Indian Short Films - Finally Coming Of Age!

By Jahnavi Patwardhan. Posted on May 27, 2015

Fueled by artistic expression and limited by nothing but their run-time, short films transcend traditional storytelling. From documentary to animation, narrative to experimental, the abbreviated form is no longer just for the novice. In the last few years, shorts have evolved to become an important part of cinema, storytelling and culture.

Many filmmakers look at the format as a rite of passage on their way to making feature films. And why not? Short films are the most economical way to showcase your talents and thus an ideal avenue to kickstart your filmmaking journey. However there are other reasons to make a short. There are stories that are best told in 5-10 mins. Short films allow filmmakers to experiment and play around with storytelling techniques and narrative forms. It can act as a vent to the filmmakers artistic energies.

Low cost but high quality DSLR's are enabling an entire generation of young filmmaker's to pick their cameras and shoot their films. Lately, there have been a lot of platforms that are celebrating and appreciating shorts. The economics of short movie making hasn't improved dramatically but the emergence of crowdfunding, festivals and internet based video platforms offers hope.

However while digital filmmaking has made it easier & affordable, it's important to ensure that you still apply the same production values that you would if you were shooting on film with a crew. This is what separates professional filmmakers from the amateurs.

The Internet & Smartphone Revolution Powering Short-Format Content

Short films have been around from almost the beginning of cinema. Almost all leading filmmakers from Scorsese to Wes Anderson, from Satyajit Ray to Spike Jonze, from Spielberg to Nolan have made short films.

But it is the internet that has finally set the format free. This coupled with the fact that more and more people today are consuming content on the move through their smartphones, is powering the growth of short films as a category.

People today are really interested in bite-sized pieces of information. This “bite-sizeness” of shorts make them perfectly suited for the internet, where users demand short, sharp bursts of entertainment that they can consume on the fly at work, home or increasingly on the move.

The internet is also proving to be a popular alternative for short filmmakers who have no other way of distributing their films. One can simply upload their films online “without spending a penny” in a matter of minutes and potentially reach thousands, or in some cases millions of viewers worldwide. This is something that wasn't quite possible in the pre-YouTube era.

Why Make Short Films

There was, and still is, an assumption that short films were testing grounds for longer form works: either a feature or an episodic series. This isn't to say everyone who makes shorts has only seen them as a mere stepping stone. Plenty of filmmakers, past and present, particularly animators and fine artists, dedicate themselves to the short film medium as an innovative art form unto itself.

However even Indian filmmakers now realize the value of making short films. Karthik Subbaraj & Nalan Kumarasamy are two prominent Tamil filmmakers who made their mark with shorts before moving on to directing features. Filmmakers in other parts of the country are taking note and building their portfolio of shorts too.

We spoke with acclaimed filmmaker Vikas Bahl (Chillar Party, Queen) about why filmmakers should experiment with the format. Last year Bahl, made a short for Vogue Empower called Going Home, starring Alia Bhatt.

"Shorts are like all other films, just that one has to tell a story in far lesser time which is a challenge as well as an opportunity also. So for any filmmaker's it's a great unit to practice ones' craft before he/she moves on to make a feature."

Srinivas Sunderrajan, the director of India's first mumblecore feature film The Untitled Karthik Krishnan Project has been making shorts for almost a decade now.

"I don't see a reason to NOT make short films. It's all story dependent. If you have something in mind which can be conveyed in a short duration - then why not use the format to your advantage. It's like a bedtime story that your grandparents/mother/father used to narrate, where in a span of 5-10 minutes an entire fantasy has been recreated. It's a misnomer that "short films are a reel to feature".

The Road Ahead

While more and more young filmmakers are making short films and there seems to be a growing appetite for them, things are not completely rosy. There is a lack of platforms and avenues that can help short filmmakers achieve recognition on a wider scale.

Terribly Tiny Talkies, an initiative by Terribly Tiny Tales, recently released a pack of 5 short films on the occasion of Mother's Day. They had earlier released a similar package of 5 shorts on love on Valentine's day. Some of the shorts went viral and received a lot of recognition. While recognition is a big motivator for young filmmakers most of the online-only models suffer from lack of a financial recovery model.  This, Sunderrajan feels, is the biggest hurdle facing those making short films.

"With social media, marketing - distribution has become easier (non-financial). But budgeting is still a sore point. Unless it's a commissioned project or a philanthropic activity - production also becomes difficult. The issue is that the industry still hasn't figured a viable financial model for short films - considering features still rule the roost here."

However Bahl is optimistic in his outlook & feels that the scenario is changing.

"I think it's about opportunities. In the west there's a market also for shorts, which is now developing in our country also. And thus the trend is also picking up. Bombay Talkies was one instance where 4 seasoned directors made one short each. Even brands are coming on board for shorts now, so I guess gradually it's increasing."

And he is right. Last few years have seen initiatives like Shorts & Shuruaat Ka Interval finding theatrical release. Karthik Subbaraj's new initiative Bench Talkies, released a package of curated shorts recently.

Chaar Cutting, another such initiative, releases in theaters this week. 4 handpicked, award winning shorts shortlisted from a wide assortment of films have been put together in a way that captures the entire array of human emotions. The films cut across genres that include comedy, satire, romance and thriller. One of the films has been written by Vikramaditya Motwane (Udaan, Lootera).

Initiatives like Chaar Cutting throw light on young talents & may also enable the format to find its feet. If the growing pool of aware, discerning audiences encourage films like these, we may soon see a viable model emerging. The energy and enthusiasm is there. All the filmmakers need, is a small push.


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