Does every film need to have a staple combination of colossal sets, flamboyant costumes and wordy lyrics to emote love?
Unlike the plots in films where the protagonist always finds his true love or leaves it to the universe to conspire in making sure that he does, real life doesn’t necessarily always offer such respite.
Now, think of a love story between two men — one filled with stolen glances, imminent heartaches and fear imbibed by a patronizing society.
This is the story of Sisak, a 20-minute silent short film by Faraz Arif Ansari that has been winning hearts and recognition worldwide. To communicate the lack of voices speaking up for the LGBT community, the film finds an unlikely weapon in silence to portray the universal force that binds us all— love.
Set in the fast-paced environs of the usually bustling Mumbai local trains, it details a romance that develops slowly, nestled in the silences and quiet comforts of the end-of-day train journeys.
The word Sisak means the heart-wrenching silent cry within oneself in Urdu.
“Generally as a writer, it is imperative for me to put down the title of the film before I begin writing it. However, with Sisak, that wasn’t the case. After having written it, I struggled for months to come up with a title until one day when I read it out to my mom. As soon as she heard my narration, she wept and said, Yeh dil ke roney ki aawaaz hai, Rooh ke kaapne ki aawaaz… Sisak,” says Faraz, who is based in Mumbai.
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But the story took form in Faraz’s head during one of the lowest phases in his life. After having written the screenplay for his directorial debut film that had a homosexual protagonist, he faced rejection from almost every production house in the country.
“While some loved the screenplay and showed certain interest on the project, eventually when it trickled down to production, no one had the courage to make a socio-political satire about homosexuality,” he remarks.
This was followed by bouts of depression and aimless roaming around the city. “Sometimes, I bought a train ticket and would just sit with my headphones on and keep traveling throughout the day. During these journeys, I was exposed to a world that I was unaware of – the world of cruising“, Faraz says.
Coupled with the entire battle of section 377, the young filmmaker found himself crafting a tale of love that had no definition. “I wanted to tell a tale of love without words or any physical intimacy. Two individuals who fall in love with each other and night after night find ways to take a step closer. Just that these two individuals happened to be men,” he says.
Shot on a shoestring budget, most of which was funded by Faraz himself, the entirety of the film was shot in the local trains of Mumbai during the wee hours.
Taking up the guerilla mode since the team didn’t have enough funding to pay for filing permission to shoot, they shot the film over a span of three nights instead of the initial 7-day plan of action.
“When it comes to filmmaking, I am a rebel. Obviously, we didn’t have the money to shoot by getting permissions, plus it was way too expensive. I’d rather make more films with the same budget. Anyway, it wasn’t any easier without permission. Six months of preparation went behind thorough research, chalking out the best routes, timing and the compartments to shoot. I took a leap of faith and went ahead with the shoot,” he explains.
The film has been garnering rave reviews for the loud message that it conjures up through its silent picturisation. After having been featured at many international film festivals, another milestone for the team was when Sisak got nominated for Satyajit Ray Award at the London INDIAN Film Festival.
On being asked about the film bearing any semblance to real life, Faraz talks about being inspired by life itself, that is nothing but an amalgamation of all our joys, sorrows and everything in between.
“It’s more like having not one particular reason for crying. It always ends up being many reasons. I think that’s how inspirations are. They happen to you and end up in your work – some of them are personal, some of them borrowed through stories we hear and people we meet,” he muses.
About being unfortunate in love, he also talks about letting such moments pass for not having enough courage to speak up.
“Such instances have not only given me a lifetime of stories but also enriched me as a filmmaker and as a storyteller. Sisak is a dedication to all the silent, unsaid love stories that couldn’t find a voice,” Faraz adds.