Thursday, July 18, 2024

A conversation with Akanshya Bhagabati – Award-winning short filmmaker

Robin Bhuyan (Editor)

Krishnakshee Sharma (Sub-editor)

Akanshya Bhagabati is a filmmaker from Assam, whose short film Kumu- The Song of a Wingless Bird has earned various prestigious awards such as the John Abraham National Award for Best Short Feature at the 15th edition of the SiGNS Film Festival in Kerala. The film also went on to win the Best Director award from the Bengal Film and Television Chamber of Commerce, 2022. Let us have a discussion with Akanshya Bhagabati regarding her journey, her visions as well as her future plans in the world of cinema.

EH: First of all, we would like to know about you as a person; your personalities, your mantra in life, your background, your hobbies etc.

AB: I am basically a filmmaker, who has made two short films Kumu and Son of the Soil. I have assisted in two documentaries as well. I am also in the process of making my own documentary. Apart from that, my background is basically in media. I did my Bachelors in Media Studies from Mumbai University, and I did my Masters from Tezpur University. I am also a dancer, having done a Visharad in Sattriya Nritya. It will also not be wrong for me to say that I have grown up dancing.

EH: So what was it that brought you to the world of cinema? When did you decide to say ‘Yes’ to filmmaking?

AB: To be honest, when I was still a child and we used to watch a movie, there were times when I was able to accurately predict correctly what would happen in the next scene. This shocked my mother, because I predicted scenes in movies which we had never watched before. Therefore, I would say that every person has a particular kind of intellect, and I feel that since I was brought up in an environment of art and culture, I think it might have played a role in me being attracted to the world of cinema. Cinema is an amalgamation of so many art forms, and the impact it has on me is magical.

EH: Would you tell us what inspired you to make Kumu?

AB:  After completing my Bachelors in Media Studies, I came back to Assam, mostly due to the Covid situation. Later when I enrolled in Tezpur University, I began assisting in a documentary film titled ‘Children of God’. It was then that I made the decision to make a short film, but I was trying to decide what would be the subject. From my childhood, I was very sensitive towards the issues of Adivasi people belonging to the tea tribe. So, I was eventually inspired to make the story of this 12-year-old Adivasi girl.

EH: Do tell us about the achievements of your film Kumu.

AB: I would say that winning the Best Feature at the SiGNS Film Festival in Kerala is one of the best achievements. To be honest, after I had sent it to the film festivals, I had never expected it to win anything. I didn’t even have any idea regarding which festival to send the film to. When Kumu got selected for screening at SiGNS, I had gone only for the experience, since they had provided the travel and food allowances. However, very unexpectedly, my film Kumu won the Best Short Feature at the festival, which really shocked and overwhelmed me. The film went on to win at several other film festivals including the Bengal International Short Film Festival, where I got the Best Director Award. I consider this an achievement because there was only one award for Best Director. Being among nationally recognized filmmakers, I was not able to believe it, when I won the award, as I was just a debutant. Kumu also won the Special Jury Feature Film award at 8th International Film Festival of Shimla, 2022, Best Youth Artist award at Toronto International Women Film Festival 2022, Golden Elephant award for Best Cinematography at Siliguri Short and Documentary Film Festival, 2022, and Best Short Film award at NEFVTA, Assam, 2022. Besides the awards, Kumu earned official selections into the 24th Madurai International Documentary and Short Film Festival, and the Bengaluru International Short Film Festival, which is the only Oscar qualifying festival for short films in India. The film was also screened in Berlin, which is also another big achievement for me.

EH: How much do you think a cinema showing a man’s perspective is different than a cinema being shown from a woman’s perspective?

AB: I honestly feel that if Kumu, which was about a female child, was made by a male director, it would not be what it is. I am not talking about good or bad, but gender plays an important role, when it comes to showcasing a certain perspective in cinema. Similarly, if Sholay, the famous film, was made by a woman, it wouldn’t be what it is, either. Gender does define how we experience the world, and our culture. Since gender defines what happens in reality, what happens in reality gets manifested on-screen. Cinema has mostly been conventionally from a man’s perspective, as men are always shown to play the lead characters, while women play secondary roles. I feel that our society has defined the gender roles in a particular way, and throughout history, filmmakers have mostly stuck to this perspective. There are many filmmakers who have tried to change this. Even in Assam we have many female filmmakers doing this. Even renowned filmmaker Jahnu Baruah managed to show things successfully from a woman’s perspective in his film Firingoti. Another person I look up to is Zoya Akhtar, because whatever she does, I feel that she is able to justify it.

EH: Do you feel cinema inspires life or life inspires cinema?

AB: I would say life inspires cinema. I also understand that this is going to vary from person to person. Making a film is a tough task, in my opinion, as one needs to be involved with the whole process. You need a very strong passion, which needs to come from within you. Without the passion, it gets difficult to keep moving in that path. However, if we talk from the audience’s perspective, cinema inspires life. Even that applies to us filmmakers, but around 30 percent.

EH: Is there any film that you live by?

AB: I wouldn’t be able to name just one such film, as there are many films that have impacted me. I think that any film that can make you feel an emotion, and can capture you completely, remains with you forever.

EH: For the first time in history, an Indian movie won an Oscar this year. What are the chances of an Assamese movie earning a place in the Oscars some day?

AB: The Oscars are an American Film Festival, and there is only one category where foreign films are nominated. So, considering how many films are produced all over the world, the chances are quite slim of a film from our region bagging that award. I think competing for that small space is not worth it. I think artists have a far greater responsibility. Of course, awards do have their importance, but it is not the defining factor. I have a friend Maharshi, whose film The Horse from Heaven was the official entry for Oscars, in the short film category. I feel that this is a big thing for Assam, that the film reached this point. However, it is important to understand that all the films that he competed against were also equally good. Since they are all equally good, unfortunately, there cannot be a unanimous decision on art. In many cases, it is the perspective that plays a role in which film wins the award. I think that if you have managed to connect with the audience, it is the biggest success.

EH: Do you think that the rise of AI will also affect cinema? Do you think that cast and crew members like actors, screenwriters, directors might get replaced?

AB: The way technology is rising, we can never say that it is impossible. But when it comes to creative fields like art, it is the artist who is putting his/her emotions and experiences, which leads to the formation of whatever they are creating. There is no algorithm for this, and if such an algorithm can be made, then I guess it wouldn’t be art anymore. It would become repetitive, and although AI can help us enhance ourselves, I don’t feel that AI can completely replace humans, especially in art. However, AI can help us visualize the storyboard better, but it can never be a true artist.

EH: What are your future plans?

AB: I have recently completed a short film Son Of The Soil. I have written and directed the film. I am sending the film to festival now. Let’s wait and see.

EH: Thank you very much for your time. We wish you the best in your future projects!  

AB: Thank you!

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