It is one thing to scramble for space in Mumbai and another to deal with its long, cyclical and unrelenting seasonal spells — heat or rain. What’s often termed as a “mood swing” can actually be a condition known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which screenwriter Manish Singh tries to capture in his short film Season’s Greetings. It was screened at the third Indian World Film Festival in Hyderabad on Sunday.
The 14-minute film which, last year, flew to the Chicago South Asian Film Festival, got Special Mention at the eighth Dada Saheb Phalke Film Festival, and was selected for NFDC Viewing Room Film Bazaar 2018. It is 35-year-old Singh’s second directorial short. His first, Sucks’s Story (2016), is about how rare Bollywood success stories draw thousands to the city but success remains elusive. “When a Kapoor says he’s a self-made man, it makes me laugh,” he says.
As a child, Singh watched Hindi films at the weekly screenings organised by his father’s employer NTPC Ltd (Kahalgaon, Bhagalpur), and parrot dialogues and stories in school. After Class XII, he wanted to try his luck and went to Pune’s Film and Television Institute of India in 2000 but was returned home, since he was not a graduate, which was mandatory to apply. After completing his graduation in 2002, he landed in Mumbai in 2007, where he initially wrote dialogues for television serials such as CID, Raju Hazir Ho, FIR, Channel [V]: Heroes, Dilli Wali Thakur Gurls and Crime Patrol Dial 100. CID was a brief stint since he was “not following the pattern”. “The CID we watched during my childhood was totally different. They asked me to add humour, which I couldn’t do,” he says.
“Nobody can teach you writing, they can tell you the rules, but as long as you don’t have a thought and observation to see and feel what’s happening around, you can’t write,” says Singh. His first written piece was a feature film, Democracy, which couldn’t find a producer. “Short films are trending. It reaches more audience than television, can be made on a small budget, and you don’t have to wait for a producer,” he says.
Season’s Greetings opens in a Goregaon-East matchbox room, where the camera pans to a close-up of the ceiling fan, rotating at snail speed, cut to a defunct table fan whose blades the distressed protagonist (Pankaj Jha) moves manually, sweat trickling down his neck. Sugarcanes being re-crushed to extract every last drop of juice is symbolic. The wait for the monsoons seems like drudgery. And when it comes, it brings no respite. The city is flooded, clothes won’t dry, seepage, chipping wall paint, mobile phones in polythene pouches and ironing wet rupee notes. The man is irritable at those enjoying the rain or anybody who rings the bell. “I asked the actor to stay on the set, house-bound, for a few days prior to the shoot, to internalise the atmosphere, neither laugh nor listen to romantic songs,” says Singh.
“SAD,” the film tells, in actor R Madhavan’s voiceover, “is more prevalent in areas experiencing long fall (monsoon) or winter. The reduced exposure to sunlight affects serotonin, a brain chemical that affects the mood and makes people feel lazy and gloomy… According to a source, more than 10 million cases of SAD are reported annually in India… Some people experience it in summer as well.”
The film does not specify if SAD cuts across classes, and whether the seasonal vagaries by themselves trigger depression or aggravate a pre-existing condition. It is revealing nevertheless. “After watching it, people said, ‘aisa bhi kuchh hota hai’ (something like this happens)?” says Singh. He would board rickshaws, record the drivers’ rants, play it on loop at home, and laugh, until it wasn’t funny anymore. The film took two years to make. Singh says, “I would ring up (the DOP) Madhavraj (Datar) in Chennai and say, ‘badal aa gaye Mumbai mein, pack your bags and come’. When he arrived, the rains stopped. So we shot the interior scenes and waited for the next monsoon.”