Ajita Suchitra Veera, who earlier made the 2003 short film Notes On Her that made it to the Oscars as India's official entry in the short film category, is back this time with her debut feature film. Called Ballad of Rustom, this experimental indie project is garnering much praise for its camerawork and music
Tell us a little more about the film?
Ballad Of Rustom is the story of a man named Rustom who works in a small government office in a remote Indian town. Life for Rustom is wandering from place to place in the town, spending time with his friend Kapil who works on the suburban trains, living with the eccentricities of his boss, pining for the love of a painter who lives in the same town, and getting magically transported into his imaginary other world. All this while his town is undergoing a quiet upheaval.
How did the film happen?
I finished scripting the movie in 2008, after which I started looking for locations. I did not look for big producers because I knew I would not have total control over my product. I
finally settled on Coorg in Karnataka and completed shooting within four months in 2010. Many artistes in the film are first-time actors and relatively unknown. Some are even locals from the area.
The camerawork has come in for much praise.
Although we had budget constraints, we used 35 mm film. We could have made it cheaper by going digital but my effort was to make this film look different. I wanted Ballad of Rustom to be uncompromising as a film. We used the 'bleach bypass' technique, which enhances the richness of black and white, while retaining the silver. Although it is not a very commonly used process, some well-known auteurs like Andre Tarkovsky have used this process. This is the reason why the film looks so different.
The music took exceptionally long to be ready.
Yes, it took almost a year and a half. It was a slow process but I think I have finally got the music right. I was insistent with composer Andrew Mackay that the film's score should have cellos and accordions. I did not want any electronic instruments, but something played live. In fact, apart from the cello and the accordion, we have also used tango music on a few occasions. There is no dubbing either and all the performances have been recorded on sync sound, to retain the authenticity of the actor's performances.
Why did you move from short films to a feature film? What was the transition like?
I have wanted to make a feature film, ever since I got out of Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) in 2004. Somehow, it took a long while for the film to materialise. In the meantime I did some corporate-related work to make money for my movies, and also made a number of short films and a documentary.
Both the genres, shorts and features, have their own challenges. In short films, one needs to be able to tell a strong story in a few minutes, while in a feature film, one needs to retain the audience interest in a story for over two hours.
Will Ballad Of Rustom be screened in India soon?
I am talking to a few distributors and looking to release it by the latter half of this year. However, nothing is finalised. Ballad Of Rustom will now go abroad and be shown in a number of festivals.