January 26, 2021 8:34:55 pm
When the country was under lockdown and the migrant crisis was creating ripples, writer-director Arati Kadav thought of making a short film about “human connect”. Through the story of an awkward man confessing his love to his college crush during a farewell group call with his school friends, moments before a meteor hits the Earth, Kadav touches upon what’s important to us in life, notwithstanding the uncertainties.
The process of filming 55kms/sec, featuring Richa Chadha and Mrinal Dutt, was tedious, time-consuming and demanded a lot of co-ordination. Even though the team members had to log in to their devices from different parts of the country to work on the film, this new short is now complete and had digital release recently. Last year, Kadav’s debut feature Cargo, which was screened at several film festivals after premiering at the Mumbai Film Festival in 2019, was released on Netflix, adding a remarkable title to the Indian sci-fi genre.
Recalling the making of 55kms/sec, Kadav shares how the cast and crew huddled on Zoom calls, “just like how cavemen did around the fire”, trying to shoot a film together remotely and tell a story.
Excerpts from an interview:
When did you come up with the idea for 55kms/sec?
During May-June 2020, when we were in the thick of lockdown, I had already started seeing some lockdown films coming up. As a country, we were going through a migrant crisis too. I happened to speak to Mrinal Dutt, who told me he is staying at Madh Island, and showed me his place through a video call. That’s when we thought of shooting something. I wanted to capture the mood of the lockdown. But like all science fiction, I wanted to exaggerate the crisis, and the apathy and clumsiness. Additionally, I wanted it to be about this guy who has not really “lived” and is just ready to die. I wanted to give him some redemption in the end.
How much time did you take to write it and put the team together?
It happened very organically. I never saw it as a short but a lockdown experiment. So, I wrote it in four-five days. I discussed it with my friend Zain Matcheswalla, who was locked down in a different country, and he encouraged me. Since it was all remote, there was no crew as such. The shooting was done by whatever phone cameras the actors and their roommates had while cinematographer Nachiket Pangare instructed them on Zoom. Shooting remotely was hard. I realised that from the first day of the shoot itself. Even though I had some doubts initially, I thought we should not stop something we had begun instinctively.
What kind of coordination was required for the shoot?
First, I had done a basic shot breakdown and storyboard that I discussed with the DoP. My DoP, the actors and I used to log in for Zoom calls for our discussions and created a WhatsApp group to share feedback. The actors had two devices, one to do Zoom calls with us, and the other to shoot the film. Then with the actors’ roomie, we all found the best angles and shots. We did a photo-boarding shot wise which, I think, I will continue to do later on even when I don’t shoot remotely. Seeing your shots in photo forms, you get lots of ideas to make it better.
Then we just shot the film in order. I would be on Zoom call and could see the performance most of the time. Sometimes, it would be difficult because of camera angles. But regardless, the shot would be Whatsapped for feedback. This process demanded a lot from actors, especially in the case of Richa since she shot her scenes herself. So, she would be managing Zoom, camera, her look, location and then act. Hence, her shots are static as they were always on a stand.
It took us 10-12 days to shoot every actor. Everyone was shot separately and later stitched together. It became a long shoot but we tried to keep the mood light. We were finding a human connection, getting to know people and work. That’s why despite compromises, shooting from our own ‘bunkers’ gave us a strange positivity and hope.
All your work has emotions at its core. Is it very organic?
Certain themes and emotions haunt me. The general apathy, the realisation that there is more to life than just going about one’s life as a ghost were the key emotions that were troubling me at the time I wrote 55kms/sec. I like science fiction to give context to some deep personal problems. In 55kms/sec, Suraj (the character played by Dutt) says that all his life he has felt alone, lost in the grind, but when this meteor crisis happened, he realised that they were in this together. That crisis made him feel he belonged to this world. Shooting this film was our way of finding something common and connect with each other using the medium of filmmaking.
The short film is streaming on Disney+Hotstar and http://www.shortfilmwindow.com
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