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Rukshana Tabassum : In A Chat With A Film-maker, Artist

Rukshana Tabassum

As a child what were your early influences towards cinema? Art, literature, graphics, photography?
I wasn’t allowed to watch too many films when I was growing up.The only films I watched were the regional films that were shown on Sunday afternoons on DD national and during the week long children films festival in my hometown once in two years.Among the films I watched Satyajit Ray’s Sonar Kella left a lasting impression on me.I couldn’t stop thinking about that film for many days after I watched it.

Reading books took up most of my time during childhood. I grew up reading everything that I could lay my hands on as a child – Tagore, Assamese Folk tales, Aesop Fables,Stories from Hindu and Greek Mythology and Premchand to name a few. I was interested in stories of all kinds. Once I finished reading most of the books at home my parents had to get me a subscription in the children’s section in a local library to satiate my appetite

Besides that my mother a self taught artist exposed me to art at an very early age. Besides her Pranab Barua an eminent contemporary artist of Assam played an important role in shaping my aethestics too. I had the priviledge to train under him for a couple of years and spend hours in his house which nothing less than an art gallery. I grew up seeing art around me that made me think and my mentors taught me to question and helped me build my aesthetic sense through experience.

I am also a classical dancer (Bharatnatyam) and was exposed to Natyashashtra by Bharat Muni that lays the foundation of Indian Aesthetics at a very tender age.I guess this also laid my foundation to undertstand the different rasas, bhavas and helped me analyse and understand different characters.

How did you first become interested in film direction?
I knew I was interested in stories and I had loads to tell. I usually wrote short stories during my free time in school and college. But it never occurred to me that films could be a wonderful medium to tell those stories visually. I guess for me it was a really far fetched idea then.

I was an intern with crayons advertising in Delhi when I got an opputunity to I share a TVC script with an Ad film director who was working for us. I had written it as part of my assignment. I narrated my idea to him with a lot of enthusiasm. And while leaving the agency that day he told me that I should do a course in film direction or assist someone. I had very little idea of what he was talking about. And then I started reading up a little and decided to apply for FTII and Jamia Delhi. While I was preparing for my exam I watched a lot of films and slowly I realised what direction could be all about and I was keen to know more. And then FTII happened.

What steps did you take to train yourself?
I am still training myself I guess training would never stop.
But FTII laid the ground for it and opened up a whole new world for me -The fascinating world of cinema. It gave me hands on experience to learn to tell a story through the audio visual medium.
Slowly I realised as a director how important it was for me to understand all the technical aspects of film making to telll the story better. What really nurtured me was also the long discussions we would have post film screenings reflecting on story characters style and techniques used by the master filmmakers. It helped me see various perspectives and helped me understand the art better.

Have you assisted anyone? How does it help one?
Yes I have assisted Kumar Shahani on his film ‘Priye Charusheele’ which explores Odissi Dancer Ileana Citaristi’s work and life. Assisting him was like a 6 month long master class. Kumar’s deep understanding of cinema, his approach towards handling his subject and his vast research enriched me in every possible way. Besides the on shoot experience we had the wonderful oppurtinity to spend hours with him everyday listening to his experiences, philosophy, art, cinema and life in general. It helped me reflect on my own views and understand his.
Soon I also realised how assisting helps you understand the importance of discipline and planning in filmmaking. Assisting, at time gives you exposure to things which you might not have experienced while you were in film school. Working with a team of professionals you also realise the importance of time and money that goes in creating the art on screen.

How did your first film project come about? Tell us something about the experience.
After finishing film school I shot a small documentary on a very inspiring 16 year old young entrepreneur called Chandan Singh from Mumbai. One of my friends told me about him and got me very excited. After meeting Chandan a couple of times I realised his was a story that needed to be told. And soon we pulled a small team together and shot the film over a couple of days. The film is called ‘REDBOXX’ and did pretty well in the film festivals. It was played in the jeevika film festival New Delhi among other prestigious festivals in India.

It was an extremey inspiring experience to shoot a 16 year old boy with really big dreams. His self confidence and vision was contagious. The entire crew was in awe of him and he definitely brought about a change in the way we looked at life and our limitations at that point. Besides that I got the wonderful oppurtunity to spend some time with a strata of society that I was not much exposed to.

Tell us something about ‘The Cake Story’. How did this project come through?
Childhood and Old age have always fascinated me. I love how similar these two stages in human’s life are that brings life to a full circle. The idea of my film ‘The Cake Story’ germinated from my memories with my grandma and my close interaction with children when I was teaching in my mother’s school during my college vacations as a young girl. Through the narrative of my film I have tried to explore the innocence and playfulness of childhood and old age which we tend to loose as an adult.

The Cake Story revolves around a 8-year old boy who is looking for his birthday cake in this big city with his middle aged father on his birthday. The child is excited about new beginnings.

Set against the backdrop of Mumbai this story tries to pay a tribute to – the old city of Mumbai, its art deco monuments, the Parsi bakeries which are dying slowly and the kaali peeli fiat taxis which are almost on the verge of being extinct. So my film tries to pay a homage to everything new and old that co exists in this world.

After I wrote the script I just applied for CFSI funding. It took almost 2 and a half years for the funds to get sanctioned.

How do you decide on a film subject. What are your inspirations?
My inspirations are from life. I just follow my heart while deciding on a subject. I only want to tell stories which genuinely interests me deeply.

You also paint a lot and that too, wonderfully. How has being a painter influenced your work as a director?
As a painter I love to play with symbols and create layered narratives in my artwork. And I try to apply the same while making films too. Also being a painter I am very sensitive to colours so choosing the right palette becomes very imperative that will create the right look and feel for the story. I like to incorporate the detail colour palette while writing the story itself. It helps me see the film better.

Is film direction intuitive or is it something you learn?
Film direction for me is both intuitive and something I learnt. The beauty and challenge of direction is that one can’t simply learn a few tricks or one formula and apply it to everything. Its a process where you keep reinventing your ways every moment while telling a story. But having said that studying and observing the techniques employed by master film makers definitely helps in getting a hold on the craft better.

Your favorite films or directors? At least two of them?
Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Theives
Abbas Kiriostami’s Where is the friend’s home
I also love Robert Bresson, Jean Luc Goddard and Akira Kurosawa’s work a lot.

Any hurdles you have encountered in your journey. Things that are blocks in a achieving your vision while making your film.
Oh yes there were plenty. Budget will always be the biggest hurdle for any indie filmmaker so I don’t even want to go there.

Let me share with you an incident that I encountered during the shoot of ‘The Cake Story’. So we paid a huge sum of money to get permission to shoot at the lane next to Rhythm House in Colaba.
And on the day of the shoot we reached the location at 6 in the morning only to find out that another film unit had built a huge set in that lane to shoot a commercial. There was no way I could have called off the shoot that day since I was shooting with my main cast. The stakes were too high. I soon gathered myseld while my EP went to have a word with the other unit. I quickly walked down the lane with my dop for a reccee, we locked another location in the same lane and started shooting. Althoughwe gave it our best there are three sequences in the film which turned out to be very different from the way I had visualised it.

Do you often get all that is in your wish list or is it a hard bargain every time?
I believe we can manifest everything we want in life. One just needs to have patience and work hard for one’s dreams. So far I have got most of the things I have asked for from the universe and the rest I am just waiting for them to manifest.

What is in the kitty now?
I am working on the first draft of my feature length script which is based in Assam. Besides that I have been shooting commercials as and when they come.
On the painting front I have an Exhibition in Chitra Kala Parishath, Bangalore in February so I have started woking for that as well.

Any advice to the inspiring directors?
Well I am not sure if I am fit to give any advice yet. But I would like to share something with you all. There will be too many people coming and telling you about the right path to follow to be a sucessful director. Right, wrong, success, failure are all relative terms. So do not get confused with all the advice. Find out what you want to do. put in your 100 % to make it happen, work hard to improve your hold on the craft and build patience. There is no formula and that’s the beauty of it and that is the challenge.

Any memorable blunders?
Umm. Can’t recall.

Your dream project?
My dream project is to create something which will blend all the 3 art forms that I am in love with – Films, painting and dance.

Who would you like to take out for dinner?
Anish Kapoor, Devdutt Pattanaik

What are you listening to right now? And most recent book? And Movie?
I have been listening to a lot of carnatic music by MS Subbulaxmi lately since I am learning a dance item based on Tulsidas’s poem.
I am reading the Mahabharata since last year
Asghar Farhadi’s The Salesman

Your twitter handle?
@rukshanatab

Cake Story : Children's film

 

Category: Directors

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