Shehjar, an indie film by debutant director Nikhil Allug, squeals mystery and thrill in all its extremity. Vividly exploring the journey of a family from Kashmir to Mumbai, the film has been well received by critics and has been doing rounds of various film festivals.
Nikhil Allug was under the tutelage of the renowned filmmaker, Rajkumar Hirani, and he seems to be aware of his own shortcomings that scrape at his veneer. It’s no wonder that the film brittles with squattering moments, as the director dissolves in his love for filmmaking. Excerpts:
A. A young Kashmiri couple with their two teenage sons travel from Kashmir to Mumbai for a brief stay. Received by a man named Zaffar, they are taken to a sparsely furnished makeshift house where they would be staying in the ‘The city that never sleeps’. Slowly, the families interact with each other in the new surroundings putting their relations with each other to test, ultimately leading to unexpected consequences and revelations. When the story idea struck my mind, I thought it would be a fascinating tale to tell. After that, I decided to self-produce it and it drove me to a point where the urge to make the movie overwhelmed the urge to doubt whether I could.
Shehjar is in consideration for over 45 International Film Festivals for 2018… It is a Hindi Film with a portion of dialogues in Kashmiri & also a bit of Bengali.
Q. What does Shehjar mean? And why Shehjar as a title?
A. Shehjar in Koshur means shade. Every human in any part of the world irrespective of their culture and stature will always need the ‘shade’ of shelter, acceptance and love. The family in the film comes under a ‘shade of a roof’ and experience situations and feelings which change their lives completely.
Q. Your film Shehjar is doing the rounds of various film festivals and has been praised by people who have had the opportunity to watch it. Why do you think the film has connected with so many people?
A. Our National Premiere recently happened at the Prestigious IFFK (International Film Festival of Kerala) 2017 and the buzz was so strong by the second screening that we had packed houses for the shows. I was approached by foreign festival scouts post-screening who showed great interest in taking the film to some really good festivals abroad. We are currently in consideration for over 45 International Film Festivals for 2018. I feel it has connected well because it has a very fresh approach to the subject. It has humour, emotions, adventure, romance, suspense, crime, politics and drama all in one film which has kept the audiences engaged and entertained. My actors, Sunil, Ira, Kali Sir, Burhan, Zahid, Jageshwar are fantastic and instrumental in making Shehjar come alive. I hope the world gets to see how atrociously talented they are. Mayank my main man, Mahesh for being the new inclusion at MOR Films family, Kapil Dev Singh and Gaurav for capturing the sound with immense dedication, Jay for supporting the visuals so well, Asif Bhai and the others who worked like a family with me on it.
Q. Is Shehjar a Hindi film or a Kashmiri film? Where do you intend to release it?
A. It is a Hindi Film with a portion of dialogues in Kashmiri and also a bit of Bengali. We will do festival rounds until mid-2018 and then have a limited theatrical and wide digital release.
Q. You have assisted one of the best directors that we have in India today, Mr Rajkumar Hirani, who is well known for light-hearted but powerful cinema. How did you decide on taking up a serious route to filmmaking then?
A. Oh, I didn’t think of it this way. My film has quite a few light-hearted moments too. In fact, it has a bit of everything that I mentioned before. I think my strongest asset is my ability to come up with a unique and original story in varied genres. I have done a horror/thriller before, Shehjar is a suspense/drama, and I also have a youth romantic comedy with a quirky social topic script, and another super twisted suspense/thriller feature-film script. I feel I know my craft well, so genre doesn’t matter as long as my honesty and hold of the script is strong enough. Confidence makes films, not genres or budgets.
I made a short documentary on Rubina Ali Quereshi who played the young Latika in Slumdog Millionaire and it won a few awards & ended up being seen by Danny Boyle too.
Q. You have been a professional musician for over 9 years, how did you shift to filmmaking? Do you still make music?
A. I was a writer way before I was a musician. Then I made a short documentary on Rubina Ali Quereshi who played the young Latika in ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ and that won a few awards. Danny Boyle watched the movie too. That’s when I realized that my writing, music and the newfound visual acumen could all blend together in filmmaking. It was my calling. I am always involved with the making of music in any my films, and it’s the same with Shehjar too. In ‘The Maya Tape’ it was a great pleasure working with the highly acclaimed sound technician, Baylon Fonseca for creating the right horror atmosphere for the film. I dubbed the horror voices for the film too when Baylon was unhappy with the sounds he had in his bank. Most of them were used in the film! It really helps to know in which direction music and sound design should merge with the visuals. The visuals then can be lifted up to a different level with the right sound aiding to it. Joy Banerjee my sound designer and main man has put a lot of efforts into shaping Shehjar into what I envisioned it to be.
Q. ‘Nothingness’ which was screened at Cannes film festival in 2011. Then ‘The One Winged Butterfly’ which was awarded the “Best Documentary film in 2011” award at Frames International Film festival to ‘Mud Mud Ke Na Dekh’ being selected at the Crimson Screen Horror Festival. How difficult or easy was the jump from short films and documentaries to full-length feature?
A. I think long and short forms don’t matter, what matters is writing or picking up a script worthy of being made into a feature film. And that can be for the commercial or artsy market. There is an insane amount of films being made today globally so it really needs a strong voice, aesthetic knowledge, great subject, wonderful acting, sound, edit, freshness to be noticed amongst the clutter. It is unjust to stretch a short film idea into a feature-length film, which has been done by a lot of filmmakers in the past. The attention span of the audiences is at an all-time low today so as filmmakers we need to be sure there is enough meat to bite on in the long form.
Q. You were working on a film with Nawazuddin called ‘The Maya Tape’. What’s the status of that film?
A. We aim to have a release by 2018. The industry’s response to it has been terrific and my producers and I are highly optimistic that the wait will be worth it for all of us. It’s shaped into something very radical and refreshing. I can’t wait for the public to watch it.
There are too many ordinary stories and they don’t deserve the time, energy & money a film needs.Know your weaknesses, show your strengths, keep shooting and you will keep learning. It’s a war, not a Profession so gear up mentally & physically accordingly.
Q. So is Shejar your debut feature or The Maya tape?
A. Shehjar is my debut as it has come out to the public before The Maya Tape.
Q. Pradip Kurbah on of the producer of ‘The Maya Tape’ and is himself an accomplished filmmaker who has won two National Awards. So how did you guys teamed up and who decided who would don the director’s hat?
A. I was signed on by Cat N Mouse Films who were teamed with Kurbah Films (Pradip Kurbah ‘s production house) and later came Vedartha Films too. He was into the film only as a producer from the start. He is a native to North East India so his inputs in the local black magic and locations that I had in mind were very instrumental. It was indeed great to have a producer who is also a filmmaker so as a producer, it uplifts the understanding of films at all fronts. Also, both Pradip Kurbah and I are hardcore foodies and we bonded over food and he is really easy going as a person.
Q. Regionals films are giving Bollywood a run for their money, but great content is lost in obscurity. How can we bring the hidden gems to wider audience?
A. Films need a balanced diet of their own to blossom into success. It starts with a great script, good producers, good team, right budget, actors, post-production, marketing, release. Why films are tough business is because if any of these fail the whole film can fall flat. Though its true that digital era has made it easier to put your film out there, it’s also equally true that every film will be met with immense traffic as competition and clutter with other films. Maybe the best way is more theatrical properties, screening platforms, engagement avenues for wider discovery. We are a population of over 1.3 billion, definitely, there is a dearth of reaching them right to convert to sales.
Q. How can we make people watch cross-culture, regional movies on a regular basis?
A. Interest them, engage them, make them pay an amount that they feel is a value for money. A Bahubhali felt VFM because it offered visual grandeur for over 200 bucks. It is a buyers market for films which don’t have big stars attached to it. So one needs to really go out and make the films available to the viewers at their convenient time, space and price for them to decide to go ahead and do the transaction of their valuable time and money.
Q. Which is your favourite 2017 movie?
A. Ziad Doueiri’s The Insult. I hope it takes away the Foreign Language Oscar this time, it’s a dramatic gem to the standards of Asghar Farhadi’s ‘A Separation’.
Q. Your message to aspiring filmmakers from regions like Kashmir and Northeast and other small towns?
A. Tell stories that you are sure are worth being told. There are too many ordinary stories and they don’t deserve the time, energy and money a movie needs. Know your weaknesses, show your strengths, keep shooting and you will keep learning. It’s a war, not a profession so gear up mentally and physically. We are here to entertain and hence our ultimate aim is to keep increasing the value of entertainment 24 frames per second.
Genre: Social Suspense Drama
Fiction Feature Film
Duration: 2 hour 3 minutes
Other Languages: Kashmiri, Bengali
Resolution: 2K Scope (2048×858)
Sound Mix: 5.1
LOG Profile 4:2:2 10 bit Prores HQ
Shot on: Sigma Art Lenses
Watch here: the trailer of Shehjar