Interview: Vikkramm Chandirramani
Interview done by Prarthana Mitra
[dropcap]V[/dropcap]ikkramm Chandirramani’s Destiny locates itself in the romantic comedy genre but instead of bordering on the sentimental, it uses light-hearted humor and relatable anecdotes to paint an honest picture of the Indian dating scene. In fact, that is one of the subjects Chandirramani has considerable expertise in, as the founder of Futurescopes, a relationship, dating and astrology website.
Chandirramani’s lens captures the changing nature and meaning of relationships in India, where online dating recently made its foray. As we follow Tanya and Derek on their quest for true love in a digitized world, we are reminded of the role that destiny plays through a remarkable twist in the classic tale.
1. What has your experience in filmmaking been so far?
Vikkramm: I’ve spent my whole life so far, obsessed with making films, watching films of all genres and made by filmmakers from various countries. I wanted to get into filmmaking even when I was in my teens but it was an uphill task because film cameras still dominated the scene.
Then digital cameras came along and YouTube, Facebook and Twitter democratized the process of making films, making it easier to reach a global audience. Suddenly it seemed possible to make a film and have people watch it. I bought a DSLR camera, spent a couple of years learning the ropes, reading about filmmaking, direction, acting, production, cinematography, music, lights, editing, post-production. I learned all of this myself from books and videos. I’ve never assisted any professional filmmaker. My father was an accomplished writer, having written 12 books in his lifetime including biographies, short stories and fiction. My reading has also been varied because of my Dad.
I have been writing since I was a kid. So that came naturally to me. I did an acting course from The Roshan Taneja Acting School to experience acting first hand. After this I made my first short film titled ‘Screwdriver’. This was a liberal take on the culture of bans in India where it seems to take little to ban anything. Alcohol is banned in several states. Beef is banned. Khap panchayats routinely ban mobile phones. Colleges in urban cities ban short skirts without a second thought. My film mocked some of those bans and the culture of red tape. It received critical acclaim and was screened at The Endless Mountains Film Festival in Pennsylvania, USA where many contemporary filmmakers spoke about it in glowing terms.
However, I realized that while ‘Screwdriver’ was well received by critics, cinema today needs to be youth-centric because most people online are relatively young. So I wrote several short screenplays and decided to make ‘Destiny’. We had moderate expectations from it but once we released it, it just took a life of its own! As I speak, it is inching closer to the 2 million views mark on YouTube. I have also just returned from New York where it was awarded ‘The Best Foreign Film’ at the Ridgewood Guild International Film Festival’, Ridgewood, NJ, USA and screened at the NCCC Film and Animation Festival, Buffalo, NY. It has surpassed my expectations!
2. Tell us a bit about the shoot—how did you prep the actors, how long the entire process took? Any memorable anecdotes?
Vikkramm: With ‘Destiny’, I wanted to make a film which connected with the 18-35 age group. The characters were all urbane and in their twenties. So I wanted artists who were of similar background and who could relate to it. It took three weeks, hundreds of auditions and some casting changes before we could finalize the cast. Then we had readings and rehearsals for a few days before I was completely happy with the performances. I like to have my artists rehearse because it helps everything go smoothly when filming. Rehearsing doesn’t cost much. Filming is expensive. Every minute costs money. At the same time, I do not believe in over rehearsing because then you risk killing the spontaneity. The actor’s performance can become mechanical.
One of the most memorable anecdotes is about when I went location hunting with my cinematographer. Most of the film was being shot in my office at Oshiwara, in a flat we had rented at Bandra and on the beach but the café sequence was still giving us sleepless nights because we had yet to lock a location. We were looking for a café or a restaurant to film in and had tried convincing a few restaurant owners without any breakthrough. It reached a point where if nothing else worked out, we would have to do some guerrilla shooting because we didn’t have the budget to rent a café at commercial prices. I was already mentally making the shot breakdowns of a guerrilla shoot while dreading the thought. On one of the days when we were out location hunting, my cinematographer and I took a break for lunch and went inside a pizza parlour. One look and we realized it was very expensive but I loved the décor. It looked so grand with all the colors.
I thought it would look fabulous on screen! I talked to the manager on an impulse, asking if we could film there. I knew we couldn’t afford to pay for it but what did I have to lose I thought! The manager made a call and in ten minutes we were talking face-to-face with the owner of the pizzeria, Hansraj Halan. I assured him people would love our film and it would go viral, getting over a million views. We will showcase his brand in at least one shot, I said. He said his outlet was a franchise he would have to get approval from the brand owners but if that worked out, he was game. I guess he could see how passionate and obsessed we were because in less than a week he agreed to let us film our pre-climax scene there for no fee. I’m also glad I could keep my word and ‘Destiny’ crossed a million views in 31 days time!
3. In my review of Destiny, I have referred to the ghosting culture prevalent in online dating today. What are your views on it, especially when it comes to Tanya who obviously feels she has been ghosted?
Vikkramm: Sometimes ‘ghosting’ is a result of someone’s inability to deal with conflict. People don’t want to have an inconvenient conversation. They would rather just block a lover they are breaking up with and hope he or she gets the broad hint. Social networking websites have made it much easier for people to find dating opportunities and hookups. So the value assigned to an existing connection is perhaps less than it used to be because if it gives way a new one can take its place without much effort. In an era gone by, you could go years without seeing someone. You would wait for phone calls and letters. Today everyone is always in orbit. You can visit their Facebook wall and sometimes even know what they had for breakfast that morning.
4. Humor is something you clearly prefer over being preachy or sentimental. What are your favorite rom-coms to go?
Vikkramm: Preachiness is a put off for most audiences. If I talk down to my audience, they would sense it and lose interest. I love romcoms as also intensely romantic film. I’ve seen all the American and British romcoms that dominated the nineties. ‘Notting Hill’, ‘Pretty Woman’, ‘Love Actually’ are my favorites. I also like romantic films which can’t be slotted as romcoms including ‘Six Days Seven Nights’, ‘Gone with the Wind’, ‘Falling in Love’.
5. What is the message you wanted to drive home with the final twist? Why do you think Derek deserves to find true love? Or do you think there’s someone better for Tanya as well?
Vikkramm: I believe that while a significant part of our life is shaped and influenced by the choices we make, a large part of it we have absolutely no control over. Some choices life makes for you. Whether you accept them gracefully is your prerogative.
Also, it’s better to be honest and turn someone down if you’re not interested in than beat around the bush and waste their time. It sets them free to find someone who could be head over heels in love with them for all you know. That said, if you visit our YouTube channel, sometimes people ask what the ‘moral’ of my film is. I tell them there is no moral! It’s purely for entertainment! Who am I to moralize or teach anyone?
6. In your director’s statement, you’ve said: “My films are about contemporary India – the pressures, changing values and priorities of urban India.” How far would you say dating websites are responsible for bringing about this change?
Vikkramm: Dating websites are a reflection of the change. Some thirty years back dating as a concept was unthinkable in India. It was limited to Betty and Veronica fighting over Archie. India has changed very significantly over the past couple of decades since the proliferation of satellite channels, the economic boom and the internet. People in urban India have more purchasing power, are exposed to varied cultures via films, TV and travel. It’s more and more acceptable for people to date, cohabitate together, have pre-marital sex, delay marriage beyond the traditional age of marriage or even stay single forever.
7. Do you believe media representation of the new man-woman dynamic? Can films like Destiny dismantle the conservative ideas of love and relationships, yet keep the old world charm alive?
Vikkramm: Society undergoes a lot of changes with time. America underwent a lot of changes post the second-world war when people felt more secure, got married and spawned a whole generation we know as baby boomers. Today change happens at an even faster pace due to technology and especially social media where issues and people can rise from oblivion to a zenith and then gradually back into oblivion. The worldview of people today is being shaped by social media giants, the mainstream media and films. The focus of most of these is on the relatively prosperous urban India, which is a tiny fraction of the Indian population. Within these, there is an overemphasis on the man-woman dynamic and on women empowerment in media today. I believe this has more to do with pandering to women as an audience than with any social commitment. I say this with conviction because there are dozens of social issues which don’t get a fraction of the bandwidth they merit in media.
8. What is the best response to Destiny you have received to date? What can we next expect from Vikkramm, the filmmaker?
Vikkramm: There have been innumerable comments on our YouTube channel and it’s very gratifying and humbling that people have loved the film! A single young woman told me that ‘Destiny’ made her believe she will eventually find her soul mate, the one she is destined to spend her life with and grow old with. It is a romantic notion but it helped her keep the faith in true love while doggedly continuing her pursuit and touched me.
We have just added new subtitles to ‘Destiny’ including subtitles in Japanese, Russian, French, Portuguese, German, Spanish and of course, English. There are a couple of screenings planned, one in Pune at the 8th Pune Shorts Film Festival and another in Mumbai. We’re also in the process of getting the film dubbed in various South Indian languages including Tamil and Telugu. Many people including actors and technicians have reached out to me to work together. I’m talking to some of them. I’m also beginning work on my next film. I have several scripts ready, with finishing touches to be given. These are from various genres including drama, crime and thrillers. I’m looking forward to filming one of them soon.
Prarthana is presently in between odd jobs and obtaining her master’s degree in literature. She loves modern poetry and meditative cinema. Based out of Calcutta, Prarthana observes people, football, films and enjoys writing about all three. Of late, she relates to Frank Ocean’s music. Her writing experience consists of writing for various sites such as Try Cinema, The Indian Economist, Doing The Rondo, Saintbrush and various academic journals.