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Curators of a new cine trend

As short film nights become a popular concept at many Mumbai pubs and eateries, a new breed of curators scout for the most engaging fare to ensure that you have a good time on your next night out

Walk into Khar’s dimly-lit pub, The Daily, on a weekday, and you notice a hip, young crowd in the outdoor seating area, all eyes on a screen suspended from a wall. On the screen, a 10-year-old is speaking to his sister in Arabic, with a war-ravaged Iraq as the backdrop.

One of the monthly short film nights at The Pantry, hosted in association with Mac Product-ions and Shamiana Short Film Club
One of the monthly short film nights at The Pantry, hosted in association with Mac Product-ions and Shamiana Short Film Club

As Sahim Omar Kalifa’s 17-minute short film, Land Of The Heroes, progresses, 24-year-old Reema Sengupta, is gauging the audience from the sidelines. Does it interest them? Are they gulping sangrias or checking their mobile phones instead of watching this award-winning short?

Sengupta takes mental notes that will come in handy the next time she chooses a film to showcase at the pub. A short film curator, Sengupta, like a few others of her ilk, pursues her hobby of scouting for engaging titles that get screened in Mumbai’s eateries and pubs.

Shorts in the city
In the last couple of years, short film nights have become a popular concept in the city. earlier, we had dedicated venues like BlueFROG and Not Just Jazz By The Bay that hosted film screenings. These days, you can watch a movie over beer at pubs like The Barking Deer and The Daily or soak in such a coffee-laced evening at The Pantry as you watch a Spanish, Iranian or even Rajasthani film.

While the Pali Village Cafe owners project classics on their French glass windows every evening, the event organisers at He Said She Said, a popular Andheri hangout spot, are chalking out plans to start short film screenings soon. And more are sure to follow suit. “Today, there is a dedicated audience for short films, and credit should go to eateries like The Pantry for having created a short film-friendly environment.

A short film screening as part of F.A.M Jam organised by Krunk at The Daily
A short film screening as part of F.A.M Jam organised by Krunk at The Daily 

There are times when patrons, who want to book a table but are not interested in watching a film, have been asked to step in later so that the interested ones can enjoy the experience,” says Cyrus Dastur of Shamiana The Short Film Club. Last year, Shamiana tied up with Kala Ghoda’s The Pantry in association with Mac Productions to organise Short Film Nights, an event that takes place on the last Friday of every month.

Warming up the crowds
Breweries and pubs are leaving no stone unturned to entrench this concept in the city’s culture-scape. “At The Barking Deer, the space is for free, and we earn revenue on the food and drinks ordered by patrons who attend such events. We give an extra 25% discount to customers attending such events,” informs Saloni Sancheti, Marketing Coordinator at the brewery.

The rise in film screenings has, in turn, led to the rise of a new breed of short film curators. They might not have the resources like the experienced film curators connected with larger film festivals, but are an ardent bunch of cinema lovers. With most practising this as a hobby with a steady job on the side there is a rare monetary exchange. However, if one takes this up as a profession, a short film curator is likely to earn anything between 5,000 to 10,000 per edition.

“You have to give a certain amount of dedication and time and be consistent while curating short films. Currently, the problem is that many curators showcase substandard films that might drive audiences away. A short film needs to be engaging and entertaining like a stand-up act or a music concert or else one will leave the venue or get busy on WhatsApp,” reminds Dastur.

Meet the curators

Reema Sengupta
Curator at: A graduate from University of Westminster, who has written and directed a short film, The Tigers, They’re All Dead, Sengupta curates for F.A.M Jam, an event organised by Krunk that showcases independent films, art and music. She completed the second season last December at The Daily.

Profile: Scouting for short films, getting screening permissions and being an emcee for the event. She says, “I’ve screened British, American, Iraqi, French, Malaysian, Canadian, Italian and Indian short films and music videos so far. I curate technically sound films and those with engaging storylines. I like to keep an underlying theme for each edition.”

Highs: Having screened many award-winning shorts, the most appreciated were Amit Kumar’s The Bypass (2003) and Sahim Omar Kalifa’s Land Of The Heroes that has won over 23 awards, including the Best Short (Generation) at Berlinale 2011.

Lessons: “It is a tad challenging to screen in an outdoor space; so, we try to screen all films, including the english ones, with subtitles. With drinking involved, after a point at night, no matter how good the film is, attention spans reduce considerably. So, it’s best to screen from 9 pm to 10 pm,” she explains.

A queer space
The dedicated film screenings for the LGBT community has given rise to curators who search for content celebrating queer culture. One such curator is Shobhna S Kumar (in pic), a social entrepreneur working with Queer Ink, who works for Q Fest, a monthly festival at The Hive.

“Indian regional languages are an important criteria for selection,” she says. Her most-appreciated picks were ek Maaya Ashi Hi, a Marathi short about the anguish a mother goes through when she accidentally finds out that her son is gay; as well as the Irrfan Khan-starrer Qissa.

Karan Bellani and Gautam Jagtiani
Curators at: With no formal training in filmmaking, the duo founded Project O in September 2014 and currently showcase films every second Sunday (next screening on April 19) at the Jameson Loft at The Barking Deer. While Bellani is an Accounting and Law graduate, Jagtiani is a real estate investor and runs an event management start-up.

Karan Bellani
Karan Bellani

Profile: Their personal choices take precedence while curating films. “We source regional language and international films from various cultural institutions across India. Recently, we’ve received access to the database of Films Division,” informs Bellani, adding, “As opposed to large theatres, where experiences are impersonal, we aim to offer an interesting and personal film-watching experience with good food and great beer.”

Gautam Jagtiani
Gautam Jagtiani

Highs: The screening of Fire in the Blood. “It is said to be the longest running non-fiction film in Indian cinema history,” says Bellani.

Lessons: Screening two films at each event, the curators ensure that they pair contrasting films to maintain an upbeat mood.

Rohan Sabharwal
Curator at: The Hive’s The Fourth Wall film club since 2014. Armed with Masters’ Degree from the London Film School, Sabharwal is an in-house curator and also heads the video production department.

Rohan Sabharwal

Profile: Apart from scouring YouTube and Google for shorts, Sabharwal uses his network of filmmakers who recommend films to be screened. “The main criteria is that the event shouldn’t exceed two hours,” he says matter-of-factly.

Highs: The screening of Cyrus Nowrasteh’s The Stoning of Soraya M. “We were the first and possibly the only venue in India to screen this film, which was banned in many countries. Its director praised us for being brave enough to show the film,” he smiles. Lessons: Roping in the cast and the director for a conversation post the screening is important, believes Sabharwal.

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