Amar Kaushik’s debut short film Aaba bagged the Special Jury Prize at the recently concluded Berlin International Festival. Here, he opens up about growing up in the northeast, moving to Mumbai to make films and the process behind his very first project.
The new-age Indian cinema has been receiving the much-deserved appreciation in recent years at a global platform, and not without reason. Young filmmakers in India are experimenting with the format, structure, narrative as well as subjects and the global community is loving it!
One such short film that stole the limelight at the recently concluded Berlin International Film Festival was Aaba.
Aaba won the Special Prize of Generation Kplus International Jury for Best Short Film at the prestigious festival.
Aaba’s success is remarkable for many reasons. Short filmmakers’ community in India is growing slowly, gradually and promisingly, and Aaba’s success reflects the positive trend. Debut film of Amar Kaushik, an outsider who has worked his way into the industry, Aaba is shot in the remote village Ziro in Arunachal Pradesh. The film is in Hindi as well as the local tribal language Apatani and stars local tribals as actors. The fact that it has brought to screen a slice of life, realistic portrayal of the remote region in itself is commendable.
Although Aaba is his directorial debut, Amar has worked in the industry for the past nine years, playing different roles like assistant director, script supervisor and associate director. After completing a course in Mass Communication, Amar moved to Mumbai and began working without any prior reference or contact. With his hard work, he slowly moved up the ladder and became a part of noted films like Aamir and No one killed Jessica.
The Better India caught up with Amar for a conversation about growing up in the northeast, choosing the theme of death for his film, his inspirations, as well as experiences from the industry. Here are some excerpts from the conversation:
On choosing Arunachal Pradesh as the location
My father worked in the government’s forest department and I spent my early years in Arunachal Pradesh before moving to my grandparents’ house in Kanpur. The region had a huge impact on me during my growing-up years.
The state is not only beautiful, it’s also home to some of the most ancient customs and traditions. I have always reminisced the time I spent there and therefore when I decided to make my first film, I chose the story narrated to me by my mother, which was not only set in Arunachal but also reflected the life there.
On the theme of death
Even after we moved out of Arunachal, my mother kept telling us interesting stories from there. Being a very good listener, the stories my mother told were always in my heart. Aaba is one such interesting story my mother had narrated that remained with me for the longest time.
I feel that death is one of the most misunderstood and mysterious subjects in the world. Waiting for death can be painful and seeing your loved one waiting for it can be even more unbearable.
Hence, the story of someone wrapping up the chapters of life to wait for death, left me amazed.
About casting local tribal people as actors in his film
Aaba is a heart-touching tale of a small girl and her grandfather who is diagnosed with lung cancer. The film portrays in a silent manner the coming to terms with the deadly disease, of the girl and her grandparents.
Local actors from Arunachal Pradesh, Dani Randa, Dani Chunya, Dani Sunku, Hage Yami and Dr Joram Khopeyhave brought the story to life in a realistic manner.
After deciding to set my film in Ziro, it would have been very easy to cast actors from Mumbai and shoot with them in Arunachal Pradesh. But that wouldn’t have been fair to my story. It had to have local tribal actors to bring authenticity to the film. The process, however, wasn’t easy. Although I was familiar with the place, communication was a major problem.
It was not difficult to find the right faces, but communication was a task! Forget about teaching them acting, we didn’t even understand each other’s language to start with. I realised that I had to be one of them to make them comfortable. A month after I started living with them, lines of communication opened up for us and it reflected on the sets.
My ‘non-actors’ are the best part of my film. They surprised me every day with their sincerity and simplicity.
On the industry as a school
Film industry is like a film school to me. I have been lucky enough to have worked with some of the finest people and always enjoyed my AD (Assistant Director) days. It is a high-pressure job but I am very much into it, and love it.In all the films that I have worked on, I have been the first one to be hired and have been there till the release. The post production of any film is the most wonderful part; you realise what you could have done to save a scene and how all scenes come together to become a story. Being an outsider, every day was like a learning day. Each day you get to learn something new on the set or off the set. I am learning every day and hope to continue doing so.
On being a short filmmaker in India
I think we have overcome the challenging times. These days, even short filmmakers find support and have platforms to reach out to the audience. So, it’s a promising time for filmmakers interested in short films – the only thing they need is a strong story.
About the cinema in Arunachal Pradesh
There are some great talents coming from Arunachal Pradesh and there some good work happening too. For my film, I got support from local filmmakers Sange Dorji and Alison Welly. I think local cinema is slowly catching up and headed towards an interesting phase.