Athul Prabhakaran became acquainted with the camera when he was just 12 years old. But, soon after, he went on to make nine short films in different languages: English, Hindi, Tamil and Telugu. Despite his young age, most of his short films have serious themes and deal with the human condition. His most ambitious project to date is a film called Zaman, set in post-apocalyptic India, which he hopes to make now.
When asked what the pivotal question in Zaman is, he says, “My film would explore what it means to be human at a time when no one is left. It’s an unconventional premise – a post-apocalyptic road drama – but that’s where I want to explore what it is that we consider precious, what are the small insignificant parts of our lives that we take for granted.”
The idea for the story came to Athul when he was a 15-year-old student in Leeds, UK. He has been working on developing it for the last five years now.
What is striking about this project is that nobody in India has really delved into this genre of films (post apocalyptic) before.
Contrary to popular perception that such films are full of zombies and merciless murders, Zaman will be different.“The most post apocalyptic thing about the film is the backdrop; the primary focus is on the characters. The protagonist, Tawhid Zaman, is going through survivor’s guilt after losing his wife who meant the world to him. And he is about to kill himself when he hears a radio message about the existence of a farm that claims to protect the survivors of the apocalypse.”
From here on the movie develops into a road drama and traces the lives of and conversations between Tawhid, a 60-year-old woman and a 10-year-old boy on their journey from Goa to Hyderabad, where the farm is located.
When asked if there was a particular reason for the obvious age difference between the main characters, Athul says: “Tawhid meets them and doesn’t think he’ll like them, but a deep friendship blossoms in the most unlikely scenario. I have always been interested in the conversations that take place between people who belong to different generations because I feel there’s so much to learn. This is a film about the people, rather than the apocalypse.”
This student filmmaker is of the belief that Zaman will be the most challenging film he has made up until now:
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“At the scripting stage, I had some trouble figuring out the character arc – I was having a conversation with a friend who writes plays and I said, ‘It’s easier to kill characters than it is to live with them.’ Most of the characters in Zaman do not die and the audience has to endure their journey. The biggest challenge with working on a post-apocalyptic film is shooting it. If you’re on an indoor film set, you can yell ‘Silence’ just before the camera starts rolling, but if you’re shooting outside how do you silence the whole world? We have to keep in mind that the whole world as we know it has just come to a standstill. So, we’re trying to push ourselves in terms of sound and we’re trying to figure out to how to keep out the external world while filming.”
Athul intends to gather the funds for the film using crowdfunding, a concept that is popular in the US but still novel in India. Around 30 people, who make up the cast and crew, will be working on a pro-bono basis. A theatre actor from Hyderabad will play the role of Tawhid Zaman.
Athul believes that if the campaign is successful it would be indicative of the fact that there is an audience that wants to both watch and fund his film.
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He said, “This is an all or nothing campaign, so if we don’t achieve the target we’ll give the money back to the people who backed us. I want to tell viewers and readers that it would break my heart to produce anything sub-standard if I’m going to promise a post-apocalyptic movie with a decent budget.”
The student filmmaker intends to complete filming by April 2017 so he can send Zaman for prestigious international film festivals like the Toronto Film Festival and the Tribeca Film Festival in New York. Help him make his ambitious debut at these festivals by donating here.