thumri Lagat Karejwa Ma Chot, Phool Gendhwa Na Maar. “I made this film because I like music and enjoy Hindustani classical. However, I got to know the meaning of the song much later. This was mainly because I am not part of that (regional) culture, though I understand Bhojpuri a little bit,” confessed the filmmaker.

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The film, which was screened as part of the Krishnakriti Film Festival at AISFM, managed to successfully unravel facets of the lost tune. Saba found two versions of the song ­– one recorded in 1935, and the other, years later. The first version, hardly known today, contains the lyrics – Laagat Jobanwa Mein Chot; Phool Gendwa Na Maar (My breasts are wounded; don’t throw flowers at me). The second version, extremely well-known, replaces the word jobanwa (breast) with karejwa (heart).

“While I was researching, somebody told me that there was an original version of that song, which was recorded back in 1935. The fact of the matter is that changes in lyrics are not entirely innocent. They come bearing cultural context. It fascinates me how these thumri lyrics have changed over the years,” says Saba. The movie goes on to indicate that the changes were not merely innocent. It’s reflective of society’s need to ‘sanitize’ culture; a symbolic purification of the arts.

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But the road to discovery was not an easy one for the filmmaker. A recording from 1935 may not be properly archived and tough to get your hand on. And for Saba, the task was an uphill one as the song found no mention in any discography. “Nobody had heard of it. Even in discographies, this song didn’t find a mention. It is only through archivist Amilind Das Gupta, that I was able to trace it. Since it was renamed, I had missed it. I cannot forget that night when he mailed me the original song!” recalls Saba.

The filmmaker’s research took her to the dusty bylanes of Varanasi, Lucknow and Muzzafarpur, in search of memories. And they greet her in the form of the handful of tawaifs, living in poverty and anonymity. They help build a complex historical account, and give viewers a sneak peak into their current lives.

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Saira Begum and her elder sister Rani Begum, two tawaifs the filmmaker met, possess beautiful voices. Yet, they are unable to make a living though the arts. While Rani retired 30 years ago, AIR or Doordarshan does not consider Saira “respectable”. “Saira and Rani say that their education in Hindustani music was a little patchy. They lead pretty simple lives, so for them, thumri is their high,” reveals Saba.

Talking about the changes in the lives of present tawaifs, Saba says, “Saira’s daughters are married and are housewives. But the choice she made was different. They do however have a lot of bitterness about the appropriation of the songs. They understand the politics.”

Saba also spoke about a time when she read a transcript of an interview with the legendary singer, Naina Devi. “I could see a double whammy of gender and caste while reading the interview,” says Saba, adding, “First, Naina Devi married into a royal family, so there was no way she could perform. Second, thumri was out of the question, since that was something a ‘respectable’ woman could not do in those times. She even had to change her name to be able to sing on radio!”

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The art of singing thumris is dying. But well-to-do musicians, who need new original songs, sometimes buy thumri songbooks from the tawaifs. Desperate to survive, these women are forced into giving away their family traditions. Recalling one such incident, Saba says, “A musician I once met, told me ‘I want you to contact them (the courtesans). They can come and sit on stage, while I perform their songs’. They were obviously outraged. But in desperate circumstances they might just take up the offer for money.”

The film brings to light, the painful stigmatization the tawaifs had to face. For starters, the British travelers, who came and saw them, described them as ‘prostitutes’. “When All India Radio began taking auditions for their singers, there was a lot of discrimination against them. They had a separate entrance and were given strict rules about what they could sing what they could not,” reveals the filmmaker.

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As the documentary chronicles the slow death of the art, ironically, the strains of the thumri in the background only get louder.

Saba Dewan is a documentary filmmaker.
The Other Song was screened at the Krishnakriti Film Festival, at AISFM.

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