The journey is more important than the destination. National award winner Indrani Chakrabarti’s expedition into the forays of filmmaking has been challenging, demanding and rewarding. In 2017 she received the prestigious National Award for the Best Adventure Film for her documentary “Ladakh Chale Rickshawala”.
With several documentaries and short films in her directorial hat, she has always been able to make her audience sit up and take note of what she has to say. Her short film ‘Ekti Choto Chobi’ in Bengali and documentary ‘Destiny’ have received critical appreciation in various film festivals nationally and internationally including the MIFF, The Dhaka International Film Festival and Kurz International Film Festival, Hamburg, Germany to name a few.
Known for her unique story-telling techniques and out-of-the-box subjects, Indrani realized the need to be prepared to undertake this journey very early in life. Often the trail was like a desert of despair and loneliness with occasionally an oasis of fruition and joy. According to her, life presents a wide spectrum of opportunities and thus one must make a persistent endeavor to be grateful and happy.
In our interview with Indrani we explore her take on life ,challenges of being a woman filmmaker and a single mother and her journey on making unconventional choices in life.
Your film ‘Ladakh Chale Rickshawala’ has won the National Award for the Best Adventure Film last year. How much of an achievement is it to you? Do you feel you have finally ‘arrived’?
Honestly, I did not expect to get the National Award. A lot of emotions and effort have gone in to making the film. The award is an encouragement for filmmakers like us. Now people have a lot of expectations from you after such awards; they keep asking - what are you doing next. So there is a lot of responsibility associated to it. You have to keep performing and giving people good films.
You had done your masters in Economics how did you come into filmmaking? Have you also done some professional course in filmmaking?
Since my undergraduate days I was interested in working in the audio visual media but I did not know how to go about it. My father was very adamant that I had to do my Masters; a Bachelors degree was hardly a degree. So while I was doing my Master degree in Economics, I found an opportunity to work for a local cable channel called CCCN in those days. I used to work there in the evenings after my Masters Degree classes, as a production co-ordinator. While I was working there I realized that I have to learn. No matter how creative I am I have to learn the art of filmmaking. SRFTI was not there at that point of time and going to Pune Film Institute was not possible for me, so I found out about an institute called Chitrabani, that is a small film institute run by the Jesuit Fathers. I did two courses from there – one was a script writing course and the other was a filmmaking course. I realized that there is a lot to learn – how to see a film is also a big part of learning. Of course the other technicalities of making a film were there but reading film had to be learnt. After that I worked in a TV satellite channel for two years. Then I started working independently and my journey as a filmmaker began.
Nowadays many woman filmmakers are making a niche in the film industry. How difficult or easy is it for a woman to make a mark in this profession?
Most professions are more challenging for a woman than for a man. In filmmaking it is a lot more challenging. Filmmaking has two sides – one, in front of the camera and two, behind the camera. I work mostly behind the camera. As a filmmaker the biggest challenge is to find a producer for a film. Other creative challenges can still be worked around. But without a producer it is impossible to make a big budget film. And to find a producer there is no definite way. You need to meet people, you need to hang around with people, you need to connect to people and then you know who is interested in your work, who you can approach. But this hanging around without a definite procedure is a big challenge. For men it is easier to hang out with a group of people over beer and dinner; there is better camaraderie and you build your rapport. But when there are more men in the industry and lesser women, for women to hang around in a similar way is a lot more difficult. People tend to take wrong signals and you find yourself in trouble sometimes. Moreover most big budget films are mostly made by men. People normally do not trust women with so much money. People still believe that women are not good at handling lots and lots of money. Another thing is that women have homes to manage too. They have to keep one eye at their homes also. That is another side that they have to take care. So certainly for a woman things are much more challenging.
You are a single parent. How do you balance your duty to raise a kid and do justice to your profession which is so demanding of your time and attention?
I have a son who is 8 yrs old. It is not a challenge because it is most natural for women to be a mother. Your source of sustenance is the child – you live for the child. But certainly there are practical problems which one has to face. I am lucky I have my parents to take care of my child. But it is just the physical taking care. As a single parent I have to be both the mother and the father. That is double the effort I need to put in. And then when I am working then my time gets divided between my work and my home. That balance is very critical because often I have to decide which is more important, which one requires my attention more at that point in time. This decision making is very difficult at times. But nevertheless if you are sincere to both the sides you certainly find a way out.
Where do you finally want to reach in this profession?
More than the goal, it is the journey that is important. But I do want to reach a stage where every morning when I get up and I think of my work, I am able to make the kind of films that I want to make. At the moment, I have to spend a lot of time making the bread and butter kind of films, that is, commissioned films. Making my kind of films which are creatively satisfying are rare and far between. I want to reach a stage when I would be only making creatively satisfying films which I call MY FILMS. And also if I can conceive a film, I should be able to make that film i.e. I should never face the constraints of funds. That is where I want to see myself.
How important are awards?
Awards are good, they are source of encouragement definitely but I will certainly not make my films for awards. The appreciation of the people is important but still the main reason for me to make my films is because there are certain things I want to say to a wider audience. Films are the best medium right now to communicate those ideas. So I want to communicate my ideas and I want people to receive it well.
We all have been through ups and downs in our lives. When faced with setbacks what do you do to keep yourself in a positive frame of mind?
This journey of a filmmaker is very lonely. When you succeed many people come and applaud you but when you are in the process of trying to make a film it is lonely and difficult. It might take years before you get to make a film. That is the time when you must keep your confidence that it will happen. Even in your personal life you may go through some dark phases. It is very important to retain positivity during those times.
There were a few years in my life which could be regarded as the dark phase of my life. Both in the professional as well as in the personal front I was going through a low phase. The psychological pressure affected my health as well so much so that I would collapse often without any defined illness. It is then that I started meditating and believing in spiritual practices. I would get up very early in the morning and spend time in silence listening to the inner voice. I realized through deep meditation that the soul that we all are is very powerful. The inner power if harnessed properly can be used to achieve anything. Also I started seriously believing in the existence of a Supreme Power or God. During meditation every morning and also during the whole day I draw tremendous strength from that Power. Within a few months of starting the practice I indeed started seeing change in my life. The change first came at the thought level. There was mental peace and enthusiasm and then the change started getting manifested outside, in the professional life and in relationships. I now believe that when I change from within the world outside also changes. I am continuing with the practice of refining the thoughts and drawing strength from the Supreme Power. With faith in oneself and that in that Supreme Power we can glide over the unpleasant phases in our lives.
There are many who want to live lives on their own choices and terms but somehow are afraid. What is your message to them?
Life is a very big opportunity. One should make the most of it because one does not know what will happen tomorrow. Every moment we should try to find something to be happy about. That we are alive, physically strong and mentally sound are enough reasons to be happy. There may be challenging times but if we can take a leap of faith and have confidence in ourselves there is no need to be afraid-we can get out of any despair.