The new Assamese movie, Aamis, and its director Bhaskar Hazarika are making waves not only in the home state but in other parts of the country too. In Shillong, a young woman is quietly basking in the glory.
Shweta Rai Chamling, a resident of Mawprem, is equally responsible for shaping the breath-taking film that depicts a unique love story. Chamling earns kudos for editing the film, and that too single-handedly for the small-budget project.
The 33-year-old alumnus of Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) Pune is ecstatic after the raving reviews of the film and audience reaction. “When I first read the script I reacted the same way as I saw the audience did during the screening of Aamis in Guwhati,” she said as she sipped her tea in a city cafeteria.
Chamling came to know about the project from producer Shyam Bora, “whose works I really like”. After reading the script, she did not think twice before coming on board. Aamis is her first feature film project and the editor looked thrilled to talk about her journey with the “Aamis family”.
“We were a close-knit team and we called ourselves the Aamis Family. It was a wonderful experience and working with Bhaskar was like doing another diploma,” she laughed.
Her husband, Gautam Nair, was accompanying her. Nair, who is also an FTII alumnus, is the sound designer for the film and together they are a great team.
After finishing school from St Mary’s and Army Public School, Chamling enrolled for Mass Communications at St Anthony’s College. She went to Pune in 2007. When asked why she chose to specialise in editing, she said, “When in college, we would do projects and I found editing quite interesting. You can cut one frame and put somewhere and mould a thing using your sense and imagination.”
“Also, I do not like running around and interacting with too many people. A director’s job is tough as he has to take care of so many things and interact with people,” she added with a smile.
But Nair described Chamling as a “reluctant director” who could have done a good job even as a filmmaker.
For Nair, who was born and brought up in Delhi, sound was an obvious choice. With training in classical music, Nair has an ear for music and was an amateur musician before joining FTII. However, he said he never wanted to go for music direction as sound designing was more appealing to him. “I can work on other’s music and make it better with my skills. Music direction is not for me,” said the 35-year-old sound designer.
Both Chamling and Nair, who are now based in Mumbai, had worked on several documentaries, music videos and Netflix series. Renowned filmmaker Kamal Swaroop, who was also the duo’s teacher at FTII, was an inspiration for the couple. With him, they worked on documentaries like Tracing Phalke, Battle for Banaras, Pushkar Puran and Samudra Manthan.
Nair won the national award twice — first for the film 1,2 and three years later for Chidiya Udh, both of which were diploma films of FTII graduates — even before he turned 30. He also worked with screenplay writer-director Anamika Haksar in her film Ghode Ko Jalebi Khilane Le Ja Riya Hoon, which was screened at the New Frontier section of the Sundance Film Festival 2019.
“After seeing Pushkar Puran, Bhaskar really liked the sound and wanted to work with the person (Nair) but was not sure how to get him on board. When I told him that he is my husband then he felt at ease. This is how we got to work with the Aamis team. We have worked together in many projects. But we also have our separate projects,” said Chamling when asked whether the talented couple always team up.
Riju Das, the cinematographer for Aamis, is an FTII alumnus and were in the same batch with Chamling and Nair. “So it became really easy to coordinate and cooperate during the making of the film,” they said.
Talking about their ‘Aamis’ experience, Chamling said it was not “very challenging” because Hazarika is a meticulous director. When he gave the script to her, he also gave music samples for reference, “which usually directors do not do”. This helped the editor to get into the groove and feel the script viscerally.
It was a long-distance working space for the editor in Mumbai and the director in Delhi. Chamling would edit a part and send it to Hazarika online and the latter would give suggestions. “What made it easier was that Bhaskar’s writing was very strong. Once the writing is good, then half the battle is won. Bhaskar is really particular about everything,” she said.
“Also, Bhaskar is a senior in this (the film fraternity) and he knows editing too. So every time Shweta sent an edited piece, he made pointed suggestions. It was like a jugalbandi between the two,” Nair asserted.
Though there were debates at times over how to edit particular scenes, there was no argument and “we would come to a common point of consensus”, she recollected.
There is one scene, a dream sequence, which was a challenging part, Chamling said.
Nair, who “loves to go out for shooting” unlike his wife, was also in awe of Hazarika and his way of working. “He understands music and he had specific suggestions for me,” he said, adding that sound designing is challenging because sound is an external element and it has to be internalised without making it jarring for the audience.
Quan Bay, the Canada-based group that directed the music for Aamis, had also said in an interview that Hazarika “had a very specific vision”.
Though Chamling and Nair make a great team, they are each other’s biggest critics. “Shweta may not have a formal training in music but she has listened to more music than I did. So she can always point out my mistakes. Similarly, I also give suggestions to her when required. This way we improve in our respective fields,” said the sound designer.
On working with independent directors, the duo said in such projects, the team is small and everyone works like a family, which is not the case in big budget films. “During the screening of Aamis in Guwahati, I was crying because the team’s journey was ending,” said Chamling as she tried to explain the bonding among the crew members.
“However, we are open to both kinds of films and will never say no to any project that comes our way,” the couple added.
When asked about independent films and filmmakers from the North East, both said the region is opening up with talents like Bhaskar Hazarika, Rima Das, Pradip Kurbah, Dominic Sangma and Wanphrang Diengdoh. “These directors are talented and together they can make a perceptible change.”
Photo courtesy: ST & Shweta Rai