May 28th, 2015
Abhay Kumar is an young upcoming new age, new wave filmmaker from India. He has made numerous short films and constantly experimented with form - whether in his short film "Udaan" which had sort of found footage feel to it or Just That Sort of a Day that had interesting illustrations.
Abhay, in his work, has dealt with existential issues and philosophical paradoxes. Everything we see in the world corresponds to some state of mind. Same is true for all his work. His work enters a territory in which nature seems like a phenomena and spirit is noumena and the task of the human person is to draw (or rather comprehend) his being from whatever inscrutable force produces, organizes and infuses this world.
Our team caught up with Abhay Kumar - a young, bright boy, who is now (almost) ready with a wonderful feature length documentary Placebo. Placebo is one of the best character study of modern Indian educated youth. It is funny, beautiful, sensitive and insightful. We thought we could know more about his influences and his journey and threw a volley of questions his way that he was kind enough to reply.
Tell us 3 things about yourself - one of which can be a lie.
1) I know what I am doing. 2) I hate paperwork and often get in trouble because of it. 3) I have food OCD. If I like the way something tastes then it should always taste like the way I like it.
How did you enter film-making?
I was doing a very generic graduation in mass communication when I got my hands on a mini dv handycam. Then I just kept shooting everything, no matter how banal, and surprisingly churning small films out of that material. The first film I made was 45 mins long, edited on pinnacle and chronicled a college trip to Jim Corbett.
"...Just that sort of day" is a hybrid-film, almost like a tone poem that connects a few parables together. What was the take-away you wanted for the viewer?
There is this quote from the Chris Marker documentary ‘sans soleil’ which pretty much sums up my film making ambitions and aspirations: ‘he liked the fragility of moments suspended in time, memories whose only function was to leave behind nothing but only memories’. Through JTSAD, I was experimenting with creating an audio visual confusion which brings a certain sort of clarity. This clarity is not rational, it’s not a straight path…so many people rejected it also. For them it was just confusion. But It was a fascinating journey nonetheless. And a very satisfying one.
The film consists of hand-drawn illustrations overlayed on video footage and stills. Why did you decide to tell your story this way and what were the advantages of it? Any other film-makers or films that inspired you?
To be honest the medium was accidentally discovered. I had a bet between me and my associate Archana (Phadke). I had told her that using hand drawn stick figures in a film must be such an arduous task. She said it was not that big a deal. So we started drawing stick figures (it was mostly Archana drawing) and ordering copious amounts of fast food.
Discovering this form was the most exciting part of the process. But then to be true to the narrative we had to justify the use of this medium. So nameless faceless stick figures became the perfect protagonists for a story which could take place anywhere, even in someone’s mind. I was inspired by Don Hertzfeldt and his body of work when it came to Just that sort of a day. It was after watching one of his films that the bet happened.
You have been making short films for a few years now and have won much acclaim for them. With that experience behind you, what do you think of the future prospect of short form narrative in India? How do you think it enables a lay person trying to break into mainstream movie making?
The medium is changing too fast for someone to be able to predict a specific direction for future prospects of shorts. Also, it’s a specific form of storytelling which comes with it’s own sets of pros and cons. Shorts should not be looked as a stepping stone to break into mainstream film making. If it happens it’s fantastic. But the primary purpose of independent short film making, I feel, is to find your voice.
You crowd-sourced funds for your recent docu-narrative film Placebo? What was the strategy you had in place for it? Is this viable for other projects in India as well?
We did not have much of a strategy. It pretty much consisted of putting a lot of effort in making a promo which blows people away. But that is never enough. I realized you need a dedicated team working towards social media, media coverage etc. That is why we fell massively short of targets. But it’s ok. We realized very soon we are not the correct people to do it. However, something else transpired. The faith and support shown by people was like a shot in the arm for us.
What are your next projects? What is your ultimate long term goal?
The immediate goal is to finish Placebo. It has been a 3 year journey doing only this project and it is important for the sanity of everyone involved that we finish and we finish well. I’m looking at completion in August. Then hopefully I would have earned myself a long break. Making this film has been a very isolating process and I need to learn how to interact with fellow humans.
Lastly, for all the budding filmmakers - what would be three advice you would give them that you learnt from your experience.
1) Be fearless
2) Make films
3) Avoid dessert. Or not :).
Abhay's short film Just That Sort of A Day is available here. DO watch and leave your hello to the director. - http://www.shortfilmwindow.com/jtsod/