July 1st, 2020
Goldphlake was one of the first lockdown shorts to come out in recent times. We spoke to the director Ashutosh Pathak on his restlessness, on casting Arjun, on shooting with Sharib amidst the grief of Irrfan passing:
Hello Ashutosh! Where did you grow up? What attracted you to film-making?
I wanted to become a scientist but it seemed like a long process and so I took up being a cartoonist in magazines, went on to learn traditional animation, and then got into film-making as a default.
Film is an expensive indulgence to have – one that often also consumes you to the extent of you not having a sphere of knowledge outside of it. I would rather see life as the main event and film-making as a teeny-tiny stunt you’re performing on the side.
Humour and comedy is a genre that comes naturally to me, because I’m always questioning the absurdity of this circus we’re all part of.
You have worked on live action, stop motion and other forms and mostly worked independently on your short films. How do you see short film as a medium?
My short films are primarily a venting of energy for me. Having gone through so many almost-happened-films and projects, I feel the strong urge to just create something, and so a short film happens now and then – like a salve to my impatience.
But other than that, I do really enjoy the process of making something small and finite. More importantly, something that will happen a hundred percent. Larger films require an alignment of your stars and the approval of a number of people. With a Short, I know I will make it happen no matter what.
My shorts also tend to be about what I feel strongly about at that moment, and not what the ‘market’ wants.
What motivated you to make a film during lockdown. What was your approach and experience with the actors?
The lockdown brought imprisonment with it, and I hate being cornered – so I guess it’s a stubborn will to do what I want, no matter what the restrictions. I share this restlessness with Arjun Radhakrishnan. This is my third short film with him.
In the case of Goldphlake, Arjun had shared an Instagram clip of two of his friends singing, and squabbling over the singing, which I found very endearing. Arjun himself was tired of playing the ‘nice guy’. I was watching how memories of the past became more acute during the lockdown.
Arjun and me went through his end of the act again and again. Arjun has a willingness to extend himself beyond his boundaries. And he went through the grind. Sharib was not cast still but Arjun was shaping his character and I was able to see how he was doing it. Even if the film didn’t get made, we were both learning.
For the role of Sharib Hashmi, I needed a guy who can sing and understands comedy. I had never met Sharib before, and did not know that he has wife and kids sharing his space but he was very kind ot come on-board.
By the time Sharib shot, we had Arjun’s run-through as a reference. It had taken Sharib almost two weeks to be able to find a date. But then Irfan Khan passed away and I felt very sad. And the same feeling of grief was palpable for all actors, this I know. Sharib too had spent a whole day in grief. I asked him if he wanted to postpone the shoot, and this is what he said – ‘Ab toh kucch karna hai bhai’.
And so he shot, from 1 in the night until 5 am in the morning, the role of a naked guy in a comic genre, despite the grief in his heart. It was Ramzan. He had to shoot after midnight so as to not disturb his folks, and that too on an empty stomach!
And I sat up in the corner of my house, to give him company, wondering – why are we doing this? Why are three strangers(to each other) across cities working on an obscure film no one may ever watch? I kept picturing Sharib alone in his house at night, mouthing lines to no one.
But you see, at that time of gloom, you find that what matters the most is – that you make something of what you have got.
What aspects of being a cartoonist in your early life helps you in your live action ventures?
Political and social satire drew me towards cartooning. I had a flair for caricature and lampooning people even as a very young boy. By the time I grewup, I pretty much saw people and their adult lives as distorted ones- too much pomp and seriousness. We're just a bunch of hairless monkeys, you know!
My main inspiration, and obsession, was R.K.Laxman - i had even turned up at the door of Times of India office in Delhi with my suitcase, hoping to assist (and outdo) him, only to be told that he works from Mumbai. In those days, the cartoonist was seen as a court jester, the mirror to the society and its powerful rajas. And in quite a few cases, leaders would indulge the stabs of the cartoonist with wry grins.
This appealed to me a lot - i've always felt that we are better people when we can laugh at ourselves. I guess that's the residue in my film projects today. As much as I try, i cannot but comment on the way we live, our government and politics. Also I believe no matter how complicated an issue is, there is a way to talk about it, there is a way to laugh about it.
But isn't it ironic that we live in the Marvel Age today - our 'biggest' cinema is about cartoon characters pretending to be real, while brooding film-makers pretend to be changing the world with their intensity. I prefer the days of UFF!, POW!, BANG! when Batman ran around with his undies on the outside.
What 3 advice will you give to aspiring filmmakers in this industry?
One. Don’t hold grudges. The film industry is an industry only in name. There is no structure or pattern for growth. Success often comes down to luck and guts. So, often you will find good people turning into naysayers, and the bad ones sprouting halos overnight, but each one is a victim of this chaotic storm that we have chosen to throw ourselves in. If the game is crushing your soul, know that it is not because of your failure as a human being – you always remember to respect yourself and hold yourself proud.
Two. So you spend 10 years trying unsuccessfully to make a film, big or small – what did you learn? Did you get better at storytelling, do you understand cinematography now? Are you great at writing scenes? The value of your time spent will always be in what you learnt. So keep learning. Keep your eyes on that. Surround yourself with other people who function like that. Make a community of learning for yourself, so that even if you have to turn back one day, you’ll come out richer for it.
Three. Become a scientist.
Arjun’s experience of working on the short and his motivations in his own words:
"As an actor, we are only concerned with the script, our character/performance. Even our costumes are decided by someone else or procured by someone for you. However for a lockdown short- everything had to be set up and arranged by the actor.
For location recce I had to show my house from all possible angles to the director via video call.
Because this was during Lockdown 1.0 , there was no access to extra equipment. All I had were two smartphones in the house , one to record the video , and my mom's was kept in my pocket as a sound recorder.
But the biggest challenge came when I had to start recording/enacting my scene. To hold a phone in hand and record yourself, talking to the other actor who's not online with you was a very strange experience. I realised how conscious I was , which doesn't happen during normal filming where you can forget the existence of a camera.
Because I didn't have the luxury of super fast internet speed , after taking directions from the director, I would record my scenes (sort of blindly) , then transfer them to my laptop and upload it to GDrive, which would take half a day. And once I have the inputs from the director , I would reshoot bits the next day."
Sharib’s experience of working on the short and his motivations in his own words:
The experience was fun, but at first I didn't wondered if I wanted this experience at all! Because when I read
the script at first, I wanted to do Arjun’s role,butAshutosh said – ‘NO!! This role belongs to Arjun!!’’. So I took a day to think this over, and found my role to be interesting too. More importantly, the script was good, so I went ahead.
When I started shooting in the day at first my kids weren’t letting me shoot. So then I had to do it all in the night. It
was interesting though – working with a director I’ve never seen or met, and a co-actor I haven’t seen or met before. In fact the whole team was wonderful – and i have not met any of them yet!!