Never stop dreaming: Neelkanta


“I didn’t go to a film school ever. Now that I’m at AISFM, teaching students, it makes me look at myself through a different perspective,” says ace director Neelakanta. The award-winning filmmaker was at AISFM recently to help students in their song workshop project.

For this project, students learn to direct a song sequence. From conceptualization and choreography, to composing and shooting – students put in their best for the project.

And this year, director Neelakanta was roped in to help students in their project. He was often found surrounded by eager students – checking out shooting locations on campus and giving them tips on direction.

“There is a lot of enthusiasm among students at AISFM. They are bright and want to learn so much. It’s amazing to see such young people exude exuberance and passion,” says Neelkanta.

A student of Loyola Public School and Loyola College, Vijayawada, Neelakanta realised early on that his true calling was films. After completing his BCom he moved to Chennai to pursue his dreams. There, he began assisting director Vallabhaneni Janardhan and worked with him in a couple of films.

He then produced the film Jamadagni, directed by Bharati Raja, starring superstar Krishna. Neelakanta recalls that his ‘classroom’ was the sets. “Being on the sets gave me great insights into the art of direction. I’ve always liked Bharati Raja’s films Pathinaru Vayathinile and Sigappu Rojakkal. And being on the sets with him was enlighting.”

A fan of ‘alternate’ cinema, Neelakanta attributes his knowledge of cinema to the great auteurs. “I’m a big fan of directors like Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Basu Chatterjee, K Balachander, Bapu garu, Satyajit Ray and ilk. A lot of my craft has been honed watching their films and learning from them. In my time that was the best kind of classroom learning you could ask for,” he says.

“My movies are greatly influenced by the style of K Balachander. The way he weaves interpersonal relationships and delves into the psyche of the character, it’s so realistic. I strive for such realism in my films,” explains Neelakanta.

In 2002, Neelakanta won two national awards for his film Show – one for best feature film and the other for best screenplay. In the year 2003 he won the Nandi award for best screenplay writer for the film, Missamma.

But he admits that no one taught him how to write a screenplay. “Though I learnt a lot being on the sets, no one taught me how to write a script. I did it by myself,” he explains.

Quiz him on what it takes to make a good film and he says, “It all begins with the story.” He elaborates, “When you have a good story idea, you need to work on it. You need to see how you can translate it to a script and how that script takes your vision on the big screen.”

But a story alone cannot win the day for you, he says. “If your story is good, but the direction is bad, your film will suffer. If story and direction are good and cinematography bad, then too your film will suffer. So, in filmmaking, all departments are important. As a director you need to keep a close watch on everything,” he explains.

Having spent years in the industry, Neelakanta is hopeful the regional industry will see a drastic change in the way films are made, just like Bollywood. “I like the way Bollywood has found that fine balance between art and mainstream. Directors like Vishal Bharadwaj and Anurag Kashyap make these strong, socially relevant films and yet, manage to fill theatres.”

“To begin with, it’s wrong to demarcate films and call them ‘art’ and ‘commercial’. It’s all about storytelling. But for long we have been fed on this concept of how a film should look and how it should be categorised. It’s amazing to see independent cinema has found so many takers in Bollywood,” he says.

As far as Telugu films are concerned, “we are getting there” he feels. “The change in Telugu cinema is happening slowly but surely. There are independent movies being made, and they are getting good response from the audience. But the scale on which they should be made needs to get bigger,” he opines.

“No film industry can compare to the grandiose of ours. I hope the same money is pumped into Indie cinema. And I feel it won’t take long for us to get there.”

While breaking into the industry is not an easy task, the director offers some words of advice to young aspirants. “One needs to have perseverance. Never give up. The industry is a tough and ruthless place. If you want to survive, you need to strive. Remember, your hard work will pay off one day. But till that day comes, never stop dreaming.”


“Working on Indie films is challenging and fun”, says Editor Mahadeb Shi



An FTII graduate, Mahadeb Shi is one of the renowned editors in the country, who began his career in 1982. Mahadeb has been part of various national and international award winning film projects, like Voices from Baliapal and Eleven Miles produced for Channel 4, London.

His directorial projects include A Journey Extraordinary, Yamuna Katha, Call of the Climate, Kirtan of Bengal and Om Mani Padme Hum that competed at the South Asian Film Festival, Kathmandu, and Mumbai International Film Festival. Mahadeb has also worked on internationally acclaimed films like A Tale of the Margin, Swapnabhumi, In Search of Gandhi, The Other Song and The Sun Behind the Clouds.

Mahadeb was in AISFM recently as a visiting senior guest faculty. We caught up with him for a quick Q&A session.

Q: How do you think the industry has evolved over the years?

In 1982, when I joined films, professional video technology in India hadn’t started yet. It was all film (celluloid) based technology. The film was still cut by hand. Editors used to work directly with their material—they assembled scenes by splicing together separate picture and sound rolls. The technology was simple, and although the process was labour-intensive, it allowed great creative control.

Edit had to be done from video to analog to VAN VHS to beta, and then finally, on non-linear. Things were neither digital nor electronic. Everything was done manually. Now, edit time has reduced significantly. Effects have increased, allowing editing to be done by one without depending on labs.

Though video tape editing started in the west as early as 1960 it came to India in 1980. In the beginning it was nonlinear analogue system. Different formats such as VHS, Low band, High band, Beta were introduced to improve the quality of video. This new   technology made the process a lot faster than film editing, but there was less opportunity for subtlety and creativity.

With the computer revolution, nonlinear editing was introduced as early as mid-1990. Now the production footage (whether it was shot on film or tape) can be transferred to hard discs, and editors working with Mac- or Windows-based editing systems can have the best of both worlds. Computerized systems gave us the precision, random-access ability, and “hands-on” feel of film editing.

However, despite this, what can be noticed is that these days, not many simple aesthetic artistic films are being made. There is more of glamour and gimmick rather than asthetic elements which we used to see in old classics. That’s why even in classrooms today, old cinema or classic movies are used as examples. Having said all this, at the end,   that it’s not technology rather it depends on the mind and the level of creativity one possesses. Whether you follow old ways or new, that technology or this, it is the same creative and artistic mind that matters after all.

Q: Are editors today allowed creative freedom?

A: Well, yes and no. There are two aspects to this. One, it depends on the director. Some directors are good at editing. When working with them, you get some freedom. Other directors are not so familiar with editing, so they leave the job completely on the editors. There you enjoy creative freedom.

The second aspect is that sometimes due to the accidents on sets, damage control needs to be done. The director doesn’t want to impose himself on the editor, because the editor sees what the director misses. However, freedom in the edit room is never 100%. It is ultimately the director who takes the final call.

Q: New age Indie filmmaking has made parallel cinema mainstream. Has editing become challenging and fun or more tedious?

A: Challenging for sure. That’s because earlier, everybody followed the same old conventional Hollywood pattern. Now, you have to come up with new ideas, different from what already exist. Hence work gets fun and challenging. It’s not that creative editing is something new, it existed earlier as well.

The level of creative input depends on the story and treatment, the layers etc. One can be more creative if there are more layers instead of linear narrative. More layers, more creative input. Maybe that’s why I like working in Indie cinema.

Q: Can editing be learnt in the classroom, or is it all while on the job?

Both theory and practical knowledge is necessary, though not in the same proportion. In film making practical knowledge is always better. This is because new technologies come up every day, that can’t be taught in classes. One needs to learn it on the job. Personally, I think 60% practical knowledge and 40% theoretical knowledge is a good combination.

Q: How did you like the time you spent at AISFM?

A: Teaching at AISFM took me back to my film school days. Interacting with students refresh our own ideas and help us think differently. It has overall been a very nice experience for me. The classrooms are well-equipped, which I found very interesting.  Things here are different from what I am used to. During my time, laptops and other equipment were not that important a part of the classroom learning process.

The thing I appreciated the most was the friendly and welcoming nature of the staff here. The fact that there was no interference in my way of teaching was something I really liked. I was given freedom.

Q: Could you name a few films that had inspired you to get into this field?

Bicycle Thieves and Pather Panchali are the two films which has inspired me the most. Other films which made strong impact on me are Citizen Kanes, Eight and Half and Stalker by Andre Tarkovsky.


Q: How was your time at FTII? What did you learn there?

I joined institute in 1982 and passed out in 1985 with a specialization in film editing. We used to have 2 years of integrations and one year of specialization. During the first two years, we were taught all aspects of film making including painting and set designing. Would you believe that I handled Arriflex 35 BL1 movie camera to shoot a Dialogue exercise in our 2nd year?

What we enjoyed most was total freedom and scope for experimentation. Our relationship with the teachers was more like a friendship. The best part was watching 3 films everyday from all over the world. We saw around 2000 world classics in those three years. We witnessed the departure of a legendary past called Celluloid and saw the emergence of a new era called Digital age.

Q: Who are the people that inspired you?

Satyajit Roy, Rtiwik Ghtak, G.Arabindan to name a few.

Q: Could you name a few interesting people who you met while working?

Satyajit Roy, Mrinal Sen, Tapan Sinha, Pandit Bahadur Khan, Sambhu Mitra, Badal Sarkar, Jogesh Dutta and Nasiruddin Shah. Also, Carol Duffy, an American filmmaker and Roberto Dandria, an Australian tram activist.


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