Prabal Baruah, a writer-cum-director from Guwahati, has been making all the right noise in the Indian television industry, starting from the good old days of Surabhi on Doordarshan. He has added another feather on his cap by directing the first single-character movie of India, Strawberry Point.
Also known for directing and scripting many episodes of CID and Aahat, Baruah also directed Guturgu, one of the few silent sitcoms of Indian television industry.
Baruah shared some interesting things about his life and his works in an exclusive interview with EastMojo. Edited excerpts:
Can you tell us a bit about your movie, Strawberry Point. How did the idea of such a movie come up?
Actually, Strawberry Point just happened accidentally. It was just one of those days where you suddenly get an idea out of the blue. Probably when you are lying down in a couch having a cup of coffee or you take a stroll and you get this idea. So Strawberry Point was not really planned it just happened, because one fine day I got this idea about this one actor, one character story being told at limited locations which I shared it with Karan (Oberoi). He was my co-producer in Buddy Films and we have been a friend and a colleague for a long time.
So, Karan quite liked the idea and he said it was very interesting and very different idea but then who will write it, you know? Because that was just an idea, there was no script and it’s also a challenge to write a single character you know to make a short film is one thing but to make a full-length feature film is another thing. So conversation started and then from one conversation to another and then one fine day I narrated him the story and asked would you like to do it? He said: “Who wouldn’t like to do it because I am everywhere in this film. Any actor would give his arm, leg and everything for that.”
Then I said that there is a condition to which he replies what and I say: “You will have to do it for free.” Being a friend I could take the liberty of saying that. Because to begin with I didn’t have any finance nor a producer, I had nothing. So I said if you work for free then between you and me the writer,the director, actor and the singer is taken care of. So it started as an experiment and we didn’t know whether it’s going to be a full length feature film and we are going to release it commercially or to bring it to a festival. It was actually like an exercise, just started and then things fell into place one after another.
What are the complications that might arise while filming a one-character film?
Lots actually, because a single-actor film or a single-location film is not conventional film or storytelling. So when you tell a story, there are multiple characters. You have a protagonist, you have a set of lead, supporting cast, etc, and that’s how stories are told. That’s how movies are made, you have many locations over different time frames and space; so there is a grammar for telling a story, there is a format of how stories are told with main tracks and parallel tracks.
But a single-character film does not follow those rules. So, as we set on making the film then I realised that this was difficult. For example, when you write a story or make a film, whether a short film or a full-length film, there are a lot of actors, you have a close-up of someone, there is a wide shot, there is a two shot. So taking care of continuity becomes easy, taking care of time jump becomes easy, small flaws can also get covered up.
So if one gives a wrong expression, we can use someone else’s expression. But you cannot do all those things here. Even for an actor, especially the emotion, the look,the mood continuity becomes really difficult. Also it creates a fatigue because you get tired of watching the same person as there is no variation. On top of that it didn’t have the usual ingredients of a Bollywood film. It didn’t have a song, there was no dance sequence, no action, no fight sequence, no comedy… nothing. So, yeah, there are endless complications.
You have also directed few episodes of ‘CID’ and the shot is usually taken in one take. So, as a director what are the things you need to watch out for?
Ok, I must mention that CID was basically the creation of Mr Brijendra Pal Singh. He is the creator, writer,director, producer, and the man who conceptualised CID and Aahat. I happened to be one of the episodic directors because CID ran for many years. So when you run a show for many years as a bi-weekly or tri-weekly, then you need a panel of directors. So I am actually one of the directors, so I can’t take the credit of saying that it was my show.
But having said that I have written and directed many episodes of CID. There was a single-shot episode which was done in CID and you are right. It even qualified to the Guinness Book of World Records but that was shot by BP Singh and was done a long time ago. So, if I have to speak on his behalf, a single shot is equally or probably more difficult than a single character. There is no room for retake, there is no room for cut, and there is no room for anything. It is like a play and you cannot stop and say, hey, I need to correct this.
Do you think OTT is going to replace the mainstream cinema or is it just going to be another alternative form of entertainment?
I personally believe it’s not going to replace, it will keep on changing and things will keep on evolving. Things will change to fit into the current scenario. Like for example there was a time when home videos had come so at that point of time it seemed like it will replace cinema halls. In a lot of small towns, cinema halls were actually shut down because suddenly there is a novelty that you can actually watch a movie in the comfort of your house and that too on a repeat. So that was a novelty, it was like a toy and people were really excited. But then cinema halls didn’t shut. It was way back in in the 80’s and they are continuing in fact now it has taken the industry by a storm.
With PVRs and multiplexes it continued, it didn’t stop. Then when television came, people stopped listening to radios. There was a time when people didn’t even have a transistor in their house, it ceased to exist. But with FM radios they are back, there is a radio everywhere. You have a radio in your car, your house and even in your cellphone. It’s because the charm of listening to a radio is very different to listening music on your laptop or on your sound system. So I don’t think OTT is going to replace anything, so probably, the way we view cinema or the kind of cinema that you watch in a movie theatre might change but I don’t think it will replace any medium.
Any word of advice to the upcoming film directors or producers?
I came into this field or I became a filmmaker or a director or a writer purely for the love of it. For me it is passion driven. But having said so, you require passion for everything. You need passion to become a doctor or an engineer or a painter hence passion is given. So when people keep on saying you need passion I would say that passion is given. But this is an uphill road unlike other profession having a lot of ups and downs.
In other forms of profession, life is a bit predictable, its set and you know how you are going to move. Here, life is full of surprises and you have to be prepared for the surprises. You can have the highs and the lows and then you can have a huge lull moment.
So, if you want to become a filmmaker or a director be it television or OTT you have to be really driven and you have to be prepared for all kinds of surprises in life. Every day is a new day and you cannot be comfortable. The moment you become comfortable then you are not made for this industry.