A TETE-A-TETE WITH SIDDHARTH CHAUHAN, DIRECTOR OF AMAR COLONY
Shoma A. Chatterji has an in-depth conversation with "Amar Colony" filmmaker Siddharth Chauhan.
I recently happened to watch the directorial debut feature Amar Colony directed by Siddharth Chauhan. Chauhan is not new to films. He wrote, directed and produced some award winning short films, directed some commissioned films, line-produced a feature film called Kuch Bheege Alfaaz for an OTT site, served as a casting director for Saregama - Yoodlee Films (The Music Teacher) and worked as directorial assistant for a feature film called Shab for ZEE5. His first feature Amar Colony (Hindi) was selected at NFDC Film Bazaar's Co-production Market in 2018.
The film has been produced by Indie Film Collective in collaboration with US-Bangladesh based - Goopy Baagha Productions. The film won the Special Jury Award at Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival last month. The film is the only Indian title which was showcased in the 'First Feature Competition' at the festival, held annually in Estonia's capital Tallinn. The world premiere will be followed by an Indian Premiere at IFFK, Kerala this month. Amar Colony is one of the 7 Indian Films selected in the India Now Section at IFFK. The young director whose two earlier short films are currently being streamed on MUBI, talks about this very unusual film revolving around an old, decrepit home where three families live in social isolation and what pans out in their lives over the film.
Why the title AMAR COLONY? Is it to focus on the point that it is an eternal colony that has neither beginning nor end and flows on like a river? Or does it mean something else?
“Amar” means eternal / immortal. I wanted to give this film a life-like quality and a title which explains that life goes on, so I came up with Amar Colony. The title was also inspired from a building near my house - Amar Bhawan. I agree life has neither an beginning nor an end, it flows on endlessly like a river - much like the events in the lives of my characters.
Image: Film still Amar Colony
There is a surrealistic feel to the film. As if all this is pure imagination. Yet, or this seems real when you watch the three women. Why and how did this idea of blending the real with the surreal occur to you?
I think that is just 'me' reflecting in the film. I use my imagination to entertain myself and often find humour and surreal in the most boring, monotonous & real things. Imagination can transform reality and how each person 'imagines' is often unknown to the other. I wanted to show how their uninteresting real lies become spiced up in their imaginations. I love the idea of entering people's minds or reading them and if I could do so all the time, I would only be interested in that and totally escape the normal way of life. That's just me! I think the real and surreal make a fantastic combination.
You have broken several social and moral myths in describing the three women and detailing them. (1) that the mother-son bond can never be breached, (2) that Hanuman is generally worshipped by bachelor men, (3) that pregnant women do not have sexual desires, and (4) that old men are not prone to become peeping toms and perverted molestors of mannequins. Do you agree?
I agree and believe in what I am showing. I have also done my research to be technically correct in my portrayals and found that what I was showing was true. There is no bond which is permanent. Hanuman is also worshipped by women. Pregnant women do have sexual urges and sometimes more than usual. Old men too have desires which can be uncanny and kinky. Not that I know of such people / characters in my surroundings, no - even if there are some, I would hardly know about these things because they are private and personal. But I consciously wanted to show my characters doing things which we would otherwise feel uncomfortable talking about.
Image: Film still, Amar Colony
How did you decide on the casting?
I totally rely on auditions. I do have a clear image in my mind of how the character would be but it is not a photograph - e.g. I do not imagine features, hair, colour of skin etc but there are things about them which I know of. When I see my actors perform I just intuitively know if they can play my character or not! I also have a fantastic Casting Director - Ankit Rathore - who has an excellent ability to spot talent. We are capable of thinking on the same lines and often take these decisions together. We both have to agree - to finalise an actor, if any of us disagree - it’s a red flag!
Where exactly was the film shot, in which city and for how long?
The film was shot in Shimla - my hometown - in a span of 20 days. I had planned a 30 day schedule but wrapped up in 20 days. I couldn't imagine it at any other place. I wanted everyone to get a taste of Shimla through my eyes.
How long did it take from conception to censor certificate?
I still remember that when I reached home (in Shimla) after winning the top prize at IDSFFK 2016 in Kerala for my short film Papa, I felt dissatisfied. I wanted to tell a story which was bigger and bolder. That is when I started writing Amar Colony. The idea was to expand on my short film. I wrote the first draft in seven days in 2016. I made a few revisions over the next few years - visiting the script after intervals until 2018 when my script was selected to be a part of NFDC's Co-Production Market. My project created quite some buzz there and reinforced my belief in it. We shot the film before Covid but I took a long time on the edit as it was a very complex film to edit. I am waiting for the Censor certificate now.
Name some Indian directors you hold as ideals.
I do appreciate some famous filmmakers though like Lars Von Trier, Michael Haneke, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Lav Diaz, Robert Bresson, Kurosawa but I can't think of anyone who can match their brilliance here in India. I have not seen Satyajit Ray or Mani Kaul's work. These are two filmmakers I have heard great things about but I am yet to see their work. I also have to admit - I have not seen many Indian filmmakers' work so it wouldn't be fair to make any comments. I have only been exposed to Bollywood and out of the films I have had the privilege to see, I quite like Zoya Akhtar. I have seen a distinct expression and language in veteran filmmaker Amit Dutta's films. I think his work is exceptional and very inspiring. I recently watched a contemporary filmmaker, Payal Kapadia's film 'A night of knowing nothing' and was blown away by her storytelling and originality.
How does the finished film satisfy/fulfil you?
I feel like a proud parent who has done everything possible to bring up a child. My baby is now ready to fly the nest. I feel great joy and excitement as this bond is indescribably beautiful. The experience is very fulfilling because I know I have done my best. I don't care what others have to say now.
Image: Film Poster
About the author: Dr. Shoma A.Chatterji is an Indian film scholar based in Kolkata.