With a total budget of around 1,500 USD, Indian filmmaker Vishnu Udayan didn’t think twice. To move on with “Waft”, an impressive example of how to do an amazing short film with no resources and, still, big in all senses. Awarded by ISA, in the June season, Silver Best Narrative Short, Bronze Best Original Score and with an Honorable Mention for Best Cinematography.
Having completed his schooling in Thiruvananthapuram, his hometown, and UG in Ba. English in Chennai, Vishnu Udayan moved to Mumbai for a direction training program with Institute of Creative Excellence run by Balaji Telefilms. Even before that, as early as 2012, he has been actively making short films and music videos. To his credit so far, he has seven short films and two music videos. He also assisted in “Prakasan – A Malayalam film” directed by Bash Mohammed.
ISA: What made you decide to make this film?
Vishnu Udayan: Why “Waft” is a question I faced quite much from my peers. I mean, “Waft” is my seventh short film. After four years of my last one (although I did a three-minute short in 2017), I back to a new work with all its seriousness. All my previous six short films were entertainment genre. So, I wanted to do something offbeat, with some strong content and see where I could stand. You could say it was a self-check for me. Still, I decided I would only make a short film if I get a good story. I waited quite a bit, attended a few meetings and heard stories but nothing shook me enough. It was then my friend, Dr. Veena discussed something about a medical condition. That was a spark. With the help of Jibin and Kiran, my associates and Aaron, our scriptwriter, we made it to a story first and later what you see now.
ISA: What budget did you have and how did it affect the production?
VU: Previously, I used to raise funds from home but this time I decided to crowdfund. I have a production house in partnership with Mr. Akhil Menon called Green Parrot Talkies. We reached out to all our well-wishers and friends to chip in with 100s and 500s and 1000s. Our total budget was roughly around 100,000 INR. I was scared whether it would be enough for us to finish but then my cast and crew weren’t demanding. They trusted in me. They trusted in “Waft”. For example, our heroine Syju John flew to Kochi from Bangalore without making any demands. I think that, with a good script, we can do wonders even without a high budget.
ISA: In fact, even for Indian standard for low budget productions, and we are talking here about a total budget around 1,500 USD, you managed to gather a big crew for this production…
VU: Yes, “Waft” is not a one-man show. Each and everyone has put in their contribution. For example, the reason why we get a lot of appreciation for the beach scene is because of our cinematographer Mohammed Aftab. You know what was all the equipment we had? Just a slider and a tripod. Aftab didn’t ask for anything further and he was confident about giving me the best product. One scene was completely shot using DJI Osmo. In the original script, the musical montage is at some other point. But our editor, Thulasi Vishwanadhan, gave the idea of changing its placement. Arjun Rajkumar, the recipient of the ISA Bronze Award for Best Original Score, was at his best scoring for that part. I’m sure that montage is what made possible he won awards. It was also a great privilege to work with Robin Kunjukutty, the sound designer. He has worked in a lot of Bollywood films including the internationally acclaimed “Newton”. He hardly had any time in his busy schedule but he worked for us without any complaints. A word about Ashish Shashidhar, our hero. He joined the set as an assistant director but due to unexpected turnarounds, he became the hero just before 24 hours from the shoot. He showed confidence in the script. I showed confidence in him. That is how it worked out. I think he did what Ashvath would do in reality.
ISA: How long was the shooting and which were the main challenges on the set?
VU: We shot “Waft” in two days and one night. There weren’t challenges as such – or rather I didn’t feel much. I had three associates and four assistant directors working their lives off day to night without complaining. Few of them were working for the first but they were never a first-timer. I think on the last day, every one of us was out of blood and sweat but hey, it was worth it. But then, the only challenge we faced was the weather. It was quite cloudy on all the two days and light kept fluctuating.
ISA: Besides the explicit story you tell, what did you want to tell to the audience with “Waft”?
VU: See, ‘Waft’ is a shout out to all the lonely people. Cling on, life moves on. Most people tend not to understand how strong are they. They are stronger than what they think. My Ashvath and Aradhya are both strong but somewhere, they fail to understand that.
ISA: How difficult is to to make the audience believe in the characters and feel emotionally linked with a short film?
VU: Minimum time. Maximum impact. That is what short films are all about. Its tough but its definitely challenging. In a short film, the viewer’s concentration is more important than in a feature film. Watching a film in a theater, you are asked to fully focus on the big screen. But with short films, it isn’t the case. People watch it on mobile, laptops, tablets, at different places. I am a person who strongly believes the mood and the surrounding of a viewer have a huge impact on how much he or she likes a film.
ISA: What cinematic influences do you think “Waft” has?
VU: Definitely, a lot has been inspired by Mr. Bash Mohammed, the director of “Prakasan”, a feature film, I assisted. “Prakasan” has been selected to over 5 international film festivals. While working with him, what I learned is that you don’t have to be loud to convey an emotion. You can be really subtle. Secondly, as a huge fan of Dileesh Pothen – a National award-winning Malayalam filmmaker – it was only natural for me to put in deep detailing over every shot.
ISA: Are you happy with the final result or would you change something?
VU: Honestly, I still think I could have conceived one of the scenes a little better. Apart from that, I’m really happy with the way it looks now. Maybe a year from now, when I learn more, I might change my opinion.
ISA: Have you ever feel some constraint by being an Indian filmmaker? Do you think you would be a different director if you live in another country?
VU: I don’t think so. I’m a person who follows a lot of Malayalam films and hardly any films. My international film knowledge is restricted to the films that come to International Film Festival of Kerala. I think in India you can tell any story to anyone, you are not restricted. But of late, I find a weird situation. When I try to connect with co-award winners from another part of the world, I’m often not taken seriously. It is strange, given the fact India has always produced high-quality films.
ISA: Do you have any advice for other independent ﬁlmmakers, particularly for the newcomers?
VU: Advice? Well, it’s just a mantra I follow. Stay true to Cinema, you know Cinema is a beautiful form of art. If you stay true and vow not to try shortcuts, you will be a huge success.
ISA: What are your overall career goals and what’s next?
VU: I want to make Malayalam films. I want to tell the people a lot of stories. I want the audience to leave the theater with a smile / a tear on their face. Currently, I am taking a break. I am trying to build something up for next year.
ISA: What meant for you to be awarded in Independent Shorts Awards?
VU: It meant a lot. Win three awards at Independent Shorts Awards is something we never even dreamt of. It was also the first awards we won for “Waft.”
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