A saviour will tell us what is wrong with us and will know exactly what to fix in us; a saviour who will give us the formula to cure all that lacks in our lives. What we, like the characters of the film, fail to question is - what is the saviour selling? In our quest to be saved somehow, anyhow, are we not turning blind to the truth and reality of who we are - our greed, our penchant for violence?
God and the Blind is a narrative which plays out through a dysfunctional, bitter family - a metaphor for any hierarchical system. Hierarchy that we see in relation between - God and humanity, between a man and a woman in gender roles in a marriage/family, finally the hierarchy between government and its people and like in all such systems violence is used to gain and assert control.
God and the Blind is directed by Vatsala Patel. It was our pleasure to speak to her regarding her project.
What draws you to filmmaking and the cinematic language?
What draws me most to filmmaking is that it is a confluence of so many disciplines and art forms - alchemy of human spirit and technology; it’s highly collaborative and is a magical means of telling stories.
Do you believe in film schools or does making a film teaches you more than film school?
I have had formal training in Theatre Design and Direction, and I believe that it laid a strong foundation for me to explore and expand my horizons as an artist. Any institution in my opinion gives one tools and no matter how tough or elaborate syllabus of a school is, it is nothing compared to the challenges of making a film in the real world.
I believe learning is an ongoing process; every film will teach something new, something different. I learnt a lot in the process of making God and The Blind - ranging from pure technical aspects of filmmaking to production to human nature. I learnt a lot about myself - the joy of becoming vulnerable.
What makes cinema stand out more than the arts for you?
Cinema was the greatest art form of the 20th century and in my opinion is the greatest art form of 21st century - It is audio-visual. It is sensory. It is immersive. It is highly collaborative. The way it impacts our thoughts and emotions, causing cultural and behavioural shifts. The way it can be consumed on mass scale or be niche. I practice other forms of artistic expression and I have not yet seen none-film audience discuss a painting or a sculpture with the fervour cinema is discussed because it penetrates, it has accessibility.
I like the solitude of painting, sculpting or making functional ceramics and I love cinema for it’s collaborative nature. I love how written text is interpreted, pulled apart and deconstructed. How each collaborator adds a layer and dimension to the text, thus giving it a body and form. Nothing is more joyous than seeing an actor breathe like the character you wrote and to know that that breath hinges on rigour of many hardworking creative strong heads; that vibe that energy is enchanting; cinema fulfils and ignites a different hunger in me.
Did you choose a certain directing style for making "God and The Blind” based on the script?
I wrote the script and I was very clear that I wanted to do a formal piece with God and The Blind. I do like rehearsing. I wish I could have done more. I usually have a sense of what I want - visually and emotionally and I am open to ideas and improvisations. I think my style of directing is more like artistic collaboration. I learnt in early hours of day one of the shoot that I have to get over the idea of projected outcome from a take(s); outcome that I saw in a rehearsal and somewhat got fixated on. Shoot is different in energy and learning to let that energy flow was incredible and fruitful to me personally. Besides all the esoteric experiences we were so lean budget wise on this project and shooting through an advancing cyclone that I was changing and negotiating as per the need of the hour.
How did you choose the cast and the crew of your film?
I am heavily inspired by singer, songwriter Amanda Palmer’s Ted-Ed video ‘The art of asking’. I knocked every door and called every actor and technician I knew.
I’m also fortunate to have some amazing friends who are film and media professionals, they jumped in to help.
When I was starting I was thinking that casting The Kid would be toughest, given what the character goes through the course of the film. I wanted the actor who plays The Kid to be able to follow instructions even when it would not make much sense to them and that’s a difficult ask even for adult actors, to approach material through body not mind. I knew Aarush’s mother Ms. Shruti Varma socially but I did not know that she has a son who wants to act. We met, I loved Aarush’s spirit and depth for a ten year old. He has an old person ’s spirit. Shruti and her husband Mr. Amitabh Varma, both are film professionals, so they understood the challenges of a first timer with a shoestring budget, they allowed me unobstructed time with Aarush to prep, through countless hours of workshop and long hours of shoot. It took me most time to cast The Mother and The Father. Priyanka Setia who plays The Mother - I have known her for years and love her work. When we met for the film, she kept telling me not to go with her just because we are friends, and I wasn’t. I was completely blown away by how she jumped into the character and how intuitive she is as a performer and a person. Amol Deshmukh who plays The Father is a highly trained actor, he was little apprehensive; it took some convincing and rightly so because his character is seen through the eyes of others - The Kid and The Mother. He plays the absent male parent, appearing only to exert presence through violence. Mr. Harish Khanna who plays Man of God, is a senior actor in theatre and films. I approached him after my friend Mr. Honey Trehan (director, producer and casting director) suggested his name and even called him up to hear me out. I was not sure if someone senior like Mr. Khanna would be interested in a narrative short but he was thankfully. Namrata Rao who plays Man of God’s companion is again a dear friend. She in fact read the first draft of the film. I wanted her to be part of the film from the time I was writing it. She is a very busy editor and a captivating performer, I am grateful that she honoured her promise of being part of the film despite all time constrains.
Similarly all the crew on the film are friends, Mr. Kunal Sharma, who did sync sound is a very senior and celebrated sound designer. He did the film out of sheer kindness for me and his love for cinema. DOP Mr. Adiya Sagar is a renowned name in nonfiction television circuit in India. He is also a prolific painter. He stepped in pretty much as a rescue float to the project as another friend who was supposed to shoot the film could not for last minute date issues. Mr. Girinandh C. and his sound studio, Aura Studio did foley, sound design and music for the film. They came on board after seeing the rough cut of the film and I am in awe of their professionalism and craft. Editing of this film is a story in itself. We had to stop all work when the pandemic hit; and started only when the lockdown was eased. Editors, Sounak, Rumjhum, and Debashis, came on board at different times, picking up seamlessly from the last person. I got to do post at Shermaroo Studio because my generous friend Mansi Maroo facilitated that for me. Mr. Vivekanand Dhonde, line produced the film after I narrated the script to him and he had a read through himself. He found the story to be dark, uncomfortable and not his go - to kind of film, but he kept that aside and ran the floor like a zen monk. Lastly my co-producer Mr. Srikant Malladi, a lot of what we achieved would not have been possible without his generosity and strength.
In reality everyone who associated themselves with the film were taking a risk with their time and effort. I just weaved something with all of that.
How did you fund your film and what were some of the challenges of making this film?
To fund my film, I asked for contribution in any form - skill, space, discount, guidance, anything. Besides that I dug into my savings, took some zero interest loan (that I am repaying) and sold some jewellery. One big challenge came in the form of equipment cost. I was keen on shooting on digital film camera that gave me 4K RAW; we shot on Varicam; and with that decision the ancillary cost in the form of lenses, lights, generator, man power, data management etc. escalated. But I wanted to have a certain visual quality, therefore I went for it.
I would say that the biggest challenge in making God and The Blind was this mental barrier I had to get over - getting over refusals and rejections from possible financiers and producers. In India the short film market is governed by two forces - one, branded content - advertisers using short films as soft advertising tool and second is trending topics - former feeding off the latter. I was told not to make this film, instead to make something light hearted, romantic or comical or something in the space of what I call ‘feminism lite’ - capturing life of a modern woman who will find cure to cancer and be there to cook meals for her family, essentially make something through which an FMCG product could be sold on the side. I don’t have anything against commercial work. Partly I could fund this film because of the commercial work that I have done and I have nothing against trending topics either. But for me there are stories which need to be made even if they are not trending. I need to make them because more than anyone else they are important to me. So in a way it is my moral obligation to myself to make them anyhow - and this was a huge mental shift for me.
Do you consider yourself an indie filmmaker and what would most be the most difficult thing about being an independent artist?
Yes, very much. Apart from practical issues of sustenance for art and body, keeping the core of a story/concept or the reason why I want to make it at all - keeping that intact is a constant negotiation because it is so tempting to make things that everyone will love and therefore buy and as an extension of that will like me.
What is the distribution plan for your film?
I am learning the ropes of distribution. It is new to me. The good thing is that there are now platforms that host short and unconventional stories. Having said that if anyone wants to contribute in any manner, share some leads, or collaborate please DM me @vattybatty.
What is your cinematic goal in life and what would you like to achieve as a filmmaker?
Goal in life… I have no clue what that means. My approach is more like one day at a time; taking each day as a new day. In a more immediate sense I am looking for funding for my feature scripts, I would like that to come through. As a filmmaker I want to make more films, of many types and forms - fun, crazy, action, thriller, horror, all kinds; make them at a faster rate; keep my thoughts and vision on of a story as intact as possible.
What kind of impact would your film have in the world and who is your audience?
It is next to impossible to predict what impact God and The Blind will have on the world. I can tell what impact I would like it to have. I hope after watching the film we are able to take a deeper look at ourselves, our need to be saved, our penchant for violence, transactional nature of our love. How these are intertwined. How manipulative the idea of god is. Why are we so tempted to give up on ourselves, our ability to think, discern and in exchange for what. The person we think is god or our saviour is just another salesman.
Everyone who watches films or audio-visual content is my audience, so I welcome you all.