Hitesh Liya, director and professor of Cinematography from India, spoke with us about “21…”, an amazing short movie selected for Indiecinema Film Festival’s third edition.
His work will be screened in Rome (at the Circolo ARCI Arcobaleno in Via Pullino1) just today, on Thursday 11th January 2024, with other short movies in competition: Garbatella o cara by Anna Maria Achilli and Miss Agata by Anna Elena Pepe and Sebastian Maulucci.
21… was a real discovery for us. So, even if he lives so far from us, we found a way to have such an interesting conversation with the Indian director Hitesh Liya…
Something about “lockdown” in India
During these years we have seen several movies focusing on lockdown and health policies against Covid. Especially in Italy where certain measures have been very controversial. But your short film, “21…”, particularly struck us with its original, smart, sometimes ironic point of view. How did the idea come about?
I stay in the same campus in the residential quarters of my institute. In the lockdown all the office premises were closed and the students were sent to their homes. Only few staff members from the institute were present. I had never experienced such a silence in my life before this. I decided to shoot the empty campus with my camera and make a montage of the images. And that’s how the process of the film started.
The greatest irony for us remains the reaction of the animals, shown so well on screen through editing, to the Prime Minister’s words. How did you have this intuition?
Initially the film was conceived as the audio visual montage of the empty campus with the voice over of Prime minister and diegetic sound scape in the background.
However, one morning while shooting, accidentally a dog came inside the frame, and started moving his tail looking at the camera. It was then the idea struck me that the animals and the wildlife can be the living elements inside the film. As I started shooting the animals, it struck me based on the footage that they can replace human beings as the characters of the film. This way, the film will have an added layer to the story at the same time the speech of the prime minister will have a better meaning.
Such an important experience at Satyajit Ray Film and TV Institute
Can you say instead what the general reaction of the Satyajit Ray Film and TV Institute‘s students and teachers was, to the Prime Minister’s declaration of such a harsh lockdown?
The students obviously were very unhappy with the lockdown as they had no classes and had to go back to their homes. Most of them left considering their safety but few students still fought with the administration and stayed in the hostel in separate rooms against the administrative rules. Also, the foreign students could not go back to their country as all the flights were closed. The teachers had mixed reactions. I made use of the opportunity of my free time and made this film.
You are a Film-maker and a Professor in such an important Institute at the same time. Can you tell us something more upon your activity?
I am a professor of Cinematography and I studied film making from the same institute. I am here since past seven years and I mainly deal with digital cinematography technology and film lighting. I am interested in exploring cinema as a visual art form through my knowledge of cinematography. I make short films and also do street photography as a hobby. Seven months after the lockdown, I did the exhibition of my street photography works in an Art gallery in my city under restricted social distancing conditions.
From Satyajit Ray’s legacy to Bollywood or arthouse films
Could you add something about the tribute to Satyajit Ray, such a big Master of Indian cinema, in your movie?
Yes, the use of the film ‘Charulata‘ was done to give tribute to Satyajit Ray. I had specifically got the permission from my institute to get the 35mm print of ‘Charulata’ for the shoot during the lockdown. I also used his painting at the entrance of the cinema hall in our institute. I have learned a great deal from his films while being the student. He was a master of portraying human relationships and their fine intricacies.
All over the world we know India for the great, magnificent Bollywood productions. One of the most important film industries, for sure. But we are a festival focused mainly on independent cinema. So what is the situation for indie movies in your country?
I have worked in Bollywood film industry for three years after graduating from this institute. My observation is that the indie feature film makers work on the fringes of the main stream Bollywood industry trying to make their mark. There are people who support indie film making but only if you have worked with them as an assistant for mainstream Bollywood films. Also, those who fund the film have strong networks with elite and red carpet film festivals. They use the tag of ‘indie cinema’ through these events to earn publicity in Bollywood. The independent short film making is tougher and there are no financers to support it without the assurance of monetary returns. The film makers like me who want to explore cinema as pure art has no space in Bollywood. The films which are truly independent in terms of idea and execution are completely self financed like my current film.