Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Interview with Filmmakers Geetika Narang and Yasir Abbasi

Filmmaker Geetika Narang

Tell us something about you that no one really knows.

Geetika Narang: It sounds funny but when I am really angry I clean my room, and sometimes a few things break in the process.
Yasir Abbasi: I can go on doing things at extremely long stretches. Whether it is sleeping, working, watching television, or reading, I can just go on and on.

How long have you been into Film?

Geetika Narang: It's been four years now. I began with a part time job with a production house and later assisted on different projects before I started out on my own.

Yasir Abbasi: I have been working as an independent cinematographer since early 2003.

Which filmmakers have inspired you?

Geetika Narang: There are so many of them, but it's actually the films that have inspired me more than the filmmakers and the list is long.
Yasir Abbasi: Among Indian filmmakers I’m really impressed by the films of Guru Dutt and Vijay Anand. Among contemporary international filmmakers, I would say Oliver Stone, Sam Mendes and Majid Majidi. I must also mention Conrad L. Hall whose cinematography in films right from ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’ to ‘Road to Perdition’ has been simply phenomenal.
Cinematographer and Producer Yasir Abbasi

Which country do the best films in the world come from? Elaborate.

Geetika Narang: Most of the good films that I've seen have a very universal appeal. At the same time, cinema from different parts of the world has its own distinct flavour. There can’t be any guidelines that a country can set for making good films.

Yasir Abbasi: I don’t think there’s any country that consistently makes good films. But there’s definitely something special about the cinema of Iran. I think that telling a simple story without any frills requires a great deal of craft and the Iranian filmmakers excel in that.

Good Night, A Geetika Narang Film

Tell us about your film 'Good Night.' What is it about?

Geetika Narang: It is about a sleepless night in the life of a man in his late 60's. At its crux is a partially remembered song, his nostalgia and his mundane passions.

Yasir Abbasi: Good Night is the story of a night in the life of a retired engineer. As he hums himself to sleep, he realizes all of a sudden that he can’t recall the actual lyrics of the song that he is humming. This is a cause of great distress to him because he is a big movie buff and now engulfed with this predicament he can’t go to sleep. The film then follows his quest for the song that ultimately leads to a poignant moment of self-discovery for him.

What did you shoot on?

Yasir Abbasi: We shot on a Sony DSR-450P. Since a lot of the spaces that we were shooting in were relatively small in size, I had designed certain shots keeping the 4.5mm lens in mind. We were also shooting widescreen, so the 450P was our best bet.

How did you go about financing the film?
Geetika Narang: We put in our own money because we always knew that it’s almost impossible for a first time director to raise funds for a short film. So we didn't even try to approach any producers.

Yasir Abbasi: The market for short-films in India is still in its very nascent stage and hence there are practically no finances available. Geetika and I had to fund it ourselves, which in hindsight was a boon because we made the film our way and without any compromises.

Is 'Good Night' your first film? Please elaborate. What was it that compelled you to make this film?

Geetika Narang: It is my first short fiction. I have made a few documentaries before this and have worked in Delhi with other independent directors and production houses. I always wanted to try my hand at fiction and venturing into it on my own was the only way to go about it. And one day, I managed to get rid of my procrastination when I knew I had a story to tell. However, it was my co-producer and cinematographer Yasir's belief in the story that really kept me going, and it was also because of his sense of logistics that we could finish it in a reasonable time. He always believed in the film more than I did.

Yasir Abbasi: I’ve shot a lot of films for other people but this is my first foray in production. I was fed up of working with people who were either working for money or had no clue about filmmaking. I’d been toying with the idea of making a film for sometime and I discussed it with some friends of mine who are also into filmmaking. Everyone was keen but no one was willing to take the initiative. When Geetika narrated the subject of Good Night to me, I told her that we would have to make it ourselves because if we decided to wait for others to come in it with us, this film would never get made. And thank God for that decision! Despite all our fights and differences over the film we were essentially on the same plane throughout and made the film with no interference from others.

Geetika Narang directing Vinod Nagpal on the set of 'Good Night'

Will you both be collaborating again on upcoming projects?

Geetika Narang: Most definitely. I don't think I could’ve asked for a more committed cinematographer. This film, with minimal dialogues and characters, was really dependent on cinematography and Yasir has done complete justice to it. He was totally involved with the story which he almost handled on his own through his camera.

Besides, we would be producing more films together under our production company 'Also Ran Films'.

Yasir Abbasi: Of course! Geetika has been simply fabulous and arguably one of the best directors that I’ve worked with. I’m amazed at her ability to handle everything so efficiently. From re-writing the script to the last minute hunting of the props, she was incredible! I must also add here that, although she hasn’t taken the credit for it, she has edited the film as well, after our editors gave up on the film. She’s extraordinarily talented and I’m really looking forward to collaborate on more projects with her.

What are some of the important lessons you learned in the making 'Good Night?'

Geetika Narang: Since it was the first time that I was making a short fiction, there was a lot that I learnt, but one very basic thing which was reiterated to me was the importance of each department in the making of a film. Be it scriptwriting, camera, art, lights, sound, acting, or production control, just about each of them make a huge difference to the film. Nothing can be ignored or given lesser importance and that requires a lot of patience. Another important lesson to learn was that one can never learn enough.

Yasir Abbasi: The biggest lesson that I’ve learnt during the making of this film is that one should never give up. We were besieged with one problem after the other during the production. We were thrown out by the owner of the house that we were filming in right after the first day of shooting, one of the lead actors broke his arm on the set, once the shoot got over, one by one our whole crew did the vanishing act, but Geetika and I persisted. We were making a film that we believed in and never gave up.

Please elaborate a bit on your approach to making the film, including your influences (if any), as well as your overall goals for the project?

Geetika Narang: The only approach was to make a simple film, without too much of layering, sub layering or symbolism. Besides, we shared the story with a lot of people and the team was really competent. Different ideas from different people kept coming in at every stage and quite a few of them were incorporated. There was not much for me to do, as once the idea was conceived, the film got a life of its own.

The goal was to give our best shot and enjoy the process, and now the goal is to show the film to as many as possible.

Yasir Abbasi: As Geetika said, right from the very beginning we were extremely sure that we wanted to tell an uncomplicated story devoid of any layers or sub-texts. The idea was to keep the narrative as authentic and close to life as possible. It was a little tricky because there isn’t too much of spoken dialogue in the film. I guess our conviction in the story pulled it off for us.

On location of Geetika Narang's 'Good Night'

What makes 'Good Night' unique? What makes it something I have never seen before?

Geetika Narang: Good Night is a simple slice-of-life film. It’s probably not a unique story, but it has something that probably happens to everyone. I just tried to present it my way and tried to be as honest to the story as I could. It is really on the viewers to judge whether watching it was a different or unique experience.

Yasir Abbasi: We’ve been told that the biggest plus-point of Good Night is that it makes the audience identify with and relate to the story. I must add that to hear this response is slightly funny because at one level the protagonist of the film is neurotic!

How many festivals have you submitted to thus far? Are you going to continue your run on the festival circuit?

Geetika Narang: The film has been screened at three festivals, and we’ve got a good response from everywhere, so we'll definitely continue sending it to more festivals.

Yasir Abbasi: We’ve submitted the film to a few Indian festivals where the film has already been screened. We’ve been extremely fortunate that the film has won awards at all the three festivals where it has been screened. Beginning from the Best Cinematography Award at the Fulmarxx Shorts Fest (2008), the film went on to win the Silver Lamp Tree Award at the International Film Festival of India (2008), and the Best Short Film Award at the India International Women Film Festival (2008).

We are now in the process of submitting it to international festivals.

We will definitely try to send it to as many festivals as possible because the idea is to get maximum people possible to watch it.

What distribution channels are you pursuing?

Geetika Narang: Right now, the film is traveling to festivals only, and may be a little later we'll look forward to pursue distribution channels as well.

Yasir Abbasi: At present, none. Once we’re done with the festival circuit, we’ll look at the possibilities of distributing the film.

Is this a film that is available for viewing in the U.S.? Are there plans to make it available for us to see?

Geetika Narang: As of now, it is not available in the U.S. for viewing. We are hoping to have a screening there soon.

Yasir Abbasi: It is not commercially available in the U.S. as yet, but we’re in the process of sending it to a few festivals there, so hopefully very soon you might find it playing at a venue near you!

With the awards and acclaim you have earned on the Festival Circuit, what can we expect from you next? What projects are you working on? Is there a feature film in the works?

Geetika Narang: I have a few documentaries in mind and have started working on one already. I hope to a make another fiction after that, though I am not sure whether it would be a short or a feature. The story will really decide that and of course, it'll also depend on the availability of funds.

Yasir Abbasi: Well, till the time another exciting story comes along, I’ll be busy with my cinematography assignments. Have just wrapped up a series on environment and I start work on a travel-based documentary shortly. Hopefully, some interesting feature film will happen soon.

What are your long term goals in film? Where do you hope to be in 10 years?

Geetika Narang: To continue making films (in whichever form or format) and support good films. But, I do wish to make a full-length feature someday.

Yasir Abbasi: I do hope to improve upon my work and do films that I believe in. 10 years is too far away to give it a thought but I’d be really happy if I can sustain the enthusiasm for making films.


Janet Wilkins said...

Great interview! The film seems really promising. It's great that young people all over the world are making a mark. My wishes to Geetika Narang and Yasir Abbasi for their future endeavors.

NEAL said...

After long time, while i was wishing to see the film once again, i reminded to search you on the net, i wished to see it again itself shows how the film is. What are you people doint just now, i am in course of editing a theatre release "Ami" just now. Reply if you remember me.

NEAL said...

i may remind you ... we met at Short Fest, MICA at Ahmedabad.
As i know i am not well known like you.

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