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Friday, February 26, 2021

Part of Indian Panorama section at IFFI: Director Onkar Diwadkar weaves in his tryst with depression in short film ‘Still Alive’

Still Alive, a short film which is part of the Indian Panorama section of the International Film Festival of India (IFFI), deals with the progression of depression leading to the ideation of suicide, all of it captured in a 27-minute continuous shot.

Written by Ruchika Goswamy | Pune |
Updated: January 21, 2021 4:11:40 pm
still aliveStill Alive tackles issues such as depression and suicide.

Mental health issues such as depression and anxiety are topics that often remain unspoken of. People who undergo severe emotional turmoil also suffer in sheer loneliness.

The psychodrama sees the protagonist, 28-year-old Meera, distraught after the end of her five-year-long relationship. After several futile attempts to reach out and mend things, she tries to end her life. But the secondary character, the sea, is unwilling to let that happen.

Still Alive is Onkar Diwadkar’s second film, which premiered at the 26th Kolkata International Film Festival earlier this year, and is rooted deeply in his own personal experiences with depression. The 25-year-old director entered the film circuit with Mrugajal – In The Land Of Mirage in 2019, a short film which explores painting through the relation between a mentor and protégé. The film was officially selected and screened in the International competition category at the 25th Kolkata International Film Festival and the 12th Jaipur International Film Festival.

“Whenever we talk about emotional turmoil or suicide, we just see the things at the periphery as we do not really know the complete background, the psychological state of the individual. In fact, even in visual representation, only some are able to convey what exactly is going on inside them. My attempt was just to create a window with the 27-minute-continuous shot, where the viewer is able to witness the changes happening within the character and the fall of one’s state of mind and how the character strives to overcome it,’ said Diwadkar.

The script not only replicated Diwadkar’s first-hand experience and his understanding of the various facets of depression, but also had crucial pieces sourced from careful observation and research. “From my observation among my friends and colleagues, I derived the concept of relationship issues in the film. To further the authenticity, I was in touch with the Institute of Psychological Health and their helpline unit, Maitra,” he said.

Shot at Vengurla beach, the 30-minute-film has several natural elements which not only elevate the visual aesthetics of the film but also complement the overall theme.

“It was a challenging shoot, as we were very dependent on the elements of nature. Despite the fact that we took all permits and safety measures, it was a prerequisite for the actor, who was going to be part of the film, to be brave and have the strength to not only endure the physical challenges but also understand the complexities of the character. Pooja Raibagi not only absorbed herself into the character but also retained it for the long continuous shot of the film to convey the primary intention. As for the weather, all I can say is that it was an unplanned blessing,” said Diwadkar.

The documentary filmmaking alumni from University of Mumbai said that while making the film, he realised that although emotional support helplines are available to help people in distress, they too are limited. “Sometimes, there are limitations from the victim’s side too. The reality is, like in the film, the helpline worker is willing to help but is unable to. It also highlights that if the person is not receptive of help, it gets difficult to cross that bridge,” he said.

Diwadkar said that the work he does is to fulfill the original intention behind the film, and it helps in opening a dialogue.

“Often, we do not recognise someone’s need for emotional support. It is often ridiculed or ignored… Everything is a game of belief and that is the reason why I think that one should tend to their mental health. Unlike a physical wound, it cannot be seen but it does not mean it is not there. There is also a preconceived belief among many that people go to the sea to give up their lives. But it is not unless you reach a certain depth that the water body engulfs you. The film is called Still Alive, synonymous with a second chance at life, both figuratively and literally, as the sea will never let you die easily. So no matter the highs and lows, one can wipe out the past, start anew and be still alive,” explained Diwadkar.

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