Gilbert Hill, in Andheri West, is a 66 million-year-old monolithic rock, according to an information flex banner by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, atop the hill. It’s 200ft tall, made of volcanic lava, and is one of only three such structures in the world. The other two are in Wyoming and California (USA).
The year is 2014, and a fictional TV channel — TV-420 — is featuring a special news segment dedicated to Gilbert Hill on occasion of the one year anniversary of mysterious lights hovering over the hill. Visually similar to the Northern Lights in Iceland, the lights above Gilbert have created a shield around the hill. No one, least of all the government, has been able to understand the phenomenon, but the involvement of extraterrestrial beings is suspected.
That’s the premise of a seven minute film, Gilbert, made by Mumbai-based filmmaker Omar Iyer (25). The film looks at the ancient hill, and the construction projects encroaching upon its space, with supernatural elements thrown in.
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What’s remarkable is that, for the most part, the film stays grounded in reality, and brings in the supernatural only toward the end. It addresses the issue of encroachment by a real estate mogul. “The hill is currently a grade II heritage site. So, construction around the hill is illegal. But nothing is being done to stop it,” says Iyer.
However, Iyer did not want to make a straight-up documentary. He says the primary intention behind the film is to generate public curiosity about the monolithic rock. Therefore the aliens angle.
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Iyer found the sci-fi inspiration in Hangar 1: The UFO Files, a TV series on History Channel, which elaborates on alien and UFO sightings. Iyer, too, mixed the reality of Mumbai with an alien habitation.
And while we don’t explicitly see aliens in the film, a bizarre green creature does appear on screen for a split second. “The alien has been designed to look as different from a human being as possible. Unfortunately, pop culture references to aliens have humanised them. They should look, feel, and be distinct from us,” he says.
To ensure the film feels real, Iyer brought an expert on board. The special effects for the film have been created by Vijesh Rajan, a VFX artist who has previously worked on the opening sequences of films such as Gangs of Wasseypur (2012) and O Kadal Kanmani (2015). “Like the rest of the crew, Rajan joined the project because he believed in the story. The film has no commercial interest,” says Iyer.
The idea for the film first occurred to Iyer in 2014, prior to the Mumbai International Film Festival in October. The festival has a special category for filmmakers under 25, and Iyer wanted to participate.
So, he wrote the script with his friend and popular comedian, Karunesh Talwar. They shot the film in two days and made a five-minute long first cut for the festival. “The story was slightly different then, because MAMI has a time limit for submissions,” says Iyer.
The screening received a positive response. In addition to a few congratulatory calls, Iyer recalls a blog that elaborated on how the author, after watching the film, visited the hill. And so, he reunited the film’s crew earlier this year to build on the existing film and complete the project like he first intended. Iyer released the final seven minute version on Facebook on November 7. It has, since, had 5,000 views.