COVID-19: ‘Survival Stories’, a film for the times

A still from survival stories

A still from survival stories   | Photo Credit: special arrangement

Director Rahul Riji Nair’s anthology film ‘Survival Stories’ made during the lockdown speaks of beating the odds and surviving

Eight stories told in 50-odd minutes make up Rahul Riji Nair’s anthology film ‘Survival Stories’, shot during the lockdown and released on YouTube on May 8. It comes at a time when the film industry wrestles with uncertainty of a post-COVID-19 scenario. Rahul sees the film as a means of keeping the art alive, as well as a form of resistance.

Each segment of the anthology is about beating the odds, themed around the central idea of survival. The film was shot sticking to lockdown protocols.

Rahul Riji Nair

Rahul Riji Nair   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Rahul says that given the current limitations, primarily technology-related, the focus was on story-telling. The eight films span a range of experiences starting with humour (‘Hook or By Crook’), an exploration of ideology in the face of death (‘Revolution and Death’), companionship (‘Leak on the Wall’), overcoming fear (‘Uplifting’), grief (‘For Each Other’), and survival (‘Toys from Heaven’, ‘In Love We Trust’ and ‘Waiting for You’). Rahul won the the Kerala State Film Award for the best film (2017).

“We have time at hand and technology offers infinite possibilities. Let’s not get bogged down by the challenge and instead give ideas shape. This is an attempt to keep our voices relevant given the uncertainty we are staring at,” Rahul says. While he scripted seven, and acted in one, filmmaker Jeo Baby wrote, directed and acted in one. Jeo’s films include ‘Kunju Daivam’, ‘2 Penkuttikal’ and the due-for-release Tovino Thomas-starrer ‘Kilometres and Kilometres’.

Working together

Initially Rahul wanted to make the anthology as a collaboration with other directors. That didn’t pan out as they had reservations about working with this unconventional format. Jeo joined the project despite initial reservations and is happy that he did. “One was not doing anything else and this was a way of keeping engaged. I am glad I did is also about a sense of togetherness that comes from working like this,” Jeo says.

Rahul jokes that at times, while making the film, he felt like he was working at a call centre. “I constantly had the headphones on and was talking about the filming,” he says. The films were shot by the actors themselves and in one case a family member. “I would start by asking what each had at home so that I could build around it. Although these were the conditions, we were particular about the quality of the content. The understanding was that if something did not meet our standards then we wouldn’t take it,” Rahul adds.

A still from ‘Survival Stories’

A still from ‘Survival Stories’   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

In order to ensure that didn’t happen, Rahul asked to see a scene after it was filmed to suss out if the people could film. “It would have been unfair to them after making them do the work,” he says. All the segments were shot using mobile phone cameras. ‘Uplifting’ was shot by the sexagenarian mother-in-law of one of the actors in it. In Jeo’s segment ‘Toy from Heaven’ where his wife, Beena and children Music and Katha acted.

Each person who was filming was guided through the process: an attempt to enable the actors to see the scene from a cinematographer or director’s perspective. The 50 minutes was culled from over 100 hours worth of footage. “Often what happened was that we ended up using only 5% content from 20 hours worth of footage,” Rahul says. The editing was also done remotely by Appu Bhattathiri, with much back and forth between Rahul and him, as also music by Sidhartha Pradeep. Sound design/mixing is by Vishnu PC and Arun S Mani. The entire process of making the film took two weeks.


Rahul says some friends suggested holding the release and keeping it for the film festival circuit while others suggested releasing each film as a short rather than in the current format. “I did not want to do that either. I had not conceived each segment as a standalone but rather as part of an anthology. Secondly if I released it later, post-lockdown, it would not resonate as it does now,” he says.

Feedback has been encouraging so far, says Rahul, adding that this proves that storytelling is paramount, more than visuals, sound or props. “Minimalism works if you have a good story to tell,” he says.

As minimalist as ‘Ottamuri Velicham’? (A gritty film about a newly-wed’s fight for survival and escape from an abusive husband and life in a single room house with a colour-changing flickering bulb.)

“No, no that wasn’t as minimalist as this anthology!” he laughs.

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Printable version | Jun 1, 2020 9:18:52 AM |

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