Filmmaker Anand Gandhi forays into virtual reality with new documentary

Updated: Jul 24, 2016, 21:32 IST | Dipanjan Sinha |

Anand Gandhi’s Memesys launches the first virtual reality documentary, Coast of Coal. Here’s what to expect

Virtual reality is the format of films in which the audience is transported to the world of the story. With the addition of a dimension, the effect on the vision is complete. When you look up, you see the sky of the film, look left and you are still there; look right and you see a dinosaur from there, perhaps.

A still from the film Cost of Coal
A still from the film Cost of Coal

Though this format has been tried in fiction films, filmmaker Anand Gandhi’s company Memesys Culture Lab has come out with its first documentary in the format.

Anand Gandhi with team Memesys
Anand Gandhi with team Memesys

See and believe
The documentary, Cost of Coal is the first of a series that Memesys plans to release as a part of its mixed reality magazine ElseVR (pronounced elsewhere). To be published online as a quarterly, the magazine will feature essays and stories powered by Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality; where prose and the videos will complement each other.

Red Dragon cameras used to shoot VR
Red Dragon cameras used to shoot VR

Gandhi is optimistic about the future of this format and says, “The ability and the desire to transmit know-how, intention, and insight to others around us have co-evolved with humanity itself.” He considers it a major step. “Mixed reality is a huge milestone in that human project of record keeping, perspective sharing, empathising, and merging with the ‘other’, a project that began with the first cave painting, or even earlier,” he says.

The film’s poster
The film’s poster

The film is based in Korba, Chhattisgarh, where nearly a fourth of India’s coal is mined, leaving the land ravaged, air and water severely contaminated, and lives disrupted. “The film tells the story through Nirupabai whose home is on the rim of the Kusmunda mine that is now going to expand and swallow her land, and Laxmi, who is an activist fighting this battle legally. Essentially, it is a comment on the present-day development paradigm where those who pay the price for development seldom benefit from it,” says Faiza Khan, the director.

Director Faiza Khan
Director Faiza Khan

Virtual speak
Khan had earlier directed the critically acclaimed Supermen Of Malegaon. Zain Memon, the co-founder and chief technological officer at Memesys and creative director of the film, who has been working on virtual reality and augmented reality, says the process of making the film, like viewing, is different.

“The grammar of film that we have grown to intuitively understand does not translate well into virtual reality. In VR, we do not have different magnifications of lensing, dynamic camera movements, and cinematic editing,” he says. “Movement, spatial design, sound design, and incidental lighting used in this medium are dynamically different because VR is completely immersive. The story and narrative are built using movement of characters and perspective. If you think of traditional film as a window into another world, VR builds the world around you,” he explains.

Khan points out that as a director shooting a film in VR one needs to be careful to avoid being visible in the film. “As a filmmaker, it’s different from shooting video because unless you want to be a visible part of the film, you have to be hidden from the camera. So, either it takes you far away from the process or puts you right in the middle of it,” she says.

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