A Tete-A-Tete With Jaydeep Sarkar, Director Of 'Nayantara's Necklace'!

By Yash Thakur. Posted on October 28, 2015

Digital is finally coming of age. Everyone is moving online. Even the venerable YashRaj Studios is making online web-series that are risque and quite un-YRF like. A series of web-series are slated to hit our computer screens in the coming days, with organised players like SonyLiv getting into the act.

The success of short films like Ahalya by Sujoy Ghosh has opened up an avenue for filmmakers to experiment without fear. Of course, there are things that work online.  Much like any other format there will be the tyranny of 'what works' and 'what doesn't work' that will develop over time. Maybe it already has. Yet there's a buzz in the air. A certain air of expectancy. Even the Jio MAMI this year features a section on digital content & films, that will include screening of some of the best online content including short films and web-series.

One such film that released online recently was Jaydeep Sarkar's Nayantara's Necklace. Jaydeep has been the writer for films such as Khoya Khoya Chand, Shaurya, Drona and has made a number of ad films for brands such as Flipkart, Horlicks, Doy Care and Pepsi. Jaydeep's ad campaign, Bachpan Bachao Andolan, went viral within days of it's release and touched more than a million views in a couple of days. Currently working as a commercial director at Native Films, he has also worked closely with directors like Sudhir Mishra and Anurag Kashyap and has been one of the exciting talents to emerge from the industry.

Starring Konkana Sen Sharma and Tillotama Shome (and Gulshan Devaiah in a cameo), the film explores the friendship between Alka and her new Dubai-returned neighbour Nayantara. With a duration of just 20 mins, Jaydeep's short captures the beauty of everyday life, the dynamics of female friendship and the hypocrisy of image-making.  We spoke to the director about the ideas behind his short, his learnings from making ads to features and what lies ahead for him. Watch Nayantara's Necklace below.

How was the idea conceived? When did it first start germinating in your head?

I had read a news piece actually about a similar incident that had happened in Lokhandwala, where a man had shot his wife and kid because they were apparently in a lot of debt; but you can't really tell by just looking at them because they lived in a penthouse, they had a really rich lifestyle and all of that. I found that irony very interesting. But apart from that, just observing life, people around us. I wanted to tell a story of a certain kind of middle class which lived in different metropolises.

Middle-class women, who give up their careers for the family and when the kids grow up and the husbands are busy with work, what do they do with their spare time at home? That was something that I really wanted to explore so what happened to the story was basically all these thoughts came together and sort of became one story.

We saw Radhika Apte and Manoj Bajpai in short films earlier. Your film has Konkana Sen Sharma. What is the perception of these actors whilst working on the short format?

I think what is happening with the format and the short film structure is that stories are getting made which were probably not being explored in mainstream, popular films. The kind of roles that these actors are offered in the industry are much different. In short films, the world is very diverse. Regardless, all these actors today are doing some very interesting films. Manoj just did Aligarh, while Konkana did Talvar; they are great artists, creative powerhouses. For them what matters most is the story and the format.

Short films on a digital platform are a very valid medium. It is very interesting and gratifying to see the audience interact with you; it's almost like screening a film at a film club where you can actually have a dialogue with the audience. So I guess there are a lot of things going for the support of the short film format which is probably what is exciting these actors to do it. People around the world are doing it and it is high time we caught on make some interesting work.

You have been in the industry for quite long, working with directors like Sudhir Mishra, Anurag Kashyap. What is the perception of directors and producers in the industry with regard to the sudden growth of short films? How difficult or easy it is to find funding for further projects?

The directors themselves have made short films! (laughs) I worked on the pre-production of Black Friday with Anurag. He had back then made a film, Last Train To Mahakali. Sudhir made Kirchiyaan for Large Short Films. Samar, who I wrote Shaurya with, had made a short for LSF. We've all sort of been involved in this format in our way.

I think it is unfair to look at short films as stepping stones for feature films. I don't look at commercials or shorts as a way to make features. And they are two very different ball games. I mean, the revenue model for a feature film is radically different from a revenue model for a short. Large Short Films, for example, is finding support and is being patronized by a corporate company. It is a part of their marketing strategy. Which is great, because pure art to be patronized by either the government or a corporate is a big thing.

A lot of short filmmakers, like Megha Ramaswamy for instance, who made Newborns and now Bunny, are going to film festivals and are making a mark out there. Was there any talk of sending Nayantara's Necklace to festivals once the film was off the edit table?

I had been to New York Indian Film Festival (NYIFF) with the film in May. It was screened to a New York audience and it was really interesting because it played at a historic theater in New York and a lot of local media was there. It was great fun. What festivals do is that they open up avenues for sales. If I had funded this film myself then for me to go to the festival circuit to look at sales would have been a very enriching experience. But this was already funded, with its release ensured and guaranteed, so it was just a way of showing the film.

Jaydeep Sarkar (2)2

You have worked on Khoya Khoya Chand, Shaurya. How has the experience of writing these films, working around these directors shaped your work today?

You imbibe and learn a lot from the people. You learn every day from life itself. I think that's the job of an artist, a filmmaker especially, to keep the osmosis going on, keep absorbing from the world you live in. If you ask me, I have learned a lot about the craft and about the process of filmmaking from Sudhir (because that's the person I have extensively worked with). I have learned from Anurag, of course, the way he observes and looks at life.

You earlier said that working on a 20 minutes film itself is a luxury, a break from all the commercials. You have worked on some well-known commercials- the Flipkart Ad Films, Bachpan Bachao Andolan, ads for brands like Horlicks and Whisper. How has working on ads helped you on your short?

It's very very different. Because at the end of the day, when you are making an ad for a particular piece of communication that has been decided through rounds of research and planning with the agency and the client. When the script comes to you, the genesis of the idea is not yours anyway. It is from the marketing team of the brand and the agency. You as a director, innovate from that point on.

With a short film, the starting point itself is your idea, the germination happens within you. You have to build it yourself, from scratch and the process is much longer. Nayantara's Necklace is something that I thought about in 2012, and it released now. For a 20 minute film, that's a really long journey. So they are two very different processes, from the philosophies to the craft.

Big mainstream publications such as The Indian Express, The Hindu and Mid-Day are now reviewing shorts and giving it, if not more, as much leverage as a feature would receive. Where do you think this whole trend is headed? Is there another short in the pipeline?

Of course, I would love to work on another short. In fact, I have just completed an 8-minute film for the United Nation's Action Aid. Irrespective of the format or the duration of the film, I am always excited with the idea of telling a story. Regarding the mainstream media's attention towards short films and the short format, I think exciting content will always be talked about. The digital medium is being taken more seriously for the longest time now. People didn't understand the digital medium earlier. But now, even brands are interested in doing longer formats films (see Flipkart Ad films). I'm sure within the next 5 years, there will also be a revenue model which the producers and distributors will work around so that people make more short films when there is a business strategy in place.

The media will have to take more notice of it than now. I myself am very humbled and happy that the film got the spotlight that it deserved, was reviewed by the biggest publications and also Subhash K Jha, who is a noted Indian film critic and journalist.

What is lined up next, other than the commercials? There have also been talks about you making a film on the lines of Hrishikesh Mukherjee-Basu Chatterjee style of cinema.

I am a huge fan of Hrishikesh Mukherjee's films and Iranian films. I watched A Separation recently and it was very hard hitting. In my film, I want to explore the human experience, which I have also tried to do in Nayantara's Necklace. There is so much to explore and highlight in the ordinary itself. 'Middle class' is such a big part of our country, we are propelling the economy. Yet not enough films are being made about it. My film will engulf all these themes though I cannot reveal the story as of now (smiles). I am currently scripting it and there is a deadline set.

Between the feature and the short, there are only commercials. I do quite enjoy making commercials, it keeps my hands full.

Any words of wisdom for young writer-directors?

What happens when you come to Mumbai is that you end up being friends with people around you, people who you work with; writers, directors, cinematographers, actors etc. But make it a point that your friends circle is larger than just that. I have friends who are lawyers, engineers, doctors. You must always stay in touch with the real world because that is where the stories are. "Woh Versova ke coffee shop mein chaar log baithte hai, woh chaar kahaniya ghoomti rehti hai aur woh chaar log hi ek doosre ka peeth thap thapa te hai"


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