Juice, Chutney, and other popular short films of 2017 show how the format is a fount of creativity
For filmmakers, short films build a direct connect with people who like their work and gives them a platform to express freely.
As 2017 comes to a close (well, almost), disappointment with mainstream cinema remains the biggest takeaway for audiences. The ubiquitous 100 crores mark or simply seeking an entertaining, good Hindi film have been elusive, with just ten feature films emerging as bonafide successes.
With tickets costing a fair price, and time at a premium, audiences have turned to alternate mediums to seek entertainment. In this spectrum, the short film has seen an upsurge in viewership across India.
In 2015 to 2017, well-produced short films, starring recognised, credible actors or the occasional alternate film star, and with decent talent behind the lens, have caught the fancy of audiences. Snackable, accessible on the Internet and available for free, they have succeeded in telling typically Indian stories and capturing contemporary lived experience.
For instance, the current rage amongst short films, Juice by Neeraj Ghaywan has garnered 1.7 million views in two weeks’ time. The latest one on the same YouTube channel, titled Test Drive and starring Ashutosh Rana, has garnered over 1,000,00 views in less than a day; just reflects how many are watching these on a daily basis. That Rana’s part tends to mock a certain Bollywood superstar and his temperamental repute, doesn’t hurt. Short films provide leeway and space to unleash creative ideas that won’t make it to the big screen.
National Film award winning director Neeraj Ghaywan believes, “Brevity of the short film format brings in discipline. The less you have in terms of resources and time, the more creative you become.” Juice, his latest short film, has wowed viewers. Starring Shefali Shah, a much loved actor we see very little of, Ghaywan’s film appeals because it captures the latent bias against women in everyday life.
“Juice is more about internalised patriarchy rather than it’s overt, aggressive form. I have grown up watching my mother taking care of household chores, while men are entitled to the living room and women are confined to the kitchen. I see this repeated amongst my cousins and in our generation,” he says. “While the men (in his film) are talking about secularism, the women don’t have a fan in the kitchen. Indian kitchens don’t have space for a fan. Nobody ever thought of it because women have not mattered. This is where children are conditioned and nascent patriarchy begins.”
A short film is timed between 10 to 20 minutes. You can catch it online during your lunch break or while commuting; it won’t eat up an evening.
While that’s the appeal for viewers, for talent, it’s the reach and time invested that works in favour of a good short. Often, talented performers have to wait for a worthwhile role. A good, solid short film keeps them alive in public consciousness. Konkona Sen Sharma (Nayantara’s Necklace), Kalki Koechlin (Naked and Thought of You), Anahita Uberoi (Afterglow), Radhika Apte (Ahalya, The Day After Everyday and others) are amongst actors who remain popular in public memory thanks to their much viewed short films online.
Tisca Chopra, who has produced and acted in the creepy, entertaining, Chutney explains, “I always wanted to explore ways of driving content. I was done waiting for someone to give me a good role. So we wrote it, produced it and put it out there. Besides, the kind of stories that one can tell via a short film can only be told via a short, and may not merit a feature. I was really attached to the story of Chutney. In so many ways, it’s the story of the capitalist mindset, where we will exploit in whatever ways we can.”
Tisca is working on a second short film, for her first brought her huge recognition. “Chutney has done more for me than many of my feature films. A lot of people do it because they want to explore a new role, within a short time with minimal commitment. Chutney has done for me than many of my feature films,” she says.
For filmmakers, short films build a direct connect with people who like their work and gives them a platform to express freely. Ghaywan explains, “As filmmaker there’s a lot of freedom to put out a thought and to experiment. With a feature film, there are pressures of commerce and also you are answerable to your producers. For cast and crew, it’s easy to experiment and with the Internet, you are in the mind space of people.” Ghaywan feels that as passion projects, short films are going to be self-sustaining here in India, and will continue to draw more talent.
While being available freely on YouTube ensures millions of views, this also brings the challenge of driving very little income from short films. In short, short films don’t make you money in India yet. Abroad, short films are telecast on TV and sold to major streaming companies, making them a viable prospect. YouTube also offers a dollar per view (in the vicinity of something similar) in the USA whereas here in India, it adds up to small amounts like ten paisa to a rupee (depending on growing number of views). It would take billions of views for a film to even recover costs.
While some brands, like a leading alcohol label have used the short film as platform to build qualitative brand recall, their commissioning fees are bare minimum.
For a format that has drawn masters of Indian cinema like Naseeruddin Shah, and multiple talents, the short film is today a font of creativity. It’s great entertainment too. Which is why, it’s about time that a sustainable business model around the short film is slowly put in place. In the meantime, enjoy these cinematic gems, its better use for your time than many big-ticket feature films.
Juice, Anahut, Invisible Wings won the Jio Filmfare Short Film awards. Jackie Shroff and Shefali Shah bagged Best Actor for Khujli and Juice respectively
Key in ‘short films India’ into the YouTube search tab and 19.8 million results appear in less than a second.
Kristina Reed, producer of the Oscar-winning short animation film Feast, said what's amazing about short films is that one can make it with fewer resources