Everything I consumed on screen as an escape from 2020 helped me evolve into a filmmaker, writes Shefali Shah
'This lock-up gave me time to prep rigorously as a filmmaker. And just like that, I was ready to shoot a film as a director. The more I worked on it, the more convinced I was that this blunder had to be made.'
2020 has been a watershed year in history, and that has also trickled down to the realm of entertainment. In this series, 2020 Unwind, stakeholders from the Indian entertainment scene weigh in on how they view entertainment now, how their skills had to evolve and adapt to changing patterns and whether the year has altered them as artists.
India goes into national lockdown....Twenty-one days was a bit difficult to digest but I wasn’t shocked or shaken. It was the need of the hour. Like many, I too thought it was temporary. It can’t be extended, and soon, we will win the fight with COVID-19, and go back to our normal lives... stepping out, meeting friends, walking in the market, and eating popcorn in the theatres. Work will resume, shoots will happen. And the belief that no mater what conditions prevail, art will go on.
It finally sank in. Felt like a vacation with the family. Stocked the house so there would be no need to step out. Sharpened the skill of storing excess in a small kitchen. Counting the fast dwindling beers, saving and savouring sparsely each evening, all this while exploring music, artists compositions I hadn’t heard, revisiting symphony 40 of Mozart and 9 of Beethoven. Pretending I was there, actually experiencing the opera to its fullest... and what an experience... led by immeasurable legends was me, a student of art.
Staff stopped coming, and I dwelled into a new high of cleaning and scrubbing. Diving into salt and spices, coming together in near-perfect synch on beautifully dished-out, varied cuisine. Culinary creativity at its peak.
The vacation was no longer romantic. Romance was happily preserved in Amelie and Edith Piaf. We were all bound together with no sight of freedom.
I was overworked, tired. When asked what’s for dinner, my standard reply was “But you'll just ate yesterday.” No one found anything humourous — I did. The artist in me had found a new path: I have to do comedy. Yes, that’s what I’ll do I thought, and started writing the chronicles of a surviving artist armed with a sanitizer, mop, and ladle.
And then it went on and on…
I was losing memory of what an office or shoot felt like. In my mind, I played different roles, humbly aiming to be a poor, nah! very poor, and a very far-off cousin of Gordon Ramsay, PG Wodehouse, Oprah Winfrey, Elvis Presley, and Robin Williams. If I wasn’t an actor, I’d definitely have multiple personality disorder.
The three experts and professionals that still ruled, and more so during these god-awful times, were psychiatrists, divorce lawyers, and OTTs. Soon I would be banging on the former two’s doors but for now, it was entertainment.
Every night, when no one knew I existed (thankfully so), I vanished into a world created over years by various talents, filmmakers, artists, DOPs, musicians, and many many more. All coming together, leading me into a magical world of cinema. And I joyfully followed.
There was an explosion of content — great, good, and bad. New, old, ancient. From every part of the globe. It was escape and survival both merged together in an exciting juxtapose.
There is no shelf life for creative content. It’s ever evolving, ever growing, like life. And it’s a relief, not just as an actor (that part of me was lost somewhere in the gloves and behind a mask), but as a person.
Everything I lapped on and consumed on screen taught me, empowered me, enriched me, and encouraged me to explore a part of the process I always desired to venture into.
Oh, and which did not require me to step out of the house. In fact, it was a travel through my heart and mind where no mask could cover the stories I wanted to tell. And no sanitizer was ever used to disinfect my feelings. Everything was real and raw, there were flaws and follies, strengths and setbacks in the script I wrote.
This lock-up gave me time to prep rigorously as a filmmaker. And just like that, I was ready to shoot a film as a director. The more I worked on it, the more convinced I was that this blunder had to be made, and I wanted to own it.
As soon as lockdown ebbed, I did shoot my two short films. Both themes being the same — isolation, an emotion that was a constant since the pandemic.
Someday, my first film, in one line, is a thought that haunted me through this unprecedented situation, “If the disease doesn’t kill us, the distance will.” In keeping with the theme, it was shot in a confined environment, with a minimal crew of six on set — all sharing the same passion and belief in me.
The second film, Happy Birthday Mummyji, is a lighthearted tale about a stroke of luck — something we have all fantasised about at some point. It had a more extensive team, and the making and was backed with stringent safety measures, which are absolutely necessary and yet are never completely comforting.
The time, energy, money all maxed out. But despite all precautions, a dread of the unknown prevails. Which continues even now when I sporadically go to shoot. And most importantly, the loss of human contact, the in-person interviews, the celebration of the Emmys with the team, not virtual but real.
No matter how difficult it is to accept, this is the new normal. There will be distance, there will be masks hiding a smile, and sanitizers disinfecting our true emotions. But one thing will continue, strong as ever and even stronger — Art!
Because Art is undying.
Art is for posterity.
Shefali Shah is a National Award-winning actor, filmmaker, and painter.
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