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Neeraj Ghaywan’s Short Film ‘Shor’ wins the Grand Jury Award at South Asian International Film Festival

Conceptualized after reading a research snippet about a woman doing a research on the influence of hormones on relationships and the hypothesis that people are most vulnerable to fall in love in dangerous situations, Neeraj Ghaywan’s first short film ‘Shor’ won the Best Narrative Short: Grand Jury Prize at the prestigious South Asian International Film Festival in New York. Neeraj Ghaywan’s debut directorial venture ‘Shor’ is a short film under the mentorship of Anurag Kashyap and is produced by tumbhi.com.

The story is based on a couple from Banaras (North India) who is consumed by their pursuit to survive in the seedy ghettos of Mumbai city. ‘Shor’ beautifully portrays the struggle of a working class woman’s endeavors. It is an intimate, fascinating portrayal of conflict in relationships that surely unsettles with its raw and restless energy.

‘Shor’ has also got rave reviews from many critics and won the Best Narrative Short: Grand Jury Prize at the recently concluded South Asian International Film Festival which was held from November 9 – November 15, 2011 in New York. ‘Shor’ was selected as the proud winners by a panel of well-renowned jury from a select combination of full-length films, shorts and documentaries in a variety of genres.

The South Asian International Film Festival (SAIFF) is the largest film premiere destination for South Asian/Indian filmmakers in the United States. SAIFF was founded in New York City due to the lack of support for many emerging filmmakers and the overall underrepresentation of Indian cinema in a capital that is recognized by the world as the birthplace of independent filmmaking. With several screening locations, a team of high-profile supporters, red carpet premieres and a slate of top-notch films, the festival gave audiences of all ages and ethnicities a chance to discover new South Asian voices and celebrate established ones.

With only 6 months of experience while assisting Anurag Kashyap for ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’ Neeraj began the journey of shooting his first ever short film ‘Shor’. The biggest task for any filmmaker is to assemble a great team which is excited about the project and according to Neeraj that’s what worked for him the most. With a talented set of cast and crew mostly found on tumbhi.com, an online portal that seeks to transforms the lives of artists, art lovers and seekers, Neeraj started his journey of creating some noise (Shor) in beautiful world of cinema.

Neeraj has narrated his experience of making Shor in this blog post.

Tumbhi congratulates Neeraj on this achievement and wishes him good luck for future endeavors!

Making Short Films: 10 Practical Tips

Do you want to be noticed as filmmaker? Do you want people to appreciate your filmmaking talent? Do you have a great story to tell but working with tight budgets so can’t make a full feature film? Short film is your way! Well known director Anurag Kashyap shared this sentiment with Tumbhi in an exclusive interview. He started his career as filmmaker with a short film and proved his mettle in the industry.

So here we are, with 10 practical tips on making impactful short films.

#1: Spend Considerable Time and Energy on Story

The most important aspect of your short film is the story. Spend as much time as you can on making your story really powerful. Typically, short films are made with shoestring budgets. So the only thing you can really bank on is the story and narration. Your story should not be very complex. Be simple but be very concise. The biggest mistake you can do is copy a famous story/ film. The short film has to be original, it has to be authentic and believable. Make people interact with the characters of your film and make them part of your world.

#2: Mind your Time

The short film by definition means a film which is short. Your film should be max 20 minutes – 10 minutes or less is ideal. That shows your talent of conveying an idea in less time and precisely. A lengthy film often looses the grip of the audience. Many successful short films are in fact have a run time of less than 5 minutes. Work on this very carefully.

#3: Research and choose locations carefully

Most of the times, valuable time is spent in moving between the locations. You can do your research and choose locations in such a way that that you spend less time in moving between locations. Consider various camera angles to make your location look realistic and relevant to your story. Go and shoot at real locations to get the authentic feel.

#4: Avoid Typicality, Be Different:

Being inspired is fine, but being unique is even better :- ) Avoid typicality in your shots. Think of being unique and different when you shot the film. But at the same time, don’t go overboard with lot of experimentation. Get opinions from others and from experts in case you are trying to do something new. You will have their perspective, which will help you fine tune your efforts and deliver the best.

#5: Don’t Hesitate to Seek Professional Help

Just because you are making a short film and not a full length feature film does not mean that you do not need professional help. In case you feel the need, go and seek professional help. Be it camera, lighting, make up or anything. There is no harm in getting people who are smarter than you to do the best job J That will leave you free to do what you are best at and not worry about other things.

#6: Carefully choose the cast – Get them for rehearsals if possible

Your actors are going to tell your story – at the end of the day they are the ones who are going to be at the front. So make sure that they have all your assistance. Provide them all the required details, get them involved in your story, provide them all the resources which they need. Then only they will be able to give their best. If possible, invite them for rehearsals. You will have an opportunity to know the artist and get the best out of him.

#7: Pay special attention to sound

Many filmmakers get so engrossed in concentrating on the visuals that they completely miss out on sound, which is the second most important aspect of the film after story. It might not be wrong if I say that you should spend almost 50% of your time in ensuring that the sound is clear. People might forget bad shots and slippages at certain places in direction, but they will be unforgiving to a bad sound. Carefully select the background music. Make sure you use music files legally by obtaining required licenses for the music.

#8: Editing

Film editing is yet another important aspect. For this, you don’t really need a high-end computer or software. A decent computer with good disk space, good video card and sharp monitor is enough. You also get lot of free video editing software like Movie Maker or iMovie which you can effectively use. Do go through free video tutorials which will help you with practical tips and tricks to creatively fix a bad shot. Some shots might appear great independently but may not make the required impact when seen in connection with other shots. In such cases, you will need to innovatively strategize solutions. Be critical about the film, constantly check if the storyline is coming out to be clear, are the scenes effective and is the overall structure coming out to be consistent. Once you are satisfied with the editing, you are ready to release the film.

#9: Titles and Credits

Don’t go overboard with long list of titles and credits. No doubt, you will have lot of support from various people in the making of your short film, but at the same time, don’t diminish the impact by having a non-precise list . Make a short and concise list giving due credits to major contributors. Take some professional help in deciding the size and color of the font so that it is readable and at the same time, does not interfere with other elements on the screen.

#10: Carefully plan promotion : how to get your film seen

Most of the filmmakers lack in effective promotion of their film and fail to publicize it. Making a great film is not the end but it is just the beginning. Once the film is ready, you need to check out various ways to make it known to the public. This certainly does not mean that you start showing it at every possible opportunity. Check out the avenues which will give your film the required exposure and get you in front of people to make your talent known. Submitting your films to various national and international film festivals is a good way to promote it. You can also participate in online contests where you can get it reviewed by expert judges. Upload your film on websites which give you opportunity to showcase it to well known filmmakers as well as short film lovers. Tumbhi’s new exclusive website for short film, http://shortfilms.tumbhi.com offers you one such platform where you can create an online portfolio of your film, be in front of stalwarts from the industry like Anurag Kashyap and also get exposure to hundreds and thousands of short film lovers.

So get going. Go crazy. Follow your dreams. Go with your passion. Trust your instincts. You will definitely emerge as winner!

Dreams That Came True!

“All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them. “- Walt Disney

Every one of us a dreamer, the difference is only that some of us remember them when we wake up and some of us let go the flow of thoughts. The dreams may vary as per night or day but the core ambitions travel along with every vision that comes to the dreamer’s mind.

An artist also dreams. He dreams to transform all his dreams into reality one day. And what if someday, somebody actually holds his hands and guides him through? A bunch of dreamers experienced something like this! They got a chance to cherish their dream: being a filmmaker, a scriptwriter, an actor.

Tumbhi came up with a scriptwriting contest back in May 2011 called “Paanch”. The prize was only a promise to transform the words into reality i.e. the winning entries would be converted to actual short films under the mentorship of none other than Anurag Kashyap.

Six Short films were made by Tumbhi. Shor and Sujata were part of those six films. Come November’2011, the film Shor goes to Abu Dhabi Film Festival (U.A.E) 2011-12, gets discovered by the right eyes for filmmaking, receives rave reviews from many critics and wins the Best Narrative Short: Grand Jury Prize.

But Shor was made only to shout out loud what it actually was! It grabs another Best Narrative Short: Grand Jury Prize at South Asian International Film Festival (SAIFF). Neeraj Ghayawan, Scriptwriter and director of Shor , could actually see now his dreams flying high right there in the clouds above. Making much more ‘Shor’ than its name, Shor won another Grand Jury Prize at 10th Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles.

But Shor was not alone here for the accolades. Huma Qureshi, the lead actress of the other short film “Sujata” gets a special mention by the grand jury at IFFLA. Sujata, a dream-child of the scriptwriter Annie Zaidi and director Shlok Sharma, becomes just another route of bliss for its conceivers.

To Tumbhi.com, it was all about giving feathers to the dreams of artists! Looking forward to even more feathers getting added to their caps, Tumbhi takes pride in translating at least a few dreams to reality because as Dr. Abdul Kalam said, “you have to dream before your dreams can come true.”

Shor: My First Short Film with Tumbhi and Anurag Kashyap

By Neeraj Ghaywan

 

I read this research snippet about a woman doing a research on the influence of hormones on relationships. A part of the research involved the woman standing on an empty street asking out men for a date. She asked over 20 men. Her success rate was 40%. She did the same thing on a dangling bridge on a rough weather day. Her success rate jumped to about 85%. Though the static may not be exact but the hypothesis that she arrived at was that people are vulnerable to fall in love in dangerous situations. I had forgotten the article but it stuck in my subconscious and eventually led to an idea about the human condition at the face of death. When we embrace death, our most vulnerable time, we find our truest side. We confront what really matters to us. That became the basis for Shor. Yes, I wasn’t too happy with the title myself but when you see the film you’ll realize we couldn’t have come up with another name.

Shor is about Lallan and Meena, a couple from Banaras (North India), consumed by their pursuit to survive in the seedy ghettos of Mumbai city. Lallan has lost his job at the factory and ambles about hopelessly searching for a way out. Meena has taken up tailoring to make ends meet, losing touch with her emotions, and almost turning into a machine herself. One day they truly find each other while embracing death, divorce and redemption, all just over a phone call.

I had the basic structure of the script ready but I didn’t want to compromise with the culture and milieu of the characters. For me it is very essential to have the premise to adhere to a agreed upon set of culture and ethos. I used to take autorickshaw rides and speak to the drivers at length, recording the conversation on my phone and later make notes from it. I must have spoken to some 40 odd rickshaw drivers to arrive at 4 of them who were from Banaras. I conducted a focus group with these people, inviting them to my house. Yes yes, I have an academic and corporate background and old habits die hard. Anyway, I spoke to them for a long time about their lives, their homes, how they dealt with their wives, I made them call their wives and understand how they spoke to them in crisis etc. Finally, I wrote the script along with dialogue. I was very scared and excited. It was ready and I had to show it to Anurag ( I was assisting him on Wasseypur). It’s like you are going for an appraisal interview to your boss. He read the first page and rejected it. He didn’t read further and I was heartbroken. I felt terrible, this was not just a short film script, but my first work to my boss and he had rejected it. Some people rubbed it in. I almost felt like abandoning the whole idea of becoming a filmmaker. It was humiliating. I thought I should still do this.

I called my rickshawala brotherhood. I decided to go to their homes. Some of them were kind enough to oblige. I spent time at their place; observing their lifestyle, the objects in their houses, the kids, the neighborhood, what they did in their free time, what pained them, what made them happy etc. It helped in understanding their lifestyle and most importantly what language they spoke. Now that I had enough material, I started rewriting the dialogues. When you start writing dialogues, you realize how difficult is writing a screenplay as against a book or a short story. The research helped me in identifying the insecurities that they lived with and how they expressed themselves. I wrote a draft and ran it past Vineet Singh (the lead actor of Shor) and Varun Grover ( a writer friend). They made some tone and grammar corrections with the dialogue I wrote. By the way, Vineet Singh has the fine charm of the angry young man and I have lost the count of how many languages he knows. Finally Anurag read the script. He said it has great potential if I had established the two characters in the same space. He had couple of ideas. I put everything together but didn’t show the final draft which by the way, was the tenth draft.

I just wanted to go ahead and shoot. The more I deliberated the more I’d distance from the passion to make it. Also, there was this pressure of having assisted for only six months and here I was, attempting to make a difficult short film in complete guerrilla style. The folks at Tumbhi.com loved the script and I was ready to go. But there was one problem; the shooting process could only be started in August along with the competing short films, which was completely understandable. But I couldn’t have shot in the monsoons as the film was mostly in difficult exterior locations. So I borrowed money from friends for the shoot (Thank You Anubhuti Kashyap and Suresh Nayak). We got into pre-production, Rishabh and Puja jumped into help me on the film. Rishabh was great help on the locations and convincing people for the shoot.  Puja is responsible for the look  and the costumes. Poor her, she had to stay away from the action for all the work. They have really worked hard during the film. Super line producer Deep Singh came on board. We did the shot breakdowns, location recces and the research for costume, art and the train routes and stations. Mukesh Chhabra unconditionally helped me to understand what to look for while casting actors. He even did couple of auditions for me.

Umpteen number of rehearsals happened. Ratnabali, the female lead of Shor, was doing English theatre. To be honest, I was panicking because I wanted everyone to get the accent right. I am a stickler for accents. Vineet and I had a lot of sessions on accent modulation with Ratnabali. And when we did the final rehearsal, Ratnabali took me by surprise. I was shocked the way she picked the nuances of the culture. Amardeep Jha, agreed to play the amma. She was perfect in that role and she brought in her own mannerisms to add depth to her role. I remember someone telling me “Oh wow, she’s Sharman’s mom from Three Idiots”.

After an elaborate session we finally arrived at the shot break down. I am of the opinion that it’s almost impossible to replicate the feel of real locations and objects. I abstained from an extensive production design, relying completely on the property available on location ( Malwani and Dharavi).  You can never think of a plastic toy of a swan couple with a broken wing. Like how coincidental is that! One of the auto drivers from the research, Pavan Sharma offered his house to make it as our crew base. His neighbor Irshad Shah offered his house as the main house of the film. Not only that he and his wife also acted in the film. Pavan’s son was the little kid who plays Lallan and Meena’s son. His expressions still haunt me. Milind Shirke, my DoP is fantastic at guerrilla shoots. In public locations he would just hold the camera and either look away or talk over the phone. He used to tell me that if you set the frame, don’t look into the viewfinder for static shots. When you look in to your camera’s view finder, that’s when people look into the camera. He has great sense of framing and very quick at conceptualizing them too. We shot on Canon 7D as the motion capture is better on a 7D as against 5D. For the wide top angle shots, I got the watchman of the only tall building in the ghetto to agree use the building terrace. On the day of the shoot he backed out. In my broken Bhojpuri I made him believe that we are shooting a docu which is about ‘our people’ from Bihar and this film will be a ‘message to the government to listen to us to our woes’. That watchman got all charged up; thankfully he never asked me what I was fighting against. He was all supportive but he still declined. And then I realized he is expecting me to bribe him. I never felt so guilty in my life to have bribed someone, not even when I got caught driving without a license. It was a great idea to go all guerrilla with the shoot.

Without the guerrilla style, the film could have easily become one of the most expensive short films in India. More than the saving, it gave us the freedom of canning the shots exactly the way we wanted. The authorities would have never allowed us to take certain shots if we had shot with permissions. Honestly, if we were caught, we all would have been in jail. To avoid that, we made rules. No three people will be seen together, video assist was avoided. As much as I wanted it, we didn’t take the boom mike. We managed to shoot in sync sound with couple of lapels and a mini sound recorder for ambience. Every location we would find a make-shift base and hide whenever cops or some authorities would come around. I can’t thank Vineet and Ratnabali enough for their courage and conviction. They both risked their lives while shooting for Shor.

Post production took way longer than I had anticipated. I am working on the post-production of Wasseypur and I made Shor in between all the running around for Wasseypur. That was the most difficult part. I had to teleport myself from one studio to another studio, one film to another. Both films were equally close to my heart and it was difficult juggling and two timing. Thankfully, I had a great editor in Nitin Baid. I was handling post and he was assisting the head editor,Shweta Venkat for Wasseypur. They are a lovely team to work with. For few days, when I ran out of money for studios, Shweta loaned her macbook to me and also allowed Nitin to work on Shor while working on Wasseypur. It was great help. Zahir Bandukwala designed the sound and Suhaas Ahuja (You will soon experience their work in That Girl In Yellow Boots). We did a 5.1 surround mix for sound and think it really is achievement by the sound team to pull of sync sound in such difficult locations . Vijesh Rajan, is a bundle of joy to work with. He did the VFX, color correction ( made a DSLR short film look like a film)  and the titles. He also made the poster.
I don’t know which filmmaker said this that the biggest task for a filmmaker is to assemble a great team which is excited about the project. That’s what worked for me the most. All of this was possible through http://www.tumbhi.com. Most of the cast and crew were found on their portal. It’s a great platform to discover talent from all corners of India. I am eternally indebted to Tumbhi.com for not only funding the project but also to give us a platform to make this happen. Above all, thanks Anurag! I owe this to you.

Here is the trailer of the film.

Here are some reactions to the film

Shor is a nuanced portrayal of the despair that comes to underlie a relationship in the mechanized, frenzied urban jungle. The  absorbing, tension-filled narrative moves towards a mellow finale that offers us a glimpse of the inherent redemption and hope in any shattering situation. Backed by affecting performances and fluid story-telling it is an insightful and compassionate film….

– Namrata Joshi, Associate Editor, Outlook

“Shor is a pint-sized dynamo with performances that transcend the limitations of the short’s running time”

– Pratim D. Gupta, Special Correspondent, The Telegraph

Neeraj Ghaywan’s Shor is a beautiful film about a working class woman’s struggle in life, with very moving performances and a gripping ending.  The young filmmaker narrates an entire story in less than 20 minutes, something lot more seasoned filmmakers often cannot do in two hours.

– Aseem Chhabra, Entertainment Writer and Columnist, New York City

Shor is an intimate, gripping portrayal of dissonance in relationships that unsettles with its raw and restless energy. It’s a side of India, or even Mumbai, that we rarely see in our films simply because it roots itself in the heartland of a country grappling with gushing rapid change on one side and the old world value system on the other. Change has liberated the woman and hit right at the core of the male-chauvinistic society. All the world is a machine and we are merely dependent parasites on the verge of becoming one ourselves and losing all that’s human amid all that Shor. Ghaywan shows great sensitivity with his understanding of gender equations and rich promise as a sound filmmaker telling a story about finding clarity in the middle of chaos and love in our increasingly alienated worlds.

– Sudhish Kamath, Senior Assistant Editor, The Hindu/ Independent filmmaker