Monday, August 2, 2021

“We Never Expected Our Films To Go Viral”: In Conversation With Filmmaker Siddhartha Bedi

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In the age of reels, TikToks, and 30-second comedy sketches, short films find it hard to make the cut. There is no space reserved just for short films as yet, which makes the success of, “my sister and hand-me-downs”, even more special. Not only did it beat Instagram’s algorithm by receiving around 169k views and almost 700 comments, but it is also a wholesome piece of content that worked not because it had a clickbait-y title, but because it was nuanced, raw, and honest.

In a total of 3 minutes and 7 seconds, filmmaker Siddhartha Bedi showed the sibling bond in exaggerated realness, through conscious colour palettes, subtle music, aesthetic frames, and his sister’s stellar acting skills. Not only does Bedi seem to be a master at storytelling, but he also gives a voiceover that makes the entire thing seem more personal and goes perfectly well with his sister’s deadpan expressions. Bedi also posted a sequel titled, “my sister and dreams,” and will be continuing this series along with his sister.

We got a chance to talk to Siddhartha Bedi about what fueled his filmmaking passion and how the idea to create these two short films came about.

On Filmmaking

What Was the Start of Your Filmmaking Career?

I grew up in Dehradun, before moving to Delhi to do my undergrad. Then I graduated from Hansraj College in 2019, and thereafter, I wanted to study film. But because of circumstances, I ended up going to Bombay for work. While looking for a job, I also made a couple of short films on Bombay.

Then I got in touch with a few companies and decided to work at Arré as an assistant director. I worked there for one and a half years almost, before quitting this month. Now, I am a freelancer working on other projects and simultaneously making my own stuff as well.

How Did you Discover That Filmmaking is Your Passion?

Back in Dehradun, my childhood friend visited me once, and he sat me down and convinced me to watch The Dark Knight. I was completely enthralled by Heath Ledger’s performance in that, and I became a huge fan.

At first, I wanted to become an actor, but my parents were sceptical. They told me to complete my undergraduate first. So I ended up going to Delhi University, and I did History Hons from Hansraj College. Simultaneously, I did theatre for three years which is when I realized that I am a horrible actor (laughs). So, I shifted to doing work behind the camera, and that’s how I realized I love directing.

Do You Want to Work Only on Short Films, or do You Want to Explore Other Formats Too?

Though I have worked on only short films, and plan to create more, I am still part of that normal crowd where I want to work in feature films and web shows. Right now, of course, I don’t have the resources to create a long length film. And I don’t think anyone would want to watch a two-hour movie about my sister (laughs). In future, I would like to work on long-format films, but for now, I am satisfied with what I am doing.

Behind The Scenes
Credits: Siddhartha Bedi

Should There be Courses or Degrees to Study Films, in Schools and Colleges? And Do You Think People Should be Informed of Films, and All of its Elements, as Viable Career Options?

Definitely. And not just for filmmaking and the dramatic arts, but for all kinds of art. In India, this has been a problem for a really long time. Even in the school I studied in, we had games, music, dance, but we never got the chance to actually explore those subjects and see if they pique our interest. And unless you’re from a Tier 1 city, I think you don’t get many opportunities in school. So I think all sorts of art should be encouraged more in school, so that talent can be recognized from the base level and be given a platform to grow.

Do you Think a Degree is Required to Get into the Profession of Filmmaking?

I don’t think there is a need to study filmmaking to be a filmmaker. But obviously, it does help a lot. I’m not a student of filmmaking by a degree or a course, but I do study it in my own time. I bought books, went online, watched a lot of YouTube videos, and did a lot of research. You don’t need a degree necessarily per se; the only way it helps us in creating a network and gaining contacts.

In the film industry, contacts are key, and that can be a good headstart. If you don’t have contacts, you could be making Oscar-worthy content and still not get anywhere. So yes, if you can afford it, go to a film school. If not, subscribe to a couple of YouTube channels, buy a lot of books, and you’ll do well enough.

How Would you Describe the Role of a Director in a Film, to an Amateur?

To put it simply, the director is a leader. They keep the entire team together. A common misconception is that a director is the sole creative ambassador and financer, which is not entirely incorrect, but it is misleading. A film is a collaborative effort. Every single person involved in the film, whether the DOP, writer, spot dadas, light gaffer, is equally important and without even one of them, you can’t have the same product that you did otherwise.

Behind The Scenes -Siddhartha Bedi
Credits: Siddhartha Bedi

My sister and I realized this the hard way. I always felt that if it’s just my sister and me, I can order her around and get a good product. But it was an ordeal for just the two of us to manage everything. Because, for starters, she doesn’t have any acting experience. Plus, the fewer the people, the more the activity is. You can’t specialize in your own format.

So the director is essentially like the captain of a football team.

Which Filmmakers Inspire You? 

I would love to work with so many people: Wes Anderson, Edgar Wright, Quentin Tarantino, Steven Spielberg. Recently, we have also had the emergence of brilliant Indian cinema, with Anurag Kashyap, Zoya Akhtar, Vishal Bhardwaj, Bejoy Nambiar; I would be honoured to work with them as well.

On “my Sister and Hand me Downs.”

What Made you Want to Create this Short Film?

I wanted to tell people that there is a different format of filmmaking that is not being explored in Indian web series on OTT platforms. Usually, Indian web series is very dark and grungy. Shows like Sacred Games and Mirzapur, while unique and good shows, have the same plot-driven narrative and evoke the same feelings in you.

So I thought it would be interesting to see if people actually wanted to watch something in the vibrant world that is also family-oriented. “My sister and hand me downs” was an experimental short film. I never expected it to go half as viral as it did.

my sister and hand me downs- poster
Credits: Siddhartha Bedi

What Was Your Inspiration for the Film?

For the first one, my inspiration was an article in Rega Jha’s newsletter. I really love the way she writes. The article was about exes and gifts, and my head exploded when I read it, and I started thinking about my sister and her exes, this inspiring the script. The filmmaking was inspired by Wes Anderson and a French film called Amelie.

One thing I would like to clarify to anyone who watches the movie is that these aren’t real incidents or stories. They are fictitious characters, both my sister and me. There is some semblance of truth to it which I draw inspiration from. But that is exaggerated to a great extent. For instance, my sister had fallen asleep while eating food when we were kids, but that’s wasn’t a common thing (laughs). Similarly, all the sunglasses she wore are mine because I like to collect them.

What Was the Shooting Process Like?

Honestly, it took us 5-6 days of shooting to make the first short film, which is an exorbitant amount of time for a three-minute film. The reason it took so long was that some days we would shoot for just one or two hours, other days we would go on to shoot for a longer time. It was tiring, but also a lot of fun.

At that time, we didn’t have a camera, a tripod, a light, a reflector, or a mic, so we were completely under the natural light. Now, thanks to our patrons, we have good equipment for the upcoming films.

How did it Feel When the Short Film Went Viral?

It was absolutely phenomenal. I can’t explain how ethereal that feeling was. And something amusing used to happen. Every time my sister and I used to sit down to eat lunch with our mom, some big person would give us a shoutout, or text us, or send us money. So now, every time I put up something, I am looking forward to lunch (laughs).

Recently, Bejoy Nambiar, one of my favourite Indian directors, texted me and followed me back. That was a huge deal to me. I am very thrilled by the fact that people are enjoying these films. I remember telling my friends that even if this video gets 5000 views, I will be happy because Instagram isn’t a short film platform. Predominantly, YouTube is the platform for short films. So it was an iffy moment for me to upload it on Instagram, but I just went for it, and I am glad I did.

Your Second Shot, “My Sister and Dreams”, Received a Lot of Love as Well. I am Sure you Felt Pressured to Live Up to the Hype the First One Created. How Difficult Was it to Create a Successful Sequel?

It is the most frightening thing. There is pressure to deliver in a sequel, even for big franchises like Avengers. For them, there must be commercial as well as critical pressure. For me, on a much minute level, it carried the same weight because I needed to work with the same format differently. This one explored more characters; there was a shift in the narrative; it was more nostalgic and less about the sibling bond and more about my sister.

For my future projects in this series, it is always going to be a little different, and it is always going to be a little similar. And that’s what people should expect from me too.

What Did You Learn From This Entire Experience?

Honestly, I have always heard wherever I go that I need high profile actors, or a lot of money, or popular faces to make a successful film. Through my work, I proved that you don’t need established actors; you need good actors and good content. I think that is my biggest takeaway from this entire experience.

Click here to watch Siddhartha Bedi’s short films. Make sure you follow him and keep an eye out for more films in the series.

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