Durba Sahay makes films that, in her own words, ‘mirror life in all its complexities’. Her short films have earned much acclaim on the international festival circuit, and she is now working on a full-length feature, Aavartan, which will be released next year. She speaks to Bulbul Sharma about the purpose of cinema and her experiments with different formats of filmmaking.
Q. Do you experience more creative freedom when you are directing the films you have yourself written?
A. As a writer, I give words to my thoughts, and by being both writer and director I can achieve the freedom and passion of an artist through my imagination, emotions, thoughts and writings. My ideas get a platform and the expression of those ideas is better coordinated with the execution.
Q. You are also an actor. So how did the shift to direction happen? What really got you interested in the art of filmmaking?
A. Yes, I did start my career as an actor but the urge and passion to make films turned me towards direction. The strong urge to be an independent artist who is able to exercise the kind of creative freedom a director has is so close to my heart.
One can say that directing is like painting on the canvas where one gets to pour one’s heart out. It also involves emotional and creative satisfaction.
Q. You have helmed several short films. What do you like about this form? What are the advantages it has over a full-length feature film?
A. Today’s mantra is KISS, i.e. Keep it Short and Sweet. The shorter it is, the sweeter it gets and the better it works. Short films have a long-lasting effect on the audience. The audience gets the message in a short span of time and it is more impactful.
Q. You have worked in different capacities, including that of a playwright, actor, director, scriptwriter and production designer. Which role do you enjoy the most and why?
A. I think after having worked in all the various capacities, I enjoy directing the most. And being a producer gives me a huge sense of fulfillment. But every role is significant and I feel I have a complete bouquet.
Q. What is your creative process like when you are writing, editing and directing, all at the same time?
A. It is all about spontaneity for me. It is so smooth that at times I even lose track of time and forget about the number of hours I have spent during the process. My need to express myself creatively is the most important thing to me.
Q. You are soon going to come out with a full-length film, Aavartan. What is this film about and what inspired the idea?
A. My new movie is a full-fledged movie and it portrays the different facets of life. It depicts all human emotions. It also portrays the dark side of human emotions and the kind of highs and lows one may go through in their lifetime.
Q. You have mainly directed short films. Was there any specific reason for making Aavartanas a full-length film?
A. It’s true that I directed several short films before making Aavartan. But it would be unfair to portray me only as a maker of short films. I may not have earlier directed a full-length movie. But my personal association with the cinematic world as an active participant dates back to 1990s, when as a co-producer of the National Award-winning film PatangI had first-hand experience of all aspects of filmmaking, including scriptwriting, costume designing, framing, editing, music, dubbing etc. Directed by the now legendary Gautam Ghosh, the cast [of Patang] included Om Puri, Shabana Azmi, Shatrughan Sinha and Mohan Agashe. I, too, played a screen role in the film.
Q. How was the experience of shooting with acclaimed Kathak dancer Shobhana Narayan for Aavartan?
A. My experience of working with the celebrated Padma Shri winner Shovana Narayan has been par excellence. She is an excellent artist and it has been a learning experience. I did learn Kathak during my childhood. So I do understand the dance form to a great extent.
Q. Your short films An Unknown Guest, The Mechanicand Petalshave previously been screened at the Cannes Film Festival. How was that experience?
A. It was wonderful. Cannes is whereyou come across people and ideas that shape the film industry as a whole. It gives you an altogether different perspective and broadens your horizon of knowledge and ideas. It is where filmmakers can evaluate themselves on a larger canvas Every visit is an experience worth living. Not only filmmakers, every art loving and creative soul must be there. It gives you the right exposure to understand new ideas and the ever-improving film technology.
Q. What sort of themes and emotions do you generally like to explore in your films?
A. I believe that films are more than entertainment. Entertainment, in fact, is a very small part of the whole exercise. Films, according to me, mirror life in all its complexities, and as such filmmaking is not that simple. It takes into account the currents and cross currents of society… It mirrors life per se and I try to understand life in all its beauty and ugliness. And when I say life, I mean, life as it is and not the make-believe life portrayed by popular cinema.
Q. Do you think mainstream Hindi cinema grants enough space to women to express their ideas?
A. Indian cinema has many emerging women producers and directors currently. I find there’s tremendous amount of scope for expression and freedom of ideas. Women artists, directors and producers can better deal with human psychology and insights. They can express emotions and thoughts very artistically.
Q. What about trying your hand at one of the OTT platforms? Have you thought about it?
A. Right now, I have not given serious thought to the idea. I believe in doing one thing at a time and as such the option does not figure high on my priority list. It does not mean that I would never be doing it. Trying different things and making innovations and improvisations are part of my nature. In any case, the web option is always there. Let’s see how things work out. May be someday I would give it a try. But not right now.
Q. Have you been influenced by a particular kind of cinema or any specific filmmaker?
A. I don’t believe in stereotypes and as such can’t commit myself to any particular type of drama. Frankly speaking, I don’t like cosy heroines and macho heroes playing to the gallery. That kind of cinema is escapist. It does not take life’s challenges head on. Dramatisation of facts is something different from fiction. At times you need to dramatise facts of life to get larger acceptance and I see nothing wrong in that.
As far as my personal likes and dislikes are concerned, I am not a dogmatic person. I want to be pragmatic and present life as it is. World cinema has produced a galaxy of greats and it would be unfair to name a few to the exclusion of others. I love films that deal with complex human psychology, the internal conflicts that people face and the different responses to the same situation.
Q. What do you think is the purpose of cinema?
A. The purpose of cinema, as I see it, is the representation of life as it is. And also to create a distinction between the desirable and the undesirable. There is nothing wrong in filmmakers making value judgments. You cannot make films sitting in ivory towers. Films, besides presenting life as it is, offer solutions that besides being sensible and practicable, promote the larger good and release some of our personal and social tensions.