Filmmaker Satish Raj Kasireddi was working on a series for Netflix when the Indian government announced a three-week lockdown on March 24. “I was getting restless, and this was a war-like scenario. That led me to think about how filmmakers were working during times of war — they continued to do their job, just like the soldiers did theirs,” he says. The Netflix series was inevitably delayed, but Kasireddi ended up conceptualising (and co-producing, alongside Priyanjoli Basu and Ahab Jafri) Lockdown Shorts, an anthology of short films by a lineup of young, independent filmmakers working at home, during lockdown. Among them is Arif Ali, brother of Bollywood director Imtiaz Ali and Kolkata-based filmmaker Sourya Deb.
Keeping it simple
The idea is to utilise whatever resources one can acquire at or near home and make a short film, no more than five minutes long — to capture “the shared experience of life put on hold”. Terence Hari Fernandes, one of the 10 directors featured in Lockdown Shorts, says, “A lot of people involved in this first batch have a solid history of independent filmmaking, doing projects with low budgets, and not much by way of resources. So they are used to working under constraints.”
The films are now ready for release on a streaming platform; the team is currently in talks with several players (none have responded to our queries). Meanwhile, the search for future films continues.
Lockdown Shorts is one of several projects, both in India and around the world (see box), where filmmakers are challenging themselves to create art while confined to their immediate environments. Singer and actress Andrea Jeremiah (from Vada Chennai) is set to star in a single-actor short film called, quite simply, Lockdown, directed by Aadhav Kannadasan (actor and writer known for Ponmaalai Pozhudhu and Kaalidas).
Busy across the globe
- Directed by: Adam Mason
- Produced by Michael Bay (Transformers), this thriller will be the first film out of Los Angeles shot during the lockdown.
- Yash Gill’s Power Half Hour
- Directed by: Milli Bhatia
- Doctor Who star Sacha Dhawan plays the lead in this 30-minute film, written by author Nikesh Shukla. Dhawan delivers a stirring monologue, as a stand-up comic working on a livestream for the first time.
- Spaces #1 and #2
- Directed by: Greek filmmakers
- The Thessaloniki International Film Festival invited directors to create short films under lockdown, inspired by the Georges Perec essay Species of Spaces. On YouTube.
Rahul Riji Nair, who works in the Malayalam film industry, recently released Survival Stories on YouTube — a collection of eight shorts (all but one written by Nair himself) made under lockdown. In these stories, characters find themselves trapped in different ways and have to overcome considerable barriers: a man’s leg is pinned after an automobile accident, a claustrophobic yuppie is stuck inside a broken-down lift, a robber finds himself inside a possibly haunted house… “I think the idea of survival is particularly relevant right now,” says Nair. “A lot of people are thinking about how to get through this difficult period, a lot of industries are changing very quickly. Filmmakers are thinking, ‘In the absence of cinema halls, will OTT platforms take over everything?’ Basically, things aren’t in anybody’s control right now, and like any other artiste, I also have my own fears and concerns about the situation.”
The film itself surprises you frequently — it starts off as horror and ends up resembling a genteel comedy, all within five minutes or so. An impressive feat, considering the circumstances — Nair speaks about adapting to a process where dozens of people were remotely working on the post-production. In the last film, we meet an old dog with troublesome hind legs right after he is abandoned at his house. We see the poor fellow drinking out of potted plants, parched. When a neighbour tips over a bucket, stands on it and then calls out to the dog through an open window, the audience holds its breath: will man’s best friend be rescued in the nick of time? It is a manipulative moment, to some extent, but also irresistibly adorable. “Jayakrishnan Vijayan, who shot that film, has a nice bond with that dog (it is his neighbour’s),” Nair says, adding, “He knew when it takes a nap during the day, and shot the dog-fainting scene at just the right time.”
Clearly, the lockdown has tested our resourcefulness in more ways than one — and filmmakers are rising to the challenge.