Short films can be such an early alert system for film making talent. Take Chaitanya Tamhane’s short film, Six Strands, which is certainly an indicator of a powerful, distinctive voice that is not afraid to discuss politics and explore surreal experiments in the same film. The film is about a woman tea-estate owner quelling labour trouble, and while convincingly sounding like a North Eastern dialect, it is completely gibberish. His debut feature film Court, which won top awards at the Venice and Mumbai film festivals, bears out that promise.
Umesh Kulkarni’s short Girni also shows early promise, fulfilled in his later feature films including Valu, Vihir, Deool and now Highway. Manikandan M, once a wedding photographer, recently directed his charming debut feature Kaakkaa Muttai (Crows’ Egg, Tamil), which was at the Toronto and Dubai film festivals, and opening film of the Brisbane Asia Pacific Film Festival. What’s more, it’s being distributed by Fox Star India. Tamil director Vetri Maaran, who won multiple National Awards for his Aadukalam, saw his short film Wind, and decided to co-produce his feature along with top Tamil star Dhanush. Shlok Sharma, who has assisted Anurag Kashyap, directed a strong short film Sujata, before directing his first feature Haraamkhor.
The poster of Six Strands
But short films are tricky things, and those assuming that once you’ve got the hang of a short, a feature film is an automatic progression, may realise how misleading that is. Indeed, many filmmakers with outstanding talent in their shorts are still struggling to make their first feature length films for a variety of reasons, which is no reflection on their talent. We have high expectations from Siddharth Sinha whose short Udhed Bun (Un-ravel) won the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival, Gitanjali Rao whose Rainbow and True Love Story (both animation films that have won awards at Cannes and elsewhere) and Aditi Chitre’s Journey to Nagaland (animation).
The other thing is that most people assume, that short films are a stepping stone before making your feature, and then to be abandoned. Shorts can be an artistic challenge in themselves. Many directors have made shorts after directing feature films. Vishal Bhardwaj directed the short Blood Brothers in 2007 after directing features like Maqbool and Omkara. Karan Johar, Zoya Akhtar, Dibakar Banerjee and Kashyap directed four short films as an anthology film Bombay Talkies, that was shown at Cannes. Anurag Kashyap directed the short That Day After Everyday after he made Dev D and Gangs of Wasseypur. Amit Dutta directed the short Museum of Imagination after his feature Aadmi ki Aurat aur Anya Kahaniya was at Venice. Also Shorts, a package of five short films by Shlok Sharma, Siddharth Gupt, Anirban Roy, Rohit Pandey and Neeraj Ghaywan, was distributed theatrically by PVR Director´s Rare.
Feature filmmakers who have chosen to make shorts know what a challenge it can be. Ask Mira Nair who, after making several features including Salaam Bombay and Mississippi Masala, made shorts for anthology films where several directors make short films on the same theme, which are presented as a package. These include 11´09”01 (September 11), New York I Love You, and Words with God. The directors for the last anthology included Guillermo Arriaga, Bahman Ghobadi and Emir Kusturica.
Years ago, I’d directed a short film, Looking for Amitabh, in which blind people evoke Amitabh Bachchan through all the senses except vision — hearing, touch, smell, instinct. It’s been to 12 film festivals worldwide, and even won a teeny Mocha Film Club award. Given that it was shown alongside Anand Gandhi’s short Right Here Right Now — and look where he’s got with Ship of Theseus — hope flickers brightly.
Meenakshi Shedde is South Asia Consultant to the Berlin Film Festival, an award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide, and journalist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of