"As A Filmmaker, One Needs To Plan, But Also Be Willing To Adapt" - Neha Thakker, Winner - Yes Foundation Social Film Grant

By Arun Fulara. Posted on January 13, 2017

Last year Yes Foundation launched the Social Film Grant in association with UNDP India with the stated aim to entertain, educate and engage people with the Sustainable Development Goals through 1-minute Public Service Films. 11 filmmakers chosen from amongst a whopping 2,000 entries who then underwent a two day mentoring session under well-known ad-film makers. 4 winners were chosen by a jury comprising of eminent personalities including filmmaker Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, ad-men Piyush Pandey & Santosh Padhi, Jaco Cilliers (Country Director of UNDP India) and festival curator Deepti D'Cunha.

We caught up with one of the winners of the grant recently and spoke with her about her experience of the mentoring session as well as the making of the film. Neha Thakker is young filmmaker who's assisted Prahlad Kakkar before turning to filmmaking herself. A few years back she directed a short segment for the multi-nation collaborative film, The Owner.

Her film promoted the cause of girl child education in a crisp 1 min narrative & was released by Yes Foundation a few days before the International Day of the Girl Child.

Here are some excerpts from our chat with Neha.

Is this your first film? If not, how was the experience of making this film different from your earlier films?

I have made a few short films before. For me personally as an independent filmmaker I have been used to working through the whole process from ideation to execution on my own so this was different because we had support through the process. I found the mentorship process very valuable. However the production aspect of the film working with producers was challenging as a lot of it was not in my scope or control.

Could you talk a little about how the mentors shaped your films?

The mentorship totally transformed my script and it changed quite a bit. I feel like I stole ideas from all the mentors, and that they all pushed me further on how to communicate my idea. Bobby Pawar gave me a very valuable way to make my story clearer and more visual. Ashvin Kumar did not directly influence the script but he gave me one important question to consider which was, "When you are on set what action will you give the actor to do?" And when you are putting words on a page this is an aspect that you can tend to forget. Hemant Shringy helped me to actually edit the story down so that the focus was on one strong idea.

On the filmmaking aspect Amit from Hello Robot looked at the idea that these objects were disappearing and asked could there be some other way this could happen?.. considering the limited budget & time constraint. And then I came up with the idea of reversing the shots, so that the objects would fly away from her. All of the mentors including Rumaan Kidwai and Ashmith Kunder were great sounding boards and kept asking questions which challenged me to push my ideas further.

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Neha Thakker on sets with her actor

We would love to know where the concept for your film came from & what was the thought behind it?

I wanted to do a film that dealt with gender and I had this image of a girl on a totally deserted road walking by herself to school. The script then evolved from that image. Specifically I wanted to look at the aspect of housework and in my research I found that when women and men in a rural village in Africa started keeping track of how much time they spent doing each activity including housework that it prompted men to start helping out. So my film is a way to deal with that first step in the process..acknowledging that getting water from a well is work and that there is a price a girl pays to do it.

This was the first Yes Foundation Social Film Grant. There are hardly any such grants around in India. How did you come to know of the contest & what made you apply?

I found about the Social Film Grant online and I was motivated by the cause I wanted to tell a story concerning women and then the other reason was that they were providing a good budget for the grant so I knew that the films would not be shortchanged in terms of quality. Yes Foundation's Social Film Grant is an interesting project because there are no other grant-programs focused on promoting PSA content in India. The grant and the mentoring lab is an impetus to emerging filmmakers to take up social causes actively and creatively conceptualize them into engaging content.  I see this program growing in scope and scale similar to Yes Foundation’s other media initiatives. It can be a great stepping stone for young filmmakers eager to hone their craft.

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What have you learnt from the experience?

Making a film each time teaches you something about yourself, about people and about the process. On the process side, I tend to prep the hell out of things so for me the learning has been to try to be a bit more flexible in my plan when I am shooting. Because there are so many elements that you cannot control and anticipate, like for us we shot outdoors in the middle of the monsoon which was a nightmare. That's something I am never doing again for sure! We even shot using natural lighting. So to make the plan but to have the ability to adapt.

Also I think as a filmmaker its critical to be able to choose your own crew and that is something that I did not have as much freedom on this project so thats not a process I will necessarily rush to repeat. It's also taught me to keep my ego in check and when the shit hits the fan to focus on my work. And at the end of the day getting the film done as close to how I envisioned it, thats more important than anything else.


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