With fashion and who’s-wearing-what having become the main narrative to emerge from Cannes year after year, this time around City Beautiful will be sending a gentle reminder to the Festival that it’s all about the cinema.
Asmad (Me), a short movie created by a Chandigarh-based team over a period of two long years, has been selected in the Short Film Corner at the Festival De Cannes - the first ever from the city.
Set in the breathtaking valleys of Himachal in a discreet village near Palampur, the 34-minute short tells the story of a teenage boy weighed down by guilt due to an incident that he feels responsible for.
It is in the midst of all this turmoil that one is forced to think about the implication of ‘me’. “Both characters and the content of the movie are inspired from the people around me and my own understanding of life,” says first-time director Prabhjit Dhamija, who has also written the film.
“I did think of getting in touch with Shekhar Kapur for a key role, but eventually I went with my gut instinct and cast non-actors, mostly from Chandigarh, as I wanted ‘real looks’ and ‘real behaviour’ from all my characters,” he adds.
The 40-year-old, who was a mechanical engineer by profession before he turned filmmaker, called the movie-making experience ‘devotional’. He says, “I feel as if life and film have merged in me - I, perhaps, take films more seriously than life and take life more lightly, just like a film.”
So how did a crew of 25-odd people, majorly from Chandigarh and most of them new to the world of films, churn out such a nuanced movie?
“Volunteerism made this movie what it is and the audience will be able to feel the effort whenever it is screened,” he says.
“When the crew got together, everyone picked the job they connected most with,” says associate director Abhishek Garg (26), adding, “It resulted in a self-driven and self-motivated team which found a way around all glitches and issues.”
NOT A YOUTUBE FILM
“The film can transport you to the Himalayas and make you experience the guilt of the 13-year-old protagonist [played by Anikait Malhotra]. It’s not your run-off-the-mill YouTube movie,” says Prabhjit. “I eventually want to make full-length feature films, so I have treated Asmad the same way.”
The team will soon release videos about the making of the movie. “It will be a good watch for aspiring film-makers,” he says. “Selection into festivals such as Cannes helps a movie like ours get the right kind of audience,” he adds.
“Chandigarh gives me both tranquillity and action. I don’t even feel the need of shifting base to Mumbai. Even though the city lacks professionalism when it comes to film-making, the spirit displayed by my team makes me want to stay, says Prabhjit, adding, “They came with absolutely no baggage.”
Dhamija is currently working on Katputli, a full-length feature film of which he is the associate director. “No more short movies! I now want to make full-length films only,” he laughs.
Along with Anikait Malhotra, Asmad also stars Edha Singla, Balwant Gurunay, Praveen Jaggi and Sudarshan Juyal.