THIS YEAR, as the prestigious Festival de Cannes kicks off on May 11, a short feature film from India will park itself at its Short Film Corner. An essential meeting point for filmmakers to network, showcase their work and pitch future projects, the Short Film Corner selects about 2,000 films for viewing annually. And one of them is from Chandigarh.
Called Asmad (Me), this 30-minute short film has been written and directed by city-based Prabhjit Dhamija. “In fact, it’s the only one from North India while there are eight short films from Bengal,” says the 40-year-old debut director Dhamija.
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Shot in the idyllic valley of Ballah in the Dhauladhar Ranges near Palampur, Himachal Pradesh, Asmad is the story of a 13-year-old boy who is weighed down by guilt due to an incident for which he feels responsible. The film looks into the idea of ‘me’, the self, the ego, thoughts, actions, suffering, and the degree of man’s free will. An internal journey, Asmad is a Sanskrit word for the self, and Dhamija’s trigger to pen this film came during discussions with acclaimed filmmaker Shekhar Kapur on concept of destiny and free will on his blog.
Given the abstract nature of the idea, the setting could’ve been anywhere with anyone, but fascinated with films that have children at its centre, Dhamija wrote it around a 13-year-old.
“I am drawn to films with children in it. Not children’s films, but deeper subjects, like Children of Heaven, or Kapur’s Masoom,” adds Dhamija, who roped in Anikait Malhotra from Dharamshala to play the lead. The film was also originally selected for NFDC Director’s Lab in 2014 (with working title — I’m not there).
Being an independent production, it came with its own set of challenges, which Dhamija is putting together under a separate ‘making of the film’ video for first-time filmmakers.
From getting right people on board, braving weather conditions in the hills, getting funds together to making plenty of mistakes during post-production, the two-and-a-half- year journey of the film has been a learning experience.
“I was sure of one thing — that this will be a slice-of-life short film shot like a feature and not a YouTubish or television film. This is something I want people to see on the big screen, for its treatment is very subtle,” says Dhamija.
With only three scenes with dialogues out of the 25, and nature as an important character, Asmad, adds Dhamija, is a visual language film.
That it will be screened commercially is a long shot, but for now, he is eyeing international festivals including BAFTA, Sundance, maybe Oscars. “Cannes was a pleasant surprise, for we sent it just 10 days short of deadline,” he says.
A mechanical engineer-turned-filmmaker, Dhamija is inspired by the day-to-day life for his stories, and is now co-directing Katputli (on child marriage) this May along with Ritesh Sil in Rajasthan.
Asmad has been co-produced by Prem Munish and also stars Edha Singla, Balwant Gurunay, Praveen Jaggi and Sudarshan Juyal. Its associate directors are Paran Duggal and Abhishek Garg, director of photography Vikrant Pratap Singh while music has been given by Jerry Silvester Vincent, editing by Kratika Adhikari and Anand Rutwick Nijampurkar, and sound by Asheesh Pandya.