Millennium Post

Living the dream

Can there be a greater joy for a debutant director than his film getting screened at the international Festival de Cannes, world's most publicized event and the biggest film festival in terms of the worldwide impact? Certainly not!

Independent filmmaker and writer Shankar Srikumar is relishing that joy at the moment. His directorial 'Alpha Beta Gamma' not only made it to the prestigious event but also won applause from the best in the business, thereby giving his passion a boost.

'Shankar calls it a 'dream come true'.

"It was a huge thing for me. As an independent filmmaker, you put your heart and soul into a film. But when you get this kind of exposure and your film goes to the biggest film market, it's a big deal. It's nothing less than a dream coming true. If you ask me, there is no bigger gratification for any filmmaker – big or small - than being invited to Cannes to showcase his work to the best actors, directors, and producers from more than 130 countries. And I am glad to share that our film received a fabulous response. Now I have high hopes of getting a platform for its official release."

Shankar's full-length feature film was one of the five projects that were selected for this honour.

The director further says, Cannes boosted his confidence as a filmmaker and made him strive to work harder. "I want to thank my team, Cannes and of course, I&B ministry for what they did for us," added the debutant who attended the festival along with his team in the picturesque coastal town of southern France.

A passion project

While taking a walk down the memory lane, Shankar recalls, "I wrote the script in May 2020 but lockdown happened and all our plans were shattered. It was very difficult to make the film during the pandemic, let alone release it."

'Alpha Beta Gamma' was one of the first films that were shot during the lockdown. The film was a joint venture between 'Choti Film Productions' and 'Knownsense Entertainment'.

Shankar shares, "I and my co-producer invested all our money in this film and both the companies eventually got broke. But it was our passion that didn't let us give up on the film.

We somehow managed to form a team of 40 people - including the actors, technicians, cooks, cleaners etc.

We took on the challenge of finding a good location to shoot during the pandemic and a place to stay. The shooting and post-production then took almost a year. But today, when I look back and think about it, it's hard to believe that we managed to do it despite all odds."

"I will say it again that the film was made because of my sheer passion and the hard work of my team", said the director, who is also an FTII alumnus.

A reflection of personal experiences

'Alpha Beta Gamma' is an engaging tale set around the life of three characters Chiranjeev, Mitali and Raviraj (played by Amit Kumar Vashisth, Reena Aggarwal and Nishan Nanaiah respectively), who get stuck in a flat due to the COVID-induced lockdown. It's about a relationship that's coming to an end and about another one that's culminating in a marriage. How those two relationships intersect and affect the lives of those three involved forms the crux.

The film delves deeper into the idea of love, letting go and moving on.

The director, who has also written this film in collaboration with Menaka Sharma, calls it a very personal story and an extension of his own experiences.

"There is a lot of me in the film. Just like Mitali and Chiranjeev, me and my wife are also childhood sweethearts. The kind of relationship they share is very similar to mine. Like the couple in my film, who drifts apart after 10 years of marriage, I also decided to walk away after 7 years. It was my father who advised me to change the decision and somehow, my marriage was saved. And I am glad that happened because I don't know how things would have turned out for me had I taken that decision. So, a lot of my observations went in the film and that's why it is very special."

About the reason he decided to choose a subject as complex as human behaviour, Shankar says, "Human relationship and behaviour have always intrigued me because I believe, what goes inside our head is more complicated than any other science. I have tried to capture these intricacies of human relationships and how twisted we are as individuals."

As a filmmaker, Shankar mentions that he wants to bring forth the realism of life.

"I believe, life is a mix of everything – there is humour, there is emotion, drama, love and what not. We humans carry everything within. The idea was to project these human emotions. I wanted to showcase life in the simplest way possible. That's why I told my DOP to just put a camera and shoot what my actors are trying to express. I wanted to capture the emotion my actors were feelings. The truth that lies within the person... the complications...the things that irk them. I wanted to capture the essence of relationships because eventually, all of us are the sum total of the relationships we carry.

Lack of realistic films on millennials

As an FDII student, I have seen a lot of good films like 'Salaam Bombay' and 'Slumdog Millionaire', which are great stories. But are they relatable? questions Shankar.

"In Indian cinema, there is a genre called 'slice-of-life', which has humour, drama and everything that a life comprises, but I don't see many stories being made around it," points out Shankar.

He further adds, "We are the millennials of this country. We are well-settled, have a good life, are well educated. We travel the world and enjoy living life on our terms. But still, we have our share of problems. But I haven't seen one good film on these millennials of our country, for a very long time.

Either we make something motivational like biopics, focus on underdog stories, or talk about the social evils of society. All that is fine, but what about this society of technocrats, writers, and engineers, who are in the thick of their life? There is no story about them, about how they handle their life, how they manage their problems while they juggle between work and life. Simple life issues like a wife complaining to her husband, functioning of a relationship etc. I don't see many filmmakers observing and capturing that. And that's why I tried to do something on these lines."

Script over everything

When Shankar first showed 'Alpha Beta Gamma' to people, few of them told him 'Had you taken a big star in it, the film would have become a hit'. The director feels this mentality is very sad for Indian cinema.

"I am a writer before a director. For me, story comes over everything. No actor or technician can rise above the script. The script is the foundation on which everything stands. Because the moment you prioritise its actors, or for that matter anything, the essence of the story is lost."

Shankar points out how in the last 20-30 years, we have forgotten that terrific stories create great stars and it's not the other way round.

"Look at the biggest films like 'Marvel's'. Before 'Thor', nobody knew who Chris Hemsworth was. Mark Ruffalo became the Hulk after his film's success. Chirs Evans became Captain America only because people loved the story and the character. In the west, characters and film are bigger than the actor."

"However, In Hindi cinema, the star is bigger than the whole vehicle. I saw Salman Khan's 'Kick' and never for a moment, I could feel that there was Devil (Salman's character) on screen. It was Salman's persona overpowering everything. This is very strange and needs to change. We have to go back to the script and focus on the characters.," he concludes.

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