We spoke to Sandeep Modi about his film Vanvaas (featured this week on SFW), his national award win in the short film category and his life and work.
Hi Sandeep! Can you tell us something about yourself? What made you want to enter film-making?
I am a hardcore Bombay boy, actually a Malad boy in particular. Growing up in a Gujarati joint family, my father always put education above anything else. And being the geek I was then, I picked up Plastics Engineering after my schooling followed by IT. But somewhere there was this strange feeling that this wasn’t my calling. Around the same time I had discovered a new found love for theatre and started enjoying writing. I won a street play competition and one of my guru’s Kishore Sadhwani wrote me a letter after a workshop that said “Believe in what you do, do what you believe in…I know you can do it, I know you will”. These small things really mattered, it made me realize maybe its not just that I enjoy the art, maybe I do have a small spark to pursue it.
I really don’t know when did it all start coming together, but I remember walking into my dads room late evening and telling him I don’t want to be a engineer, but a storyteller…a film-maker. I went to FTII after finishing my graduation while doing a couple of years of assisting gigs on theatre, short films and such.
My family wanted to me to pursue something else by the side as a backup career, but i never took it seriously.
And thats the thing, once u realize there is no looking back, you end up finding your way. Its good to not have a Plan B. Plan B’s are often the distraction that take us away from getting to Plan A.
Vanvaas deals with the deterioration of a relationship between a father and son over what seems like a number of years. Where did the idea come from?
I think the way life treats you is seen in the way your film ends. I have always been a guy who sees a positive in an incident or a tale, and even in this case, i didn’t actually want to comment on the deterioration but the fact that sometimes it take a very simple thing to fix a complex problem. Cricket and the passion it ignites in us middle class indians felt like the correct stimuli to bring them together.
I could have set it in any city, but i wanted the cold weather to be a character of the film as a metaphor of their relationship. Old Delhi, with its strange mix of the old-world charm fighting out with the new-world gusto and dreams seemed like the apt choice. If you would have noticed, there is no sunlight in the film, except right at the end where the cloud seems to have moved a little. This was Vishal Sinha’s idea and i think it works below the surface quite well.
I had written the film as a small montage film and wanted a score to bind it, almost like a musical. I had met Aditya months ago, who is actually a doctor who had quit medicine and was here in Mumbai trying to make his mark with his music. He had a bank of songs and i had at that point been signed by a big film-maker to make a feature film under his banner. And there was this one track of his about a boy reminiscing his childhood days, i fell in love with it. It was written, sung and composed by him. The film never happened but the song stayed with me.
I got in touch with him many months later with this short. He loved the script and came on board. The thing to decide on a track like this is whose perspective is the song going to be from. And we decided to stay neutral, as the sutradhar. I told him the film needs a song that can evoke a memory. A week or so later after a couple of ideas which we didn’t like, Aditya whatsapped me a scratch of the song with its opening para. I was just leaving for Delhi to shoot and suddenly i could see the film, as i could hear it. Without the track, i think the film would be a nudge lower.
You just won a National Award for your short film, Best Friends Forever. Do you think short films allow you certain freedom in telling stories that other mediums do not?
Yes, the award was quite a pleasant surprise. It was a short I had made for Edumedia who make films as a tool for educating kids in life skills. But they were extremely open and we worked on this story of a 14year old’s mother who is struggling to come to terms with the idea that her daughter doesn’t need her growing up. National Award is huge. It was on top of my bucket list. I don’t think it has sunk in, and doubt it will for long.
I believe that each story decides its own length. Short films are like a slice of time, about a moment that evokes a sentiment. The format provides freedom funnily because it has no great model to recover the cost of making it. And hence the ones making it are more often than not doing it for the pure love of it.
I think the Digital Revolution has brought a great freedom to cinema. I know film-makers who are making a feature on their phone cameras. Digital platforms are coming up to take the film out, the online world is exploding. I think its a great time to be a storyteller, especially shorts.
What are you working on next?
I am an ad-filmmaker with Equinox Films (owned by Ram Madhvani who made Neerja) so am enjoying my stint here, telling stories in even shorter formats than shorts! Besides that i am developing a bunch of stories and scripts, at various stages of writing. You breathe, you travel, you discover, you write. Thats the way i would like it to be.
Vanvaas is featured this week on SFW.