Sushant Chaudhary is one semester short of completing his undergraduate course in Media Studies, with a specialization in Audio Visual Communication (Film & TV) from the Symbiosis Center for Media & Communication, Pune.
“Honestly, the last two and a half years have been quite challenging, enriching and revelatory for me. Our course is damn rigorous, where we’re supposed to follow clothing regulations, submit assignments every week and take tests every alternate week. There are study tours, field visits, lecture-demonstrations, practicals and a heck load of other stuff packed into 3 months: what we call a semester. But we also get to meet industry professionals, learn from the best professors, and work on side projects for commercial as well as personal interests. So it really isn’t your typical college experience. The lifestyle in Pune is quite different from Chandigarh, of course. There are a lot of universities, IT hubs and clubbing venues. So in terms of culture, both cities have similarities yet differ on certain levels. I mean, it’s a lot of fun to live with three guys from the same batch in a flat that overlooks the air force base!”
Q: What led you to taking up film-making seriously, was it something during your childhood or a film in particular?
As a school kid, I used to scribble comic strips in rough notebooks, trying to animate what I drew. Some of them were my childhood fantasies, others were ideas I got from watching cartoons and films on an old VCD player. The film camera my father had barely worked by the time I grew up so I didn’t really have anything to put my images on. That thirst led to me exploring music, which in turn opened up my oratory horizons of sorts.
Fast forward a few years, and my friends and I were making spoofs on school events, some relevant, some lame as hell. We were shooting on cell phones for fun’s sake, and that eventually turned into a YouTube channel with a humble 25,000 views. Honestly, even then I wasn’t taking film-making seriously. I guess, the real moment arrived when I was asked to make the opening ceremony video for my school’s Model United Nations event. When that film played in front of 1800 people in attendance at the revered Tagore Theatre, my team and I knew we had made something special; so much so that even the chief guest praised the video in his speech. I don’t think I have thought about not making films since that day. Really special moment, that one.
Q: What sort of cinema do you find yourself driven to?
Surprisingly, I can relate to a lot of filmmakers and their sensibilities, so I don’t particularly favour one SET or STYLE of films as such (which I think is nice, especially if you want to learn). My influences have been eclectic, including works of American directors like David Fincher, Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese. Lately, I’ve been exposed to a lot of foreign cinema that has moved me beyond measure. I could relate to a lot of Iranian films and Polish cinema, particularly the works of Krysztof Kieslowski, Majid Majidi and Asghar Farhadi. Vishal Bharadwaj is hands down my favorite contemporary Indian filmmaker.
Well I really love those filmmakers who have told stories with a balance of creative and technical mastery. These are artists who have pushed the envelope over the years, trying to improve themselves in every aspect. That’s really essential, especially in the age where technology is upgrading so quickly.
In this regard I really respect Scorsese’s decision to accept digital cinematography as a viable medium, or the fact that Woody Allen makes a film every year; basically these people are real-world examples of the kind of people I revere. They’re like me: they’re fan boys first and filmmakers second. So there’s nothing above Cinema for such people. Yes, time and again new people get added to this regular list of my favorites, but some will always find the top spot: Kieslowski, Bharadwaj and Fincher are definitely the Big Three. Inarritu and Alfonso Cuaron are recent additions. Other influences include prominent music video directors Mark Romanek and Jonathan Glazer. Big fan of all of their work, really.
Q: What is the kind of cinema that you’d like to create?
That’s a very difficult question, a very subjective one as well. Timing is an important factor when one sets out to work on something. So it really depends on what your current influences are, the kind of stories you want to tell. I frankly don’t want to restrict myself to one particular form of storytelling, so it could be anything: animation, live action, any genre. But it’s really essential to connect with your audience, because no matter what indie filmmakers or auteurs say, audience IS king. So I guess Id like to work on an emotional core with everything I make, which should be relatable, even so only a few people could relate to it.
Q: What inspires you to make the films you do?
Fortunately, I have managed to work on a good number of projects during my time in college.
I think the most amount of my learning has come from working on these films; some of which I have directed, shot and edited. My most recent work was- Hearth of Rhythm, a short documentary about Bernhard Schimpelsberger, an Austrian drummer who returned to India to play a tabla solo concert for his Guru Ji. The film became a passion project for both Bernhard and I in no time and was shot over 3 days in Pune and edited in about 4 days in Chandigarh.
Another short film that I recently directed was titled- Haseena, which was made for a college assignment. The challenge really was to make a three-minute film without any restrictions in less than 48 hours, which was a lot of fun and a really intense exercise. The film is a take on the Neo-Noire genre and explores the strange depths of a 9-year old’s brain.
I also directed a short film titled- Raat Baaki, Baat Baaki in May 2014, a comedy about a toy-seller who starts talking to his toys. Surprisingly, the film won two awards at a film festival in Pune.
There have been a few more projects that I was actively a part of (and also hold close to my heart), including a Stoner Comedy- Kuen Ka Maindak, a Family Drama- Horns of a Dilemma and a Psychological Thriller- Fat Boy, among others. So it’s been an engaging and fun journey so far.
Q: What are some of the changes that have occurred in vintage and contemporary Indian cinema? Which era appeals to you more, artistically?
Since I’ve grown up watching mostly contemporary films, my palate has been developed that way. But I’ve also learned to appreciate older cinema, which some people (including my parents) believe is the better form. Artistically, there have been a lot of variations that I’ve noticed.
One particular thing I’ve observed in the last few years is in the audience, of course. The short attention span (thanks to web content) has really damaged that vintage style of experiencing films. I’ve seen people leaving the theater in a 2-hour film halfway, so the idea of watching a lengthier film would mean bad news for them. As a regular film goer, that really bothers me. Especially because these audience reactions mean a LOT to the filmmakers.
Technically, of course, films have improved MANIFOLD when you compare them in terms of sound and visuals. But when you compare, say, a 2001: A Space to Odyssey to Jaani Dushman which actually came out in 2001, you wouldn’t fail to cringe. After watching a film that fails miserably at imitating The Terminator which preceded it by a good two decades, you’d definitely utter- Only in India; but, by no means is it a fair comparison.
Artistically, films have come up and received critical acclaim and gone on to become modern classics. So it’s a good thing, because these are films which my generation watches; and every now and then exceptions come in and shake the market for good. The way Bollywood is saturating really gives me the hope that we’ll keep getting better films in the coming few years. But we’ve also seen remakes and reboots over the years which make you think whether we’re really heading forward.
But there’s no clear cut preference as such. For me, films are films, really. There’s a reason we call those old influential films Classics, and I think it’s a good enough reason.
Q: Your film reviews lay great emphasis on the soundtrack and background score of a film. What are some of the other essential elements of a film, according to you?
I’ve really grasped this concept in my head: films or television series are an AUDIO-visual medium. There’s a reason why audio comes first. It’s easy to watch a hall print or screener with decent audio than watching a fine Blu-Ray print with terrible audio. So I really appreciate it when films have detailed and ingenious sound design, or music. It really enhances your overall experience as a movie-goer.
Really, try an experiment. Watch any scene with no background score, then re-watch it and play a Hindi song in the background. Then re-watch it with a Hans Zimmer score. Then re-watch it one more time with a Red Hot Chili Peppers song. You’ll see the difference (or hear it).
I think a good film will have ALL the elements in the right place, like a perfect package: a great 3 course meal. No one should be able to say, ‘Namak kum hai.’
But according to me, that essential element would be the EDIT of the film. You can make a 50 Cr budget film with a detailed production design, spot-on acting and neat audio. Great. Your marketing’s in order, tickets have been sold out on BookMyShow and fans are desperately waiting to see your film. But if there’s one gaffe on the edit table, your film’s ruined. It could disorient the viewer and he/she’s out of the zone in the blink of an eye. A good edit can hide some of these minor gripes that you might have left here and there.
Q: Do you feel that artistic expression is greater than cultural sentiment?
As much as I want to go in favor of artistic expression, I’m afraid I have to say that it’s really not beyond cultural sentiment. Art is subjective, especially when we talk about cultural context. Culture will ALWAYS inspire art; art may not influence culture.
Q: Where do you see yourself, ten years from now?
Hopefully somewhere in a Burbank back lot in front of an edit table, finishing my third studio-funded feature while my Maserati waits outside in a private parking zone, with all my hair on the head.
No, seriously. I’d LOVE that. Who WOULDN’T?
But honestly, I see myself making films, in any way whatsoever, and definitely watching them, if not anything else. And I also wish I don’t grow any taller in the next 10 years!
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