We talked to Soni's writer Kislay, Gangubai Kathiawadi's sound artist Sanal George, and other artists who won the BAFTA Breakthrough India 2023. Check out what they had to say about this opportunity and their projects!
The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA), in partnership with Netflix, has unveiled 10 upcoming individuals from the screen industries selected for BAFTA Breakthrough India 2023. In this historic first, BAFTA simultaneously introduces its UK, USA, and India participants, with 42 talented individuals selected globally. The ten names for BAFTA Breakthrough India 2023 were selected by a distinguished jury of industry experts, including Jury Chair and BAFTA Breakthrough Ambassador Guneet Monga Kapoor (Producer, Founder & CEO, Sikhya Entertainment), Manvendra Shukul (CEO, Lakshya Digital), Monika Shergill (Vice President, Content – Netflix India), Rajiv Menon (Filmmaker), Naman Ramachandran (Critic & Journalist), Sid Roy Kapur (Founder of Roy Kapur Films & Producer), Shaunak Sen (Filmmaker) and Ratna Pathak Shah (Actor, Theatre Director).
The list of BAFTA Breakthrough India 2023 participants is:
Abhay Koranne | Writer - Rocket Boys
Abhinav Tyagi | Editor - An Insignificant Man
Don Chacko Palathara | Director/Writer - Joyful Mystery
Kislay| Writer – Soni
Lipika Singh Darai | Director/Writer - Some Stories Around Witches
Miriam Chandy Menacherry | Producer - From the Shadows and The Leopard's Tribe
Pooja Rajkumar Rathod | Cinematographer - Secrets of the Elephants
Sanal George | Sound Editor/Mixer/Designer - Gangubai Kathiawadi
Satya Rai Nagpaul | Cinematographer – Ghoomketu
Shardul Bhardwaj | Performer - Eeb Allay Ooo
We had a chat with Kislay- Soni (Writer), Lipika Singh Darai- Some Stories Around Witches (Director/Writer), Miriam Chandy Menacherry- From the Shadows and The Leopard's Tribe (Producer), Pooja Rajkumar Rathod- Secrets of the Elephants (Cinematographer), Sanal George- Gangubai Kathiawadi (Sound Editor/Mixer/Designer), and Shardul Bhardwaj- Eeb Allay Ooo (Performer). Here's what they had to say:
How does it feel to be selected and be a part of BAFTA Breakthrough India 2023?
Kislay (Soni- Writer) says, "It is a wonderful opportunity, and I got interested in this program and thought of applying since last year because some of my colleagues and friends who participated earlier had great things to say about how they could interact with some of the leading filmmakers as well as members of the industry and how that helped them in just planning things out for future in terms of both creative projects but also in the sense of growing with the cohorts. Broadly, I feel it's a wonderful opportunity because you are able to learn not only from seniors but also from the people who are participants with you. I hope that we will also get a chance to interact with other cohorts that are not only from India but also from the UK, the US, and China. As I understand it currently, we are all uniquely placed at this point where one has to still gain experience, but one is not a fresher and has made films before. So, just in terms of sharing concerns, information, and creative things that help you, it makes you feel like you are part of a group even though you're working on your project; sometimes alone, you keep these conversations that go back and forth. BAFTA, being the brand that it is a part of and having a huge number of very honored members, is also a welcome opportunity. In fact, for the last 2 to 3 years since the COVID lockdown happened, I have been listening to the lecture series of BAFTA, which they put online on YouTube, and it has been very informative to me as a writer as well as a director. There are very long sessions with the masters, and they are very informative about the kind of work they attempt to do as well as the kind of rules they break to achieve their originality. So it isn’t like learning a formulaic way of making this is how it happens. Rather, it is about how they arrive at their voice, and frankly speaking, that has been one of the great learnings just while listening to it. So now to be a part of BAFTA and get to interact with some such people would be a lovely opportunity."
Sanal George (Gangubai Kathiawadi- Sound Editor/Mixer/Designer) says, "Basically, after working in the industry for the past 15 years, this feels like a validation of your work, your effort, or whatever you have been putting through in the past so many years. So you feel that something you're doing is right and people are appreciating your work. You being selected to this such a big program just makes you feel great."
Shardul Bhardwaj (Eeb Allay Ooo- Performer) says, "I'm grateful to the jury and to BAFTA who are giving me this opportunity in an individual fashion. I am more than delighted to be on the list of people whose work I've admired, who are friends who are part of the ecosystem that I work in. So, for example, Kislay, who made Soni, or Satya, who shot Ghoomketu, Aligarh, and Sanal, who sound-designed Gangubai, these people are at the very forefront of what Indian cinema can be in the future. So it's a great delight to be on any list with these people and all the others on the list."
Lipika Singh Darai (Some Stories Around Witches- Director/Writer) says, "Of course, it feels great because BAFTA has more than 70 years of history, and when such a body validates you and your work, it helps other people to understand your work properly. I'm not from a mainstream industry, and neither my work comes under that category, which is very understandable by the common audience. But if a body like BAFTA validates your work and selects you for this kind of program, then I think people get their perspective right that these filmmakers are doing something, so we should just follow their work or watch their films, and that feels nice."
Miriam Chandy Menacherry (From the Shadows and The Leopard's Tribe- Producer) says, "It feels really overwhelming and exciting at the same time. It was the year 2022 that was a breakthrough year for me given that it was post-pandemic and in the pandemic, we wrapped up two rare documentary films and finished the post on a feature doc that took six years to make as well as another shorter documentary that was shot during the pandemic. So, it feels like this wonderful new opening. Usually, after you finish something, you're like completely drained, but on the other hand, I'm excited about all the possibilities, and meeting the other filmmakers in my cohort makes me feel like I'm in good company amongst a lot of like-minded people who in their respective areas have done remarkable work which is great."
Pooja Rajkumar Rathod (Secrets of the Elephants- Cinematographer) says, "I'm very excited because I wasn't really expecting to be a part of the cohort because I thought the world of wildlife documentaries was completely different, and this was a very mainstream focus. But considering there is this need for people in wildlife stories, and we've seen it in the last two Oscar films with 'My Octopus Teacher' and 'The Elephant Whisperers'. I am thrilled and looking forward to meeting people and talking to them about the different stories from India, as it is a land of so many different stories, so it’s brilliant to get this opportunity."
How do you think this initiative by BAFTA will bring about a change for you, as well as for artists in general?
Kislay (Soni- Writer) says, "I think it gives us global exposure and encourages us to collaborate not only with creative fellow filmmakers based in India but outside the country as well. This, in turn, brings about a fresh perspective creatively and aesthetically as well as looking at things globally. So what happens sometimes is that while working within a particular regional boundary, you get cocooned within the norm that particular industry follows. By encouraging these talents to be part of a global network of individuals one gains the ability to look not just at the specific thing but also look at it globally. And while we will share our local individual stories, I think this global exposure will definitely help us a lot. It will not only help us during the next one year of the course but also to move ahead forward. The kind of attention it brings to young people is also a very welcome thing because then one gets to interact and see a wide range of people working in different languages. So for example, even in the 2023 cohorts, there have been people who are not only part of the Hindi film industry, but who have been a part of a regional film industry, and just interacting with them one could get to learn so much about what is different in the way they work. So immediately it brings a fresh perspective and I think over the years, it's a very welcome initiative to just to just provide this institutional kind of support to all these individual voices."
Sanal George (Gangubai Kathiawadi- Sound Editor/Mixer/Designer) says, "Basically in my department, how this film industry works is through collaborations that happen with word of mouth, so there is no platform for us to understand or meet similar kinds of people or where we want to collaborate or they want to collaborate. This kind of initiative will bring all of these people together and then we can all collaborate in future projects and make something good. Every time we can't just go online and search for people who we want to work with. Especially for sound designers like me you just cannot go to Facebook or places like these where you end up maybe working with not the correct people. Most of the time, somebody suggests my name to someone and somebody suggests a director to me and that’s how it works. But I think when a lot of people from the country who are highly talented come together a lot of good things happen, otherwise it's very difficult for all these people to come together on a single platform. It’s great that BAFTA is giving you a platform where you're able to meet like-minded people to speak to and understand. One major thing is networking and the other thing is we get to meet or have a master class or collaborate with some other great artists across the world, which is going to be immensely insightful and amazing."
Shardul Bhardwaj (Eeb Allay Ooo- Performer) says, "Prestigious opportunities like these serve as a boost to keep on working in the direction or on things that one wants to do. In a way, it’s almost like a reaffirmation of the belief that one has had and a nudge towards start thinking about something fresh as well."
Lipika Singh Darai (Some Stories Around Witches- Director/Writer) says, "An artist of course needs some sort of recognition from people. It might be that some need a particular niche to recognise their work while others need a wider audience. For me the way I make films, I always wanted to reach out first to my audience in my state because in my state I might be the only woman film director who is making documentaries and short films. And only one or two women filmmakers are working in the fiction field. But I think if you look for a woman filmmaker, my body of work will be only visible work from Orissa and we have a population of more than 46 million. So recognition is very important for the audience in the sense of how the artist is recognized by whom though it should not be the case but unfortunately it is. And this will help in reaching out to more audiences and my work will also speak to many."
Miriam Chandy Menacherry (From the Shadows and The Leopard's Tribe- Producer) says, "I see films as a sort of cultural bridge and have grown through collaborations where it is a sort of cultural capital that we are sharing and wonderful sort of relationships that take films into new spaces, and new audiences as well as bring fresh talent to the creative making process itself. So I'm excited that the BAFTA breakthrough has come about right now as it's the right time for me. I see myself as a mid-career filmmaker and sometimes when you start, you have a certain spot and when you are at your mid-career, there is a certain plateauing. So I feel this is gonna give me all the new sort of incentive to build those bridges, find those ways to collaborate and do something really meaningful and grow as a creative professional, as well as newfound energy from all of this."
Pooja Rajkumar Rathod (Secrets of the Elephants- Cinematographer) says, "Considering there are very few women wildlife cinematographers from India it just gives opportunities and opens doors for women who want to pursue a career in wildlife cinematography. It's rare to see a woman in the wildlife documentary world because it is generally considered to be like a man's field, you know. It has been like that for a long time but then it's changing now and in India, it has just about started to change. So if people see that there are opportunities given to women who are interested in pursuing say cinematography or producer or being a director, they'll be encouraged to stay in this field or take up this as a career."
Over the last two years, the BAFTA Breakthrough program, in partnership with Netflix, has supported the cohorts in networking with global industry experts, including D.B Weiss (Producer, Director, Writer), Emma Lawson (BBC Comedy Commissioner), Howard Shore (Composer), Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Actress, Producer, Writer), and Vishal Gondal (CEO, GOQii, nCore Games), amongst others. The initiative has also opened doors for participants, facilitating industry meetings with Chaitanya Hegde (Tulsea), Rob Carlson (United Talent Agent, US), Tarsame Mittal (TM Talent Management), and more. Breakthroughs like Jay Pinak Oza have received one-on-one mentorship from Mira Nair and Shonali Bose with potential collaborations in the works, while Karthikeya Murthy is working on a Hindi feature film, with multiple projects lined up in Hindi, Tamil and English.
Jane Millichip, Chief Executive Officer, BAFTA, said: “BAFTA Breakthrough is a gold standard program. And the fact that we are celebrating our tenth anniversary is a testament to the dedication of our incredible alumni, industry supporters, juries, and industry advisers. I’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who has contributed over the years, particularly to our partner Netflix. This year’s cohort is impressive, having already achieved credits in high-end TV drama, debut films, documentaries, hair and make design; and game design. BAFTA Breakthrough is designed to harness that early success and develop the skills for life-long, rewarding careers. Congratulations to this year’s BAFTA Breakthroughs.”
Guneet Monga Kapoor, BAFTA Breakthrough India Ambassador and Jury Chair, said: “There is no shortage of creative talent in India as demonstrated by the previous two iterations of Breakthrough. We had a tough time choosing ten deserving candidates from an enormous pool of fresh candidates. It will be exciting to see how they harness BAFTA Breakthrough's opportunities to hone their craft on a global stage.”
Monika Shergill, Vice President of Content, Netflix India said: “India has a wealth of emerging talent and we’re thrilled to be able to work with BAFTA on the BAFTA Breakthrough initiative to provide them an opportunity to be chosen. It’s truly rewarding to be able to empower these emerging creatives to showcase and enhance their skills. This year, we’ve identified an incredible group and we look forward to helping to nurture their talents and make this an enriching and once-in-a-lifetime moment for them.”
During the year-long program, the BAFTA Breakthroughs will receive professional development, industry meetings, and global networking opportunities with the academy’s 12,000-strong global membership, alongside free access to BAFTA events and screenings for 12 months and full BAFTA voting rights on the academy’s world-leading film, games, and television awards. Further details are in the notes to editors. BAFTA’s flagship new talent program celebrates its tenth anniversary this year. Since 2013, it has supported over 200 rising talents, including Aadip Desai, Arati Kadav, Charu Desodt, Florence Pugh, James LeBrecht, Jay Pinak Oza, Josh O’Connor, Karthikeya Murthy, Letitia Wright, Sumukhi Suresh, Tanya Maniktala, Tom Holland, amongst many others.
Talking about their projects!
Given the kind of film this is what was the toughest part of making this film?
Kislay (Soni- Writer) says, "For filmmakers who don't immediately seek finance from a well-established industry as when you are a young filmmaker and want to say something in your own voice you don't want to immediately submit to the rules of the industry. So the first part of financing the film and getting the team together always remains the toughest part even from friends and other filmmakers. I know in terms of just having an idea and imagination is the first step but after that just the implementation of it and how it will be implemented remains the toughest part. So finance always remains the toughest part for creatives like us. Other than that, it's of course the toughest part is to try and break the norm in the sense of trying something new but also making sure that you can communicate. So not just breaking the norm for the sake of it but attempting to communicate something essential and trying to communicate it freshly is the challenging part creatively speaking."
Miriam Chandy Menacherry (From the Shadows and The Leopard's Tribe- Producer) says, "The film tackles almost a taboo subject which is child sex trafficking, so handling the sensitivities of that and winning the trust of survivors is a responsibility to shoulder. It's also a legal minefield that we had to navigate because you have to be true to the subject. And at the same time, be really clear about how you're putting out the story. I think with so many challenges that we had I almost four times thought that I would completely give up on the film. But this collaboration of working with other women who are part of my crew, the haunting sort of imagery that I always felt while shooting with the survivors and that sort of feeling that they are so sure they want to get their story out that I kind of found the courage and tenacity to get it out. We also took a lot of legal sort of help to make sure that we were doing things within a certain framework. We got a very prestigious fellowship called the Global Media Makers Fellowship, which helped us because we never knew that the pandemic would happen soon after just when we were facing all these issues one of the main protagonists told us that she would like her identity concealed and yet she wanted her story out. So we had to spend all of the pandemic in the post-production studio finding creative ways to tell her story. And I think without the support that we got through the fellowship, it might have been really difficult to do that. We won a very prestigious impact grant last year but still, at a time when Indian filmmakers even though are winning global recognition are finding it really difficult to show their films in India. We've been fortunate that despite us handling such a sensitive film, we could take the film directly to youth who are the most affected by trafficking and also to the biggest stakeholders for change- anti-trafficking stakeholders and law enforcement. So, it's been an incredibly enriching journey."
Working with Sanjay Leela Bhansali is not easy, how did you decide on the sound design of Gangubai Kathiawadi that speaks so much with all its sensory aspects?
Sanal George (Gangubai Kathiawadi- Sound Editor/Mixer/Designer) says, “Working with Sanjay Leela Bhansali was my dream from FTTI since the time I saw Black and Saawariyan I became a huge fan of Sanjay sir. So when I landed up Gangubai it was a dream come true and I was there throughout the shoot with him over that period of 150 days. Being there with him from the very beginning, helped me understand what kind of filmmaker he is in real life rather than just watching his film helped me in the process of sound design. We started with designing the sound from the middle of the shoot only, I would take in his suggestions, and all the minute details he had offered as he is very particular about details, so we incorporated all those stuff and it was a three-year-long journey of doing Gangubai, from the shoot till editing with all the COVID waves and lockdown. So filmmaking is a collaboration, I need to understand his vision and build upon it with my ideas, process, and team of sound editors. And that’s exactly what we did.”
How difficult is it to perform in a film that borders on such a topic and takes a certain filmmaking approach towards filming? How do you prepare yourself for it?
Shardul Bhardwaj (Eeb Allay Ooo- Performer) says, "Each project is different but the simplest way is to spend as much time as you can in the field because the occupation depicted in the film is very real. So, people who are in the film actually do that job. So Mahendra in Eeb Allay Ooo very gracefully took me in, taught me the ropes, and was in the film with me. They have served as guides and mentors both on and off camera. And most importantly, I think when you make films like these they're not as compartmentalized as a commercial cinema because of its various limitations and dictates. They exist as more what would one call a fluid department. So no one person can say oh I am only doing camera I am in the camera team. Someone who's the cinematographer's assistant also has to worry about the production design and the production designer has to worry about the actors and the actors have to worry about costume production design. In some cases, some shots taken by Saumyananada Sahi, who was also the BAFTA breakthrough India last time, were taken in collaboration with me. As we were shooting with monkeys not a lot of people could go close to the scene that was being shot. So there would be times when I'd be running with a landscape, he'd be running with a tripod and the camera without a focus puller and one is running towards what the scene has to be. And he's giving me a 24 lens and I'm asking for a 50 lens and I'm giving him that, putting it back into the lens case so that it doesn't break, put it nicely behind the camera, run into the scene, do it and just hope for the best and then come back. Similarly, I'm credited for costumes on Eeb as well but it's just the basis of credit because one had to do it that way. Most importantly, first of all, investing in ecosystems of friendships and real connections both in terms of the art that you want to do and also on personal levels because it's only then that these films with these frugal means and that kind of honesty and stubborn dedication can come about. These films are made by a collaborative process. You take any one person out of this film and that film will never be made. So I think Eeb exists in my life as a moment in time that cannot be repeated because of the people who came together and the capacities that they had and continue to have."
Given the topic you covered, what was the most interesting revelation that came to you through this project that you didn't even think was possible?
Lipika Singh Darai (Some Stories Around Witches- Director/Writer) says, "This project is one of the most difficult and important projects in my entire life of these many years. When I made the film, I wasn't prepared as a filmmaker to make a film on a subject that is so complex. I covered three witch-hunting cases which were devastating as a person. As a filmmaker, I also edited the film myself and it was going to be telecast on national television. I was more excited that it would reach so many people. But I didn't know I could make that film because I intended to come to Orissa and cover those issues or cover those subject, which hasn't been covered. So, I pushed myself and made that film which took me more than two years, but I understood my state, and my country so well after being with that reality, and I covered all these districts that are close to my home district. So, yeah, one was that another very difficult thing which I understood is the idea of development is in so many layers as I was dealing with the last layer which was just beneath every layer. So that was a little disturbing thing and also a very strong thing I discovered during the making of the film."
What was it that made you decide to go for this approach of cinematography for this film?
Pooja Rajkumar Rathod (Secrets of the Elephants- Cinematographer) says, "Because of my love for forests and observing animals, my background has always included wildlife biology as I have been a marine biologist. But at some point as a researcher, I felt restricted because you only get to spend a certain amount of time on the field and hence I switched fields and took up cinematography. This project was like a dream project for me because elephants are my favorite animals and I've always wanted to look forward to projects where I'm spending months watching elephants or following a particular herd of elephants, this film gave me that opportunity where I was observing elephants in the forest, but also in people landscapes. Considering India’s population we constantly come in contact with wild animals, be it leopards, tigers, or elephants. And there's a place in the documentary that also shows a story about where these elephants pass through these villages and towns. And then how there are people who are working to protect the villagers and the landscapes while at the same time helping elephants use those landscapes. So it was like a perfect project where you show the reality of the wild animals in India at the same time their character in their forest world, you show emotions like elephants are one of the most sentient animals. They show feelings that we can relate to, like jealousy, competition, or love. They care for their young ones, there are so many things that you learn while watching elephants. If you're working on your favorite animal, I feel like that also brings out the better of your skills and this was truly a dream project for me."
Congratulations to all the winners and hope we get to see more and more of their works in the future!
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