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Friday, February 26, 2021

Director Onkar Diwadkar’s short film Still Alive: A window to depression

Still Alive, a short film part of the Indian Panorama section of the International Film Festival of India (IFFI), through its 27 minutes continuous shot, gives a window to experience the progression of depression.

Written by Ruchika Goswamy | Pune |
Updated: January 20, 2021 3:24:43 pm
still aliveStill Alive tackles issues such as depression and suicide.

Mental health issues such as depression and anxiety are topics that are still unspoken of. People who undergo severe emotional turmoil, suffer in sheer loneliness as they sink in the quicksand of helplessness and despair. Still Alive, a short film part of the Indian Panorama section of the International Film Festival of India (IFFI), through its 27 minutes continuous shot, gives a window to experience the progression of depression leading to the ideation of suicide.

The psychodrama has the protagonist, 28-year-old Meera, distraught after the end of her relationship of five years, taking the plunge to end her life after several futile attempts to reach out and mend things. However, the secondary character, the sea, is unwilling to let that happen.

iffi short A still from the short Still Alive.

Still Alive is Onkar Diwadkar’s second film, which premiered at the 26th Kolkata International Film Festival earlier this year. It 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 relationship 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 (IPH) and their helpline unit, Maitra,” said the director.

Shot at Vengurla beach, the 30-minute film has several natural elements that not only elevates the visual aesthetics of the film but also compliments the overall theme. There is high tide in the sea while the sky picks a dark shade of grey, when the protagonist played by actor Pooja Raibagi decides to kill herself.

“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 far as the weather, all I can say is that it was an unplanned blessing,” he said.

The documentary filmmaking alumnus from the University of Mumbai said that while making the film, he realised that although the emotional support helplines are there to help people in distress, they too are limited. “Sometimes there are limitations from the sufferer’s side too. The reality is, like in the film, that 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,” said Diwadkar.

The filmmaker said that the work he has done is to fulfill the original intention behind the film and that it helps in opening a dialogue, if not change the masses completely.

“Often, we do not recognise someone’s need for emotional support. It is often ridiculed or ignored, which later is something not under anybody’s control. 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 to 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,” concluded Onkar.

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