Paromita Vohra, renowned Writer & Filmmaker held a guest lecture on Filmmaking at Digital Academy- The Film School, Mumbai.
Paromita Vohra is a Filmmaker and Writer. She has written, produced and directed ‘Morality TV and the Loving Jehad: Ek Manohar Kahani’, a documentary on moral policing and tabloid culture set in Meerut, ‘Q2P’, a film about toilets, and the language of urban development with a focus on Bombay, ‘Where’s Sandra’, a film about sexual and community stereotyping of Christian women, often referred to as ‘Sandra from Bandra’ in Bombay, ‘Work In Progress’ about the World Social Forum which took place in Bombay in 2004, ‘Unlimited Girls’, an exploration of what feminism means to different people in urban India which has won several awards and many more.
Her work as a writer includes the feature films ‘Khamosh Pani’ (Silent Waters), about a woman whose life is transformed by growing fundamentalism in a Pakistani village (Dir: Sabiha Sumar), for which she won the Best Screenplay award at the Kara Film Festival, 2003 and ‘Khamoshi: The Musical’ (Additional Scriptwriting), which was directed by renowned filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali.
Ms. Vohra has conducted many workshops that focus on creativity, politics and media with young people. At the lecture she began by asking the students some questions about the birth of an idea and its progress. The emerging discussion was an inquiry into the concept of creativity and its anatomy. Talking about this she said, “The social background, culture, gender, location, where we come from, make and shape the way we look at the world around us… the connection between the what we are and the world around results in a kind of idea… it is a combination of something very general and something very particular to yourself…” Elucidating her process she said that the birth of an idea is often in a very general space, like perhaps a newspaper clipping which catapults into an interest resulting in an idea. The idea begins to transform as one starts reading and thinking about it. Discovering all the ingredients that make a story engaging all over the world develops the story. Stories are ultimately about interesting events and how characters relate to each other; the plot can be easily made, however, what is of essence is the larger philosophical argument that is the theme of the film.
Another important aspect of Filmmaking is the perspective from which a film is told, every story can be told in an infinite number of ways and it is the decision of the filmmaker to choose where he positions the story. In the non-fiction realm the story is actually a relationship between research and imagination. Explaining this she said, “With research you have to constantly keep looking for what you want to tell, because you can endlessly research on something, but you need to find the story within that you have the urge to tell…there are infinite number of plots but it is only the larger philosophical idea that can have multiple interpretations…”
There is a notion amongst Indian filmmakers that they need to capture a large audiences attention, for which they endlessly dilute their films to make it basic for any kind of audience. But generalizing something does not necessarily make it universal. To transcend barriers a universal philosophical core is needed. Explaining this she said, “You can learn the craft of scriptwriting and it will help you put your ideas into a good script… but you need to have a good relationship with ideas, written material and basically with how people live their lives… because craft is not enough…”
Talking about the conditions of the Indian Film Industry she said, “Sadly, if you have a truly unique idea/ story, no big corporate house will fund you… its always an individual with a genuine interest in the story who will end up financing such a project because in our industry, the Producers only want to know about the stars in your film and stars don’t want to play character roles… that unfortunately is the dynamics of our industry…” In spite of this it is possible to make the film one wants to make if one is prepared to struggle. The misconception that a film is worth something only if it’s a feature film is a dangerous mentality because it excludes many individual efforts that have resulted in very good cinema and it is important to be exposed to different kinds of cinema, because there is always something to learn. She felt that people who are in the field of filmmaking at least should not have such biases, especially because they are exposed to various kinds of cinema. It also depends on how one perceives filmmaking. Explaining this she said, “History is never one thing. Someone after all writes it and as soon as you change the author of a history, the history itself changes. In some sense writing film is like writing history… that’s why I think its important to read a lot of non- fiction and be interested in non-fiction, because non-fiction is just in fact stories about our reality that we tell ourselves…”
Speaking about writing she said that story telling is the same in non- fiction and fiction only the mode is different. For her film ‘Unlimited Girls’, which was about gender and feminism in the urban landscape, she had many conversations with women on the given topics and wrote the film for an audience that would relate to those concepts. She took care to not get embroiled in the ‘target audience’ canard, simply because she feels the term implies a ‘shoot to kill’ approach to Filmmaking. She perceives Filmmaking along with all the other Arts, to be a conversation and just as conversation can sometimes mean one party not understanding the other, what is essential is that one is able to say what one has the urge to say.
She advised the students to be aware of what kind of writers they are and be very clear about what they are good at and especially what they are not capable of. She suggested that they draw from people and places, not DVDs and literature. Concluding the lecture she said, “You have to become interested in people, in the way they speak, their opinions and their roles in a particular situation and story - if you want to tell real stories. Then you script your story in a way that allows for unplanned things to happen. The writing is done to create the shape of your film like a map, you can’t decide everything…”
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