Himachal youth first Indian finalist at Student Oscars

  • Naresh K Thakur, Hindustan Times, Dharamsala
  • Updated: May 13, 2014 15:30 IST

Boosting the morale of young people from Himachal Pradesh seeking to build a career in filmmaking, local youth Rahat Mahajan has become the first Indian to find a place among the finalists of the 41st Student Academy Awards.

Rahat’s film ‘Istifa’ (resignation), based on a short story by Munshi Premchand with the same title, is among the six finalists nominated in the narrative category.

Rahat, the son of Nurpur MLA Ajay Mahajan, is a fifth-term graduate student in the Art Centre College of Design, California. Before moving to the US to study filmmaking, he worked in Bollywood for almost seven years and assisted in films like ‘Kaminey’ and ‘Ishqiya’.

The narrative short ‘Istifa’ describes a day in the life of a meek and submissive clerk named Fatehchand Sharma, who routinely and ceaselessly faces humiliation at the hands of his boss.

In an e-mail, Rahat told HT that in November 2013, he read the short story during a train ride to Haridwar, where he was going with his family to perform some last rituals for his grandmother.

“At that moment, I decided to make it into a film as the story had struck a deep chord within me,” said Rahat.

Terming it a tribute to his grandmother, Rahat said it was very difficult to shoot, as he was running short of time and lacked access to basic filmmaking equipment. “Hiring professional actors was out of the question due to limited time of two months,” he said.

The film was shot with a digital single-lens reflex camera and a portable sound recorder, with two local electricians helping him build the required lights and making a camera stabiliser from bathroom fittings.

The cast, including the lead actor, are non-professionals from rural backgrounds. Rahat trained his family’s staff to work as his crew while his parents acted as producers. The young filmmaker shot the film in a village near Nurpur.

Expressing delight over the nomination, Rahat said, “I hope it makes my grandmother happy, wherever she is.”

His father also expressed delight over his son’s success.

About the award

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences established the Student Academy Awards in 1972 to support and encourage excellence in filmmaking at the college level. Academy members will now vote to determine up to three winning films in each category. The awards ceremony will be held on June 7 at the DGA Theater in Hollywood, US.

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