In a room of an old bungalow in Bandra’s Waroda Road, actor Mithila Palkar sits with a sheaf of papers in her hand. In the middle of making notes, something strikes her and she walks out, past a living room and into a bedroom. She returns to the breezy setting with a few more papers. A few feet away, Shlok Sharma watches the scene through the screen of his camera — an iPhone 6s Plus.
At the Sundance Film Festival last year, Sean S Baker’s comedy-drama on a transgender sex worker, Tangerine, won immense critical acclaim. While the star of this indie film was its story, which followed the protagonist after she discovers her boyfriend cheating on her, the fact that the film was entirely shot on iPhone 5s also proved game-changing. Baker, in his interviews, explained that the technique helped him cut budget for his film.
For his second feature film, Sharma has taken the same route. Busy shooting the last leg of this untitled movie, the director says, “I wanted complete control on the film. Having a small budget, we became the key producer with my friend, Vasan Bala (co-writer, Bombay Velvet and Raman Raghav 2.0). Being a producer allows me to take decisions regarding sale and distribution of the film.” His debut feature film Haraamkhor, produced by Guneet Monga, won critical acclaim and was also a part of the Mumbai Film Festival last year. It revolved around a taboo love story between a teacher and a young girl — essayed by Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Shweta Tripathi, respectively — and has still not been commercially released.
The 31-year-old says that the decision to shoot with a smartphone was also sealed by the script. It is a collection of four stories, linked by the city of Mumbai — often a character on its own — and people’s struggle for survival. Sharma adds that this is the first feature film in India to be shot entirely on an iPhone although similar attempts have been made with music videos. He and his team conducted test shoots, followed by digital intermediate and projection on a big screen, before finalising the use of this technology.
The film, penned by Sharma with Shilpa Srivastava, follows four stories in distinct settings — the slums of Dharavi, a high-rise in upmarket Worli, and a middle-class neighbourhood. The cast includes Tripathi, Shashank Arora, Rahul Kumar, Palkar and Nagesh Kukunoor. “One of the interesting segments is the story of two rappers from Dharavi,” says Sharma, who has cast rap artistes from the neighbourhood. In such settings — where both the scenes as well as the stories are intimate — shooting on an iPhone had its advantages. Sharma points out that they were able to take the camera into crowded spaces such as the Mahim fair and Dharavi without attracting attention.
Kukunoor, who is on the set to shoot for his segment along with Palkar, adds that a camera the size of a phone is far less intimidating than even its digital counterparts. “All we have is this iPhone 128GB, an app that helps us fix the aperture and other settings, lenses the size of a coin and a gimbal that helps keep the camera steady,” says Sharma. This significantly cuts down the number of people required on the set.
However, in the case of this film, the camera also aids the narrative. “It is intimate but never intrusive,” says Sharma. There are a few disadvantages too. The app, for instance, may hang, or the camera may not allow one to manipulate the focus. “It has all so far worked for us. I am not saying this is the future of filmmaking,” says Sharma, “But it is one of the ways small filmmakers with interesting stories to tell, can move on without waiting for a producer for years on end.”