Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Creative career

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Shillongite Shweta Rai, whose films have gone to festivals in France and Berlin, shares for Canvas her experience as a film editor in the hope of inspiring the city’s youth for filmmaking as a creative career option

THE NORTHEAST is almost a land locked region. I suppose that is why the stories from this part of the country hardly reached the mainland India. As a young girl I enjoyed watching programs aired on Doordarshan (which literally means Distant Show), an Indian public service broadcaster. These included a popular children’s puppet TV series Potli Baba Ki (Baba’s Tale), Alice in Wonderland a live-action musical television series, Mahabharata and Ramayana based on the ancient Indian epics, and Stone Boy, a series based on a fantasy story of a poor farmer/ milkman boy who gets cursed by fairies. These stories were presented so fantastically that it gives me goose bumps even now.

     I remember such chilling experiences when my grandmother would tell us stories. Stories flew from everywhere and took a permanent stature inside my skull. Once, my grandmother mentioned that our house in Upper Mawprem was build upon some age-old British cemetery. My imagination ran wild and I pondered upon this fact/fiction for days. It haunted me endlessly. I did not know what to do about this told reality. With these stories I grew.

     When in college I wanted to tell stories creatively through picture and sound like in the TV that I used to be so fascinated with. So I joined Mass Communication and Video Production in St Anthony’s College, Shillong. Here I met young storytellers from various parts of the country. It was during this course that I discovered films. For the first time I watched a film by Japanese great Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece Rashomon. I had never seen such a gigantic interweaving movement of cinematography, sound, edit, performances and directorial decision. The rain never before felt so sad. A woman never felt so white. Its sound haunted me. For once I could smell the two men perspiring. I fell in love with the magic of celluloid and the way the story unfolded within each frame. Frame brought me closer to the process of editing. Frame by frame was possible only through an editing software where I spent my afternoons watching films frame after frame.

     The only permanent option in life for me after college was that I continue with my passion. Film editing course at the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune was the next step. Here I watched films across history and nation. A rigorous practice of read cinema, eat cinema and sleep cinema was the norm here. The frames were now tangible. Working on Steenbeck machines helped me to understand editing and taught me the art of patience and perseverance while transferring the energy frame by frame, shot by shot. It was now possible to smell and fell the texture of the celluloid and with it there grew a gradual love and respect for the medium. Students came with different emotions, stories and worldview. Meeting them was a great help in moulding my personality. Spectacular teachers visited us and shared their experiences and knowledge about cinema and life in general. The projects helped to get hands on experience on the various aspects of filmmaking.

     I had never thought that I would be associated with film editing, a field still mysterious to many who are not directly related to filmmaking. I love the way how films continue to surprise us since its very beginning. With new innovation and technology, we as creators and filmmakers keep on telling stories with new narratives. I want to be a participant in this magical stage as long as my health allows me to. Currently I am associated with editing a series of short documentary films based on the life and work of Dadasaheb Phalke. The series is being directed by Kamal Swaroop, an eminent figure of the Indian film fraternity and produced by Films Division.

     I hope many young minds from this part of our great nation do invest their time and effort into this form of storytelling called cine-MA. Films are part of our social lives now. It has not only helped in generating an alternate and a creative option in terms of career to the creative souls but has helped them mould their worldview, perspective and understanding and reach a higher meaning for themselves.

Chidiya Udh and Lajwanti

CLERMONT FERRAND International Short Film Festival is one of the most renowned film fests for the shorts category; it is the second largest film festival in France after Cannes. The 36th edition of this film festival was scheduled from January 31 to February 8 this year. Indian film industry had something to cheer in this year’s festival as ‘Chidiya Udh’ was the only Indian short that competed in this international festival.

     I edited ‘Chidiya Udh’, which is directed by Pranjal Dua with cinematography by Sushant Arora and audiography by Gautam Nair. It is a 22-minute FTII Diploma Film. The film was earlier screened in the International Competition section at Experimenta at the International Festival Of Moving Image Art held in Bangalore. It was opened to highly positive critical acclaim. The film was well appreciated and was praised to a great extend. The short film portrays the life of two people, a young boy from a chicken farm, and a maid from a luxury hotel. They must give each other strength to escape from their dismal reality while nameless chickens continue to feed the city slaughterhouses.

     I also edited Lajwanti (The Honour Keeper), directed by Pushpendra Singh with cinematography by Ravi Kiran and audiography by Amla Papouri. The film, based on a folk tale set in the Thar desert by the late Rajasthani author Vijaydan Dethaar, had its world premiere in the Forum section of the Berlin International Film Festival on February 10. The film explores the inner struggles of a married woman to honour a dream and in that search find the higher meaning of love and freedom.

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