When photographer-turned-director Gaurav C. Bhat returned to Mumbai after winning two awards at Cannes (a first for an ad film from India), he was flooded with offers from big production houses to direct films. While most of his contemporaries would have grabbed the opportunity, Gaurav turned them down. Instead, he went ahead and directed an 18-minute short film on homosexuality, starring Bollywood actors Zarina Wahab and Meghana Kaushik.
“I have only begun my career as a film director. I chose to do a short film because I wanted to create my brand, organically through word of mouth. What better platform for it than online,” Bhat told THE WEEK.
Directed by Bhat, ad film Roads That Honk bagged a silver at the Cannes Lion Innovation as well as a bronze in Cannes Design 2017 Category.
Gaurav is not an exception to the rule. From directors Sujoy Ghosh to Anurag Kashyap, actors Zarina Wahab to Rajkummar Rao, the world of short films is, of late, attracting some of the biggest names in the Indian film industry. Interestingly, most of them say that they are dipping their toes in the virtual world not for financial benefit, but to satiate their desire to create meaningful content.
“For me, a story is more important than the medium. Short films are not just the current trend, but an opportunity for actors to work with new and exemplary talent. Short films take lesser time to shoot and have as much an impact as a feature film. All in all, it is a very good way to put across a beautiful story on screen, transcending limitations of resources,” says veteran Bollywood actor Wahab.
“I had been looking to create something that could become an impactful body of work. Hence a short film, because the boom in the digital medium has opened so many opportunities and platforms for people to showcase talent. Most importantly, our film is targeted at the youth, and just about every young person is on the internet these days. So we knew our content would reach the right people,” says upcoming actor Meghana Kaushik.
So what is fuelling this trend? “These days, films have become a 100 crore marathon, but they don't realise that the content is getting lost.”
Besides, the country has a huge talent pool, but not everyone gets a chance to appear on the silver screen. Now, they have the online platform to showcase their skills.
Currently, India has around 300 million smartphone users and over 450 million internet users. So, to tap into this upwardly mobile and tech savvy viewer base that is exposed to global entertainment, directors, actors and other artists are creating fresh content [read short films], says Raja Banerji, assistant vice president (marketing), Pernod Ricard India, the brand that owns OTT platform Royal Stag Barrel Select Large Short Films. “They are taking cue from multiplexes that cater to niche audiences,” adds Banerji.
Who exactly is this target audience?
“It comprises those in the age group of 22-40. Couples in the early stages of marriage; those dealing with relationship issues and work-life conflict; the ones in the doorstep of a mid-life crisis. Viewers of all these segments look for off-beat content,” explains Gaurav Gandhi, chief operating officer of Viacom 18 Digital Ventures.
The content consumption pattern of this target viewer base is also different. Having to deal with busy schedules, they like their content short, crisp and edgy.
The audience are also a fickle lot, with a short attention span, and mobile phones allow them to multitask. But why does it attract Bollywood directors and actors?
Industry experts say that directors are driven by box office collections and TRPs rule television production houses, which at times curtail their creativity. Since these parameters do not decide the fate of online content, the platform gives them the freedom to create content of their choice.
Besides, there is no censorship on the web, so it allows them touch on subjects that are modern, relevant and bold. It allows for more freedom and gives artists a chance to engage directly with their audience. They don’t have to go through distributors or producers.
But why would an already famous actor care about reaching out to a wider audience base? “Because of the kind of content I put on the web. It is personal content," actress Kalki Koechlin told THE WEEK in a recent interview. "These are things that are not necessarily very marketable. It is something that comes from within, or something that I want to talk about. It reaches my audience without going through a medium. You are an artist and you want to express certain things. Theatre is a medium where I do that, but that is a very small audience.” Kalki's recent short film titled Naked is creating ripples. In the film, she plays the role of an actress whose sex clip gets leaked on the internet.
And what are the challenges that this medium throws at content creators? “While the attention to detail is the same as a feature film, we have to narrate a short film in 15-20 minutes, amid budget constraints. It is challenging. And you have to emphasise a lot on writing, as only good content can make you stand out in the virtual world which is flooded with thousands of videos every minute,” says director Sujoy Ghosh, who made a short film Ahalya for Royal Stag Barrel Select Large Short Films.