Film festivals are great exposure for newcomers
Indie filmmaker Shaheen Muhammed talks about showcasing her films on a platform like Fliqvine and how indie projects serve as practice for becoming a ‘filmmaker’.
How did the association with Fliqvine happen? And how has the response to your films been?
Hemant Gaba (filmmaker) who curates films for Fliqvine, had seen my film at a screening and got in touch with me. I haven’t been keeping a track of the response. It’s reaching out to it’s audience which is important and I hope the response is good.
What are your views on a platform like Fliqvine with a mission to take Indie films to the audiences?
It is a wonderful platform! Most aspiring future filmmakers start their journey with making short films and low budget indies. Its a tough journey, internally for us, to be able to create that vision on screen. The error one makes is as original as the script. You really don’t know what to expect on set, where and what other mistakes you will make. Because you keep doing them throughout. But even after all these things, somewhere you know your story still has the innocence and freshness of a first timer. So to have an eye to recognize that and encourage somebody’s talent at such a beginner level is appreciable. I wish them well.
Rabiya and Sattu ka Goggle were both shot at real locations. Did you face any problems? Were the actors professionals or real people from the locations?
Both my films had a mix of professional and real people. My biggest learning from both the films has been that ‘shooting in real locations is no cakewalk’. The reason I feel that these films are not up to the mark, apart from other things, is because we were not able to handle or control those real locations. It is chaotic out there. You need to be well prepared and have an able team to manage. You can’t just go out there on the streets with a camera and actors and have them perform in the crowd and expect great shots. It will be a mess.
‘Rabiya’ as a character is identifiable both in terms of emotions and situations. It can be a story of any woman irrespective of caste and creed. Any reasons why you specifically chose to make her background muslim? Please tell us about your script writing process.
I had seen a woman in a burqa riding a scooter on a heavily crowded street in Chandni Chowk. That imagery got stuck in my mind and inspired me. My film comes from there. So I don’t think it was a deliberate attempt to make the character Muslim. Also once my collaborator on the screenplay, Rohit Pandey, and I started writing the film and discussing the short breakdown, the story developed around this image that I had plus the other images and experiences we could add to it. We went with the flow. Rohit and me were in two different cities. So the script of the film as well as the breakdown was done on emails and phone calls.
How did the idea to make a film around ‘the goggle’ strike you?
Most of my ideas of films come from people and situations I observe around me. My characters take shape when I am traveling or just roaming around in cities. Sattu and her goggle is also a woman I had seen somewhere. A woman who had clearly come from the village to a city for the first time with her husband. Looking at her I felt that she must have earlier experienced the city and urban women only in serials and films. And the goggle that she wore was so much in contrast and so ironical to her life, that it amused me and made for a brilliant character.
Both the films’ main protagonists are females. Was it an intentional decision? What is your take on the recent trend of women-oriented films?
Well I won’t say it was intentional but considering that I lean towards working on women issues, I must have created female protagonists. I am still not happy with the number of films that are made on women or have female protagonists. That comes directly from the fact that there is a huge gap in the number of female filmmakers that we have compared to the men. It is a male dominated industry. Therefore we hardly have any perspective from the female point of view. Also the other problem is that mostly the stories (I am specifically using the word ‘mostly’, and not ‘every’) that male filmmakers imagine a female protagonist either in pain, or in some kind of trouble, a fighter, a victim or symbolise and objectify them. But once you have more women filmmakers coming in with their stories, a new chapter in every genre will open. You will see how it is when a girl falls in love and is chasing a guy or a heist film or a comedy.
Did you pitch the stories to production houses before making your own film?
I haven’t done it yet but plan do so for my future projects.
How do you budget your films?
I am not able to do much on the budgeting front. That’s where I keep going wrong but it is a very important aspect aspiring filmmakers should pay attention to. I am learning too.
How difficult is to make films on stringent budgets? Did the idea of giving up ever cross your mind? What keeps you going?
In my case, I had a supportive father who would fund my films. Having said that the pressure to not go overbudget always remains. One area that we tend to ignore in the process of filmmaking is the cost one incurs in the post production, which is heavy. For instance while one is getting the sound and DI of the film done, you need to keep a separate budget for it and don’t compromise on sound designing! It can make or break your film.
Well, yes I did want to give up or should I say I still want to give up (laughs). But the fact is that my process of learning is still going on and now at this age I know nothing but to be on a film set, be a film crew and use my camera. Even when I am not shooting, I am dreaming about films and making films in my dreams. I got into this at the age of 18. Back then I did not know what I wanted to do specifically. I just wanted to work in media. Now after all these years, I feel maybe this is, whatever it is, was meant to be. I was destined to be doing this in my life.
You have assisted directors on commercial and mainstream films. What drives you to make indie projects?
‘Practice’. Your work as an AD on a film set is very mechanical and mostly involves a lot of paper work. To be an assistant director and to be a director are two completely different things. You may or may not have a say in creatives as an AD. So it is very important to polish your talent by making small projects.
Are you writing a feature script, expanding these short film stories?
Yes I am writing a feature script. It is a love story based in the hills. It isn’t the expansion of these films though.
Both your films have been shown in film festivals and won awards. How does it help? What is your next project?
Film festivals are great exposure for newcomers. And they should be taken seriously. After all you want your film to be seen by as many as possible. There are two documentaries that I have directed – one is on a group of women in Banaras who play Kabaddi and the other is on my dad who is an archaeologist ( Muhammed K.K.) and has done some great discoveries in his lifetime. Other than that I am directing the ‘Making of’ of upcoming films like Dangal and Talvar.