Dheeraj Jindal’s debut short film, ‘The School Bag’ has opened to rave reviews. Now, after the festival circuit, the film is becoming one of the most talked about short films in recent times. Starring Rasika Duggal and Sartaj RK, ‘The School Bag’ tells a poignant, if heart-breaking story of a mother’s love for her son. We caught up with Dheeraj for a conversation about the film.
What made you decide to make ‘The School Bag’?
I was planning to do a short film for quite a while. Anshul Agarwal, the writer of the film is a friend of mine. He narrated the story to me and it reminded me of the actual incident. I really felt that this is the film I want to make my debut with as I feel that I am good at bringing emotions to screen. So, I decided to make this film.
Was it easy to set up the production of the film?
At the initial stage, we thought that short films don’t make money. We thought of a zero budget film, a film that wouldn’t cost a lot to make. We’d try to utilise the resources that we have. But then, the film was based in Pakistan, in Peshawar. To bring that realism, we needed to do a lot of things, as we couldn’t compromise on that. We started with the locations. The locations that we got in Delhi were very expensive and out of our budget. The people who give these locations on rent don’t understand the concept of a short film. For them, a shoot is a shoot.
Someone suggested that we should got to villages that have a larger Muslim population. One of our friends took us to a village called Bullesheher. We quite liked the location. The village has people from Peshawar who had shifted there. The village had lot of things that were very nice but there were some issues, like the colours were not matching the film’s premise. So, we decided not to do the film there. Then, we met Shashikumar Shukla, via a friend. We narrated the story to him, and he immediately agreed to produce the film.
How easy was it to get the cast and crew to agree to the film?
Everybody came on board as soon as they heard the narration. We narrated the film to Rasika. We weren’t in a position to afford her. So, we told her that we can give you a token amount and the flight tickets. She agreed to come on board. We auditioned a couple of children from Delhi for the kid’s role.
We auditioned around 6 to 7 kids. Out of them, we realised that Sartaj will be able to bring this character to life perfectly. He looked quite a bit like the kids who lived in Peshawar. He didn’t know what the whole story was about nor did he had any knowledge about the climax. So, we narrated the story to him – that it was about a kid who wanted a school bag from his mother. We asked him to do a couple of scenes from the script during the audition and he pulled it off very well.
How was Sartaj on the sets?
It is difficult to handle children on the sets. Some find it difficult to handle the aspect of a shoot. A delay would mean losses in lakhs for the producer. But Sartaj, honestly, was a perfect, professional actor. He might be seven years old but he knew what he was getting into. The moment you said ‘action’, he knew that he was responsible for the shot and he was responsible for the character. We shot for 16 hours continuously and he didn’t throw any tantrums. He is quite an energetic kid and would be running around on the set but the moment you say ‘action’, he is the epitome of professionalism. We didn’t need to explain the scene to him. All you needed to do is tell him what the scene is about and he’d know what to do. He is like a future superstar, trust me.
From script to screen, how long did ‘The School Bag’ take?
The whole process took a lot of time. I work in a production house and this was my personal project. That was the case with the other people too. When we shot the film, we had to ensure that everyone was free from their other commitments, because everyone was working for almost free. That’s the reason it got delayed. We actually started shooting six months after the initial narration. After I finished the shoot, I got another project which was for three months. So, the film was just lying around in a hard drive and i could only edit it after three months. We spent at least 20 days on sound, because we were also learning on the job. It took us 9 months to complete the film.
Why do you think more and more mainstream actors are opting for short films?
Short films are the future. They are on the internet, it is easier to reach people. There are problems too – you aren’t sure about the commercial angle. But the best part is that you will get an audience. You need to put it on the right plartform and you know that people will watch it. As a director, it becomes easier to reach people via short films. People also don’t have time to watch a film that has a duration of two or two and a half hours.
Finally, do you think we should have a censor board for the streaming screens?
When it comes to the streaming screens, the audience can decide what to and what not to watch. Here, the audience can opt not to watch something if they don’t like it. So, I don’t think there should be a censor board for the streaming medium. But as film-makers, we should also ensure that whatever films we are making for the Internet are in the right taste. If we are making a 100 short films in a month and 98 are not good, people will lose their trust. Right now, people look forward to short films. The medium is easy to get into, but at the same time, we should value the medium. We shouldn’t play around with it.