‘Films are about visualising the script, seeing magic in scenes’: Shaan Vyas

Making a debut: Shaan Vyas

Making a debut: Shaan Vyas  

Shaan Vyas on turning director with short film 'Natkhat', the relentless misogyny we see around us in everyday life and making a change

Shaan Vyas, who makes his directorial debut with the short Natkhat, feels that the normalisation of misogyny and systematic humiliation and degradation of women is an omnipresent reality. Natkhat is Vyas’s debut film, even though he’s directed an as-yet-unseen experimental short. It’s an interesting jump for Vyas. He’s moved to direction from being a producer of such films as Kshay, The Lunchbox and Masaan. Normally people become directors through two routes—film schools or assisting established names. “I never took either of the two trajectories,” says Vyas. For him, it wasn’t a bottom to top vertical; more a horizontal shift and reinvention.

On the job

Vyas confesses getting into the business of filmmaking with no clear goal in mind. “I just went with the flow and kept learning on the way,” he says. He wasn’t even sure initially that he wanted to be a director. “I had these ideas in my head. I wanted to be a storyteller,” he says. He got to learn writing scripts by reading others’ works and a hobby grew and developed into something bigger over time. “I learnt experientially on the sets, by observing the directors,” he reminisces.

Natkhat’s world premiere at the online, We Are One: A Global Film Festival, on June 2 also marked almost a year to the start of the short film’s shooting. The film was wrapped up in two schedules—in a small town of Harda in Madhya Pradesh with the interior portions shot in Mumbai. The way Vyas sees it, most of a director’s work happens much before the shoot; it’s the prep and the pre-production than what happens between the ‘action’ and the ‘cut’ on the set or the location. “It is about visualising the script, seeing the magic in the scenes. You then bring out the best in people. It’s auto-pilot on the set,” he says. No wonder then, it’s the time, energy and work that Vyas put in along with his co-writer Annukampa Harsh that still gives him the high. “If my initial writing was the body of the work, Annukampa embellished it with a soul,” he emphasises.

Rooted in reality

The idea came to him from very well-known recent incidents of violence against women and the extreme misogyny around us in general. “Like everyone else, I had this huge fit of anger. For every two cases reported, many go unrecorded. What has been our way to fix these? Palliative reforms and counselling for the victims. What about curative measures?” he asks. He takes the curse of patriarchy back to the environment one grows up in and parenting, proposing that gender equality can be nurtured over generations and years by educating kids when their minds are like sponges, ever willing to absorb. By displaying that, Natkhat also disturbs its audience. The crude, ugly scenario, the corruption of the minds of cute kids is not easy to digest, and would be difficult to accept for many. But Vyas feels that the systematic humiliation and degradation of women happens everywhere; it is not just a hinterland reality but is present round us in cities too, something that he witnessed while growing up. What saved the day for him was his family and parents.

As does Vidya Balan, in a pivotal role in her first foray into the world of short films. She is a woman with no name. She is Sonu's mother. But she is the voice, in the film and of women in general. “She is a strong voice when it comes to women’s issues,” asserts Vyas, on how Balan’s presence helped in strengthening the film. While Natkhat’s cast, includes professional actors in small key roles, like Atul Tiwari as Balan’s father-in-law, Raj Arjun as her husband and Sparsh Srivastava as brother-in-law, 90% of the cast—including Sonu—comprises of non-actors who went through a workshop for training before facing the camera.

Vyas faced mental conflict and apprehension in casting the child. “We were making the child actor do things that the film actually says that they should not be doing. I was wondering how we could undo the impact of it from his mind,” he shares. It helped that they cast a girl — Sanika Patel — in the key role of the boy. The film’s team kept telling her through the shoot, that she should not allow boys to do this to her or to other girls, hoping that the message made its impact on her.

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Printable version | Jul 10, 2020 9:41:09 AM |

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