In recent times, short films have become more mainstream than ever with leading names from the Hindi film industry showing keen interest. Siddharth Sinha’s short film The Job that recently got released on YouTube stars Kalki Koechlin, who has recently been awarded Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters by French Government, in the lead role. Interestingly, she plays a schizophrenic woman inspired by William Shakespeare’s iconic character Lady Macbeth. Siddharth, an alumnus of the FTII, is best known for his diploma film, the Bhojpuri short titled Udedh Bun , which won Silver Bear at 58th Berlin International Film Festival back in 2008, becoming the first Bhojpuri film to do so. It also went on to win the National Award for Best Short Fiction Film. Subsequently, he directed Twosome , an Indo-French co-production, which went on to win the Hubert Bals award for the most promising feature film. Siddharth has also directed a music video for Kailash Kher’s first album ‘Kailasha’.
Here Siddharth talks about the creative vision behind The Job and the choice of casting Kalki Koechlin as its lead while highlighting the challenges of making a commercially viable short film in today’s highly competitive environment.
What are you trying to convey through The Job? Do you think you have succeeded in achieving your goal?
I was interested in the strangeness of mind, of its extremities and its unpredictable side. We don’t know what is the next thing our mind can get totally obsessed about… it can be a woman, suicide, a cellphone, nurturing a stray kitten… it can be anything, it’s that random! In case of short film The Job , it’s a dream. It’s difficult to say how far I have been able to achieve the goal because to tell you the truth… the goal post kept shifting. I mean the film kept evolving at every stage: the film that you see now is bit different from its script, it got changed at every stage, the tele-caller salesgirl was never there in the script and we added that bit after the edit. Even the mother’s dialogue changed at the edit. It felt like the film took its own course and became something what it was destined for and I was a mere facilitator in the process.
Tell us about the casting choice and what it took to convince Kalki to play the part.
It was important for the character to feel alienated, but the question was how? So I thought if she is a foreigner, it might just work. A woman who is in a faraway land without any safety nets… how will she deal with a stressful situation?
I wanted somebody who looks like she is pushed against the wall. Kalki has a hint of edginess in her persona, which makes her so compelling for directors. You look at her and you know that here is a woman who can’t be passive in anything that she is doing. She is a ball of energy even if she is not doing a thing but you can still feel it. So combining the two factors, she somehow became the most obvious choice.
Satchit Puranik is an accomplished theatre actor and an old friend. I asked him if he can connect me to Kalki and in next two days she was reading my script. While I never asked her why she agreed to the project, I think she liked the fact that I was willing to take a risk.
Kalki's character comes across as a woman who is haunted by guilt but we never really learn about her back story except the Lady Macbeth inspiration. What are the origins of this guilt faced by Kalki's character?
Well, there is a school of philosophy in India, which says that ‘the world is a manifestation of a dream’. It happens to all of us that we wake up from a nightmare and then get back to normal in sometime or maybe we tell someone about it and that’s it… so I thought what it would be like to never wake up from a nightmare even while you are awake. The next question which popped up in my head was: will one seek redemption for something that he has done in a dream?
How does one write a character that's inspired by an epic character like Lady Macbeth without making it look like a mere imitation?
The beautiful part about masterpieces is that they allow you with tremendous scope to borrow from them, you can make little changes and then it is ready to present itself as an untouched, never-seen-before work. Here, I picked the character of Lady Macbeth but changed the story around her and made it look contemporary and gave it a surrealistic treatment and it has become totally a new piece of work. It is somewhat similar to how in the comic books the iconic character with its unique characteristic stays the same but the story and surrounding characters keep changing in every edition. In my film we see how Lady Macbeth can battle her own conflicts while trying to keep her corporate job.
Why didn't you make more Bhojpuri films after Udedh Bun?
I think I am quite rootless in that sense. I have made a film in Bhojpuri but till date I haven’t had a chance to see a single Bhojpuri film. FTII invited me to direct another short and that’s in Marathi. And, The Job is in French-English. So you can see how varied it is. But all the feature scripts, which I am working upon, are in Hindi because that’s what I have grown up with.
How challenging is it to get the funding for a short film? Also tell us about your upcoming projects.
Frankly speaking, The Job happened because of friendship. Kushal Srivastava is a friend but also a sharp producer. He knew it from day one why he is making this film so he supported my creative vision entirely for the film.
The way short film format is catching up with India, I think very soon there will be a ROI (return on investment) model. But right now short films with decent production values will have to have brand friendly content or either they should completely forget the production values and just make it very cheap, which may not be an ideal situation.
My upcoming project is a feature film about a mother-son duo in a dysfunctional relationship. Konkona Sen Sharma is on board. Secondly, last year, I have developed six short stories into a feature script, dealing with the theme of sex and death. They are very imaginative stories but the producers didn’t touch it because of the themes but now hopefully I might find some takers.