Last year, Vaishnavi Sundar decided to make a short film. She handled most of the work herself — she came up with the story, wrote the screenplay, drew the storyboard, scouted locations and found the cast and crew who’d fit her story perfectly. But when it came to funding the film, she was forced to turn to others for help. Why’s that? “Because I was broke,” she laughs.
“I really wanted to make the film and didn’t have any money to do so; the only way was to crowd-fund the project,” says the Chennai-based filmmaker. She created a website, with a target of two lakhs - but hoping to raise whatever possible - because she was determined to make this movie and tell this story, come what may. “I narrated the story and my plans for the project to friends from different walks of life…I caught their first reaction on camera and used that as my campaign.”
Not using a conventional crowd-funding platform limited Vaishnavi from reaching out to strangers, but her friends in need were friends indeed. “Although my reach was limited to my friends circle, it didn't matter. Their reach extended beyond - to their friends, friends of friends and family.” In a month, not only did she meet her target, she also exceeded it; she has screened her film, titled The Catalyst , in three cities - Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad - and is also currently entering it in international festivals.
The film, which is inspired by a short story called The Taxi Driver by Kartar Singh Duggal, is a realist telling of the intense dilemma faced by a moralistic auto driver who finds a wallet with a wad of cash. While he advocates against people taking what is not rightfully theirs, he is torn when he realises he wants to keep to himself the little piece of fortune he has chanced upon. “He finds it left behind in his auto and is unable to return it. He has the option to take it to a police station or donate it at a temple. But he takes it home because he hopes, even though he doesn’t want to admit it, that his wife would force him to keep it,” explains Vaishnavi. The story is engrossing, with interesting camera work by cinematographer Pradeep Padma Kumar, and poignant performances by Nirmala Chennappa and Sardar Sathya. The 25-minute film is set in Bangalore, and shot in Kannada. “I can understand the language; but can’t speak a word of it. I spoke cinema though, and my cast spoke cinema, so there was no communication problem,” smiles Vaishnavi.
The young filmmaker is fairly new to the art, though her debut has been loud. Her first film, about the metamorphosis of the relationship between a young girl and a barber, has found its way to six international short film festivals in India, and two abroad — Slovenia and Afghanistan. Though originally an MBA student who climbed the corporate ladder with jobs in advertising, IT and human resources, Vaishnavi has always stuck by the arts with her theatre pursuits; she’s an actor, director, writer, musician. And now, she is exploring the world of cinema. “This industry is very distribution-driven. But as an artist, you need to find a way for your art to reach people,” says Vaishnavi.
“Independent cinema is breaking away from the prosaic formulas films have adhered to — like the hero, heroine, villain formula — and trying to offer something new. Though there is very little money in independent cinema, there are ways to make it a sustainable model; that’s what filmmakers like me are trying to do.”
She’s currently working on three feature film scripts and setting up her own media company — Lime Soda Films. She’s also started an online interface called >Women Making Films , for women artists from the industry to network. In the two days since the launch of the portal, there are already over 1000 people connecting with artists and exploring potential job prospects. “Our skill set is not a matter of gender. There is underrepresentation and it irks me. I’m just trying to do something about it with this portal,” says the determined filmmaker.