Prateek Vats, Arati Kadav, and others talk about how they feel about being BAFTA Breakthrough India 2022 winners and much more!

The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) unveiled ten emerging talents from across the Indian film, games, and television industries that will participate in the ‘BAFTA Breakthrough India’ initiative supported by Netflix. The ten names, are Ajitpal Singh, Director/Writer (Tabbar), Alokananda Dasgupta, Music Composer/Director (Sacred Games – Music Composer), Arati Kadav, Director/Writer (Cargo), Leena Manimekalai, Director/Writer (Maadathy, an Unfairy Tale), Mathivanan Rajendran, Producer (Nirvana Inn), Nakul Verma, Game Director (In My Shadow), Prateek Vats, Director/Writer (Eeb Allay Ooo!), Saumyananda Sahi, Cinematographer (Eeb Allay Ooo!), Shubham, Writer (Eeb Allay Ooo!), and Sumukhi Suresh, Performer (Pushpavalli) were selected by an eminent jury consisting of industry experts including AR Rahman, Apurva Asrani, Anupam Kher, Ratna Pathak Shah, and Shonali Bose. These 10 ‘must watch’ creatives from regions across the country will benefit from professional development and international networking opportunities provided by BAFTA and supported by Netflix.

During the program, the participants will be provided with an opportunity to connect with and learn from the best British and Indian creatives, as well as share their expertise with peers from around the world. Moreover, the participants will receive one-to-one meetings, global networking opportunities, free access to BAFTA events and screenings for 12 months, and full BAFTA voting membership. They will be promoted as BAFTA Breakthrough artists globally, gaining access to international opportunities.

The 2022 Breakthrough India honourees, clockwise from left to right Ajitpal Singh, Director/Writer (Tabbar), Alokananda Dasgupta, Music Composer/Director (Sacred Games – Music Composer), Mathivanan Rajendran, Producer (Nirvana Inn), Arati Kadav, Director/Writer (Cargo), Nakul Verma, Game Director (In My Shadow), Leena Manimekalai, Director/Writer (Maadathy, an Unfairy Tale), Prateek Vats, Director/Writer (Eeb Allay Ooo!), Sumukhi Suresh, Performer (Pushpavalli), Saumyananda Sahi, Cinematographer (Eeb Allay Ooo!), Shubham, Writer (Eeb Allay Ooo!)

Here are some of the participants shining the light on how they feel about being selected for this program and how does this program will help them and artists in general!

How does it feel to be selected and be a part of BAFTA Breakthrough India 2022?

Arati Kadav (Cargo) says, “It feels incredibly delightful to be one of the selected participants of Bafta 2022. The selection process was rigorous and I hugely admire the esteemed judges who are industry stalwarts with an incredible body of work. I feel grateful that they chose me for the program. At the same time, other participants are really bright individuals with whom I am looking forward to collaborating in the future.
I am excited for the new frontiers and the wider canvas that will be made available to all of us and am sincerely thankful for it.”

Prateek Vats (Eeb Allay Ooo’s writer/director) says, “It is an honor to be selected as one of the participants for the BAFTA Breakthrough India 2022.  I feel privileged to be a part of such an exciting and diverse group of artists and look forward to meeting them and picking their brains.”

Leena Manimekalai (Maadathy, an Unfairy Tale’s writer/director) says, “I feel “seen” and “heard” and “valued” which is not always the case for indies in my part of the world. As a female queer filmmaker not born in a very favorable caste and class background, you are always invisibilized, how much ever good work you are able to create. BAFTA Breakthrough Talent Selection tells me what I create matters.”

Alokananda Dasgupta (Sacred Games Music Composer/Director) says, “I have had a very rough couple of years and last year my father, filmmaker Buddhadeb Dasgupta, passed away leaving a huge void in my life. I had lost my mother Kuntala Dasgupta in 2009. This news felt like the best thing that has happened to me in a long time and I keep wanting to share it with my parents. So yes, it feels very emotional and comes as a refreshing silver lining, brings hope. I am honored to be selected and extremely excited for what is about to come.” 

Saumyananda Sahi (Eeb Allay Ooo’s Cinematographer) says, “I am thrilled to be selected for BAFTA Breakthrough India 2022, and am really excited about the new possibilities and learning this program will offer over the year ahead. Having been inspired heavily by the work of filmmakers such as Mike Leigh, Ken Loach, and Joanna Hogg, the possibility of interacting with some of these masters and seeking guidance with regard to my own journey in the film feels like such a great privilege!”

Shubham (Eeb Allay Ooo’s Writer) says, “It’s a great honor to be part of BAFTA Breakthrough India 2022.  I am really excited and looking forward to starting this journey and meeting my fellow participants.”

Mathivanan Rajendran (Nirvana Inn’s Producer) says, “I’m very excited to be in the company of creators who are pushing boundaries in India. Sometimes, you are in a bit of a bubble with your work, and validation like this lets you know you are on the right track. I remember seeing last year’s list and having a distinct feeling of wanting to be a part of this network. Every network provides a new home and I’m really looking forward to this one!”

Nakul Verma (In My Shadow’s Game Director) says, “It is much more than just a proud moment for me. In my journey of making and releasing my game In My Shadow, I have achieved a lot of things that I had never dreamed of. But when I came to know that my work is being recognized by the BAFTA, it made me reflect on my early vision which was solely to make a game that represents art and innovation. This is why this has been an enlightening & humbling experience which assures me that I am on the correct path.”

How do you think this initiative by BAFTA will bring about a change for you, as well as for artists in general?

Arati Kadav (Cargo) says, “I think learnings and opportunities like these enriches one in every sphere of their creative life. These are important checkpoint achievements in one’s career where one gets a rare chance to meet their industry idols, people who have been successful in similar endeavors, and learn from them 1:1. It also opens possibilities to collaborate with artists and producers from outside India and opens new doors to tell fascinating stories that can go global and contribute. Overall opportunities like these validate the hard work the artists have put in for almost a decade to reach this point. And it imparts much-needed experience and exposure to prepare them for the next decade in their lives.”

Prateek Vats (Eeb Allay Ooo’s writer/director) says, “I look forward to the tailored mentoring program under BAFTA. I feel the program will give artists exposure to professionals from varied fields and help them forge long-term relationships through artistic and industry collaborations.”

Prateek Vats, 2022 BAFTA Breakthrough India Honouree

Leena Manimekalai (Maadathy, an Unfairy Tale’s writer/director) says, “Any recognition recharges an artist to do more in an otherwise lonely journey. If this initiative of BAFTA enables us to continue to tell more stories as fiercely independent as we are but still reach a wider audience, it will be a welcome change. I wish more people would trust us, invest in our stories and distribute them with conviction and will.”

Alokananda Dasgupta (Sacred Games Music Composer/Director) says, “The world is getting smaller but the barriers seem only to be getting stronger. In this present dystopian, war-torn reality that we are living in, this BAFTA initiative seems to be bridging the gaps between countries and borders and focusing just on talents and allowing them to further their careers. I have never been the kind of person to stick to a certain region, genre, or culture. I have always wanted to branch out and let my work take me astray all over the globe. I have always wanted my kind of compositional work to be less hierarchical and more collaborative.

Lately, my desire to step out and work on a global platform has only increased and I crave to be a part of great storytelling, like-minded people all across the globe.  I would love to travel and work in shows and movies from the U.K  and all over the world as I feel that my style of music would be very suitable. The content and shows coming from the U.K have been very inspiring and if ever given an opportunity to score for projects like those, I would consider it an honor and my playground to musically explore and experiment further. I believe that this wonderful BAFTA initiative supported by Netflix will allow me to do all of the above. Moreover, It will allow all artists to feel joy in working in such a collaborative and global environment.”

Saumyananda Sahi (Eeb Allay Ooo’s Cinematographer) says, “Being selected for the Breakthrough program opens up avenues to connect with industry professionals in the UK, for networking, career guidance as well as mentorship. While I also had the chance of participating in the Berlinale Talent Campus when I was quite young, which was also a wonderful platform to network professionally and attend masterclasses, what makes BAFTA’s initiative so special is that its support is specifically tailored to the needs of each participant and also that its support is spread over an entire year. This kind of individual attention and nurture feels like both a gift as well as a validation of my past work, and I am truly humbled and grateful for being given this opportunity at this stage of my career. For me personally, the timing of this selection couldn’t have been better, as while I hope to continue working and exploring my craft as a cinematographer, I am also presently preparing for my debut as a writer-director, collaborating with Tanushree Das. I hope to use this wonderful opportunity that BAFTA has given me to aid this new venture.”

Shubham (Eeb Allay Ooo’s Writer) says, “In order to create something new that speaks to more than one kind of audience, one would be forced to rethink form and the medium and break out of familiar worlds and rhythms. I think that is certainly the most exciting and appealing part of this program for all the participants— the opportunity to collaborate with other artists and to create something we otherwise may not have.”

Mathivanan Rajendran (Nirvana Inn’s Producer) says, “BAFTA breakthrough facilitates connections with an international network and I think this will help me sharpen my approach to producing and building a network for future work. The BAFTA network stretches across the world and I’m waiting for the happy accidents that it will bring about.”

Nakul Verma (In My Shadow’s Game Director) says, “People like us love to create and sometimes tend to get lost in our own ideas. We need opportunities to learn and grow amongst other artists who have been in our situation before and have achieved greatness in their respective fields. Through this initiative, I hope to learn from the immensely talented network and valuable opportunities that BAFTA has to offer so that I can continue to push the boundaries of imagination in the world of video games.”

Some of them even deep-dived into talking about their projects!

To Arati Kadav: The marriage of Sc-Fi with mythology is rarely seen but you ended up portraying it beautifully, so how did you come up with this idea of marrying two of these fairly contradicting subjects together to tell a story like Cargo?  And what do you think about Independent cinema now can go beyond film festivals and reaching a mass audience through OTT?

She says, “Yes the idea for me was to tell a sci-fi story that is rooted in the subcontinent. At that time, I was reading about various myths of various cultures across the globe. And creation and afterlife myths have always been the most fascinating stories humans have told since time immemorial. When I remembered and researched more on the afterlife myth of India, I felt we, as a generation inheriting it, could add something of our own to it. And that amalgamation became the story of Cargo.

Regarding independent cinema – yes, when I was making Cargo I was only aiming at the film festivals. I never anticipated a Netflix release that would lead to so many discussions and buzz. So it was a huge bonus and I am so thankful that it played out this way.”

To Parteek Vats: What was it that drove you towards making Eeb Allay Ooo? And what do you think about Independent cinema now can go beyond film festivals and reaching a mass audience through OTT?

He says, “The inherent absurdity of this situation is what drew me into this film. For me, it summed up the prevalent situation in my country – a nation-state propped up on the dehumanized, quite literally in this case, the labor of its citizens. Eeb Allay Ooo! is a response to the world around us – a world which is hard to make sense of – a world where being a monkey is far more liberating than being human.

It is wonderful to have multiple OTT platforms which have helped audiences find diverse independent films. It gives strength and courage to more producers to embark on films that push on the envelope of form and content. I hope it  can lead to a sustainable ecosystem for the production and distribution of Indian independent films.”

To Saumyananda Sahi: What were the challenges that you faced to shoot a film like Eeb Allay Ooo! which is a unique piece involving animals and also is an independent film?

He says, “The making of ‘Eeb Allay Ooo!’ certainly did pose a very unique set of challenges. First and foremost, the location: Lutyens’ Delhi is possibly the most guarded area in the country, with heavy restrictions and an overwhelming military presence. It is extremely difficult to shoot here, even with permissions – which explains why there are so few films made with this as a primary location. Second, of course, was shooting with monkeys – who are not always the most cooperative animals on a film set. And last but not least was the budget, which was shoestring. To navigate these challenges we took some important decisions right at the outset. It was clear that our location demanded us to be a small and agile team, capable of being fast, flexible and discreet in our work. Our ethic had to be often almost documentary: working primarily with natural light, often in the midst of crowds who needed to be unaware of the fact that we were filming. So the crew was paired down to an absolute minimum: at times it was only four or five of us on location, often working separately so that we wouldn’t draw attention. Almost every member of the team was not only the head of the department but an entire department in themselves. I for example had to handle everything related to the camera: carrying equipment, filming, and also pulling focus. The documentary approach also helped with the monkeys: instead of trying to make the monkeys act we searched to capture their behavior first and only later work a scene around certain moments, we had already filmed. However, we were clear from the outset that regardless of all these constraints we wanted the film to have a visual style that was both unhurried and cinematic, the camera had to own the spaces even if in reality we were shooting guerrilla. To achieve this the most important thing we needed – more than budget – was time. We did not hurry. Sometimes we would return to a scene over and over again. We would only shoot when the light was correct. And of course, we worked as a team. Shooting ‘Eeb Allay Ooo!’ was one of the most collaborative experiences I have had, and Prateek’s trust in all of us as his team enabled each of us to make decisions on the spot and be spontaneous – without which we wouldn’t have been able to shoot the way we did.”

Saumyananda Sahi, 2022 BAFTA Breakthrough India Honouree

To Shubham: Writing is tough and oftentimes a lonesome job so how did you go from idea/ concept reach to the final draft for a film like Eeb Allay Ooo?

I feel that a film like eeb allay ooo! Demands you to be outside on the roads and try to understand the plight of migrant workers by approaching them sensitively. So automatically we started spending a lot of time with Mahinder (a real-life monkey repeller who also played an important role in the film), trying to understand his life and his job in the most guarded area of Delhi. We wanted to look at this Delhi from a migrant working class gaze. Research also included the following and trying to understand the behavior and daily routine of monkeys in Lutyen’s Delhi. We really had to be very patient doing that.

But I was very clear from the start that I didn’t want to write a film just about this odd job. There is a lot of absurdity around us and this film is also a reaction to the times we are living in.

Another challenge was to transform these spaces into cinematic and psychological landscapes. My interest in paintings and installation art really helped me create scenes that are in this real world but have a texture of absurdity which allows us to get a sense of the functioning of this flawed contractual labor system.

Shubham, 2022 BAFTA Breakthrough India Honouree

To Mathivanan Rajendran: What were the challenges you faced while producing Nirvana Inn?

He says, “The production of the film was in very difficult weather conditions and terrain and we maintained a very lean crew. We were shooting in Manali, with lights from Chandigarh, and camera units from Chennai. The difference in communication styles and cultures of the diverse group created a fair bit of tension. Sometimes, I can’t make up my mind what was more challenging – The complexity of mapping schedules to the rain or handling heated roti vs rice debates. We had a decent festival run at different genre festivals but being a psychological horror film it was a challenge to position the film in India.

To Alokananda Dasgupta: The music of Sacred Games is so unique so how did you ever end up deciding on it? Were you composing while the show was being shot, or was it just the script, or did you see the footages, what was the process, and how did you end up composing for Scared Games?

She says, “It is the show that inspired such music. It is a rare moment in a musician’s career to get completely immersed in the story and naturally feel inspired by the narrative. Not only did the script/story draw my attention, but the entire world of Sacred Games also rattled me musically and ultimately it was the images that inspired me to create the music. It’s always the story, the images, and the director that contribute to my creative expression. In this case, I had all of it. At first, I was mesmerized by the writing, after which I composed the opening theme which almost acted as the summary of the entire show. I knew that if my interpretation of the opening credit is ok then I am in the right musical zone for the score and mood of the film.

Vikramaditya Motwane’s directions were so detailed and vivid that they completely edified my entire approach to the score. I had finally found my playground to experiment in. I started the scoring only after the show was shot and edited. We did it reel wise and time was short. I considered each episode to be an entire film or a complete story. Vikram had beautifully broken down the two worlds to me, one of Sartaj and the other of Gaitonde. I understood that Sartaj’s world was more emotional, linear, factual, and action-driven whereas Gaitonde’s world was more mystical and expressionistic; I had a lot of room to experiment there. Most importantly, it is this process of scoring and composing the songs for Sacred Games that remains something very precious for me, with my sister Rajeshwari Dasgupta who wrote the wonderful lyrics, with Anish John, the sound designer, who brought music and sound together with such craftiness, and of course, with the showrunner and one of the directors, Vikram, who taught me so much about scoring.

Congratulations to all the winners and hope we get to see more and more of their works in the future! And to know what Sumukhi Suresh feels about this and talking about Pushpavalli head to @socialketchupbinge.

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