Sidharth Mishra is a man with a passion to tell a story on film, he is also a man with the determination and drive to make it happen! Match this with a noticeable respect for his art and his co-artists, and Mr. Mishra is destined to be much more than a dot on India’s film making map. He has had no formal schooling in the art (or business) of film, but Sidharth’s focus, creativity, imagination and sincerity will take him far– that is, once his talent gets noticed.
But to get noticed, one’s creative work must be seen and this is the next step in the story of Sidharth Mishra, a resolve to complete the financing needed to finish his venture, a short film which takes a look at the institution of marriage and the power it has over two individuals. STARING UPSTREAM is the title, and it has been completed with exception to post production work.
I recently found myself in touch with Sidharth after seeing the trailer for his film (which I found mesmerizing) and decided to seek out the story behind his first production and ask him about the ups and downs of a beginning film maker.
Mike Barnum: When did the film making bug first hit you?
Sidharth Mishra: The idea of filmmaking, as a process and an artistic-commercial venture, was first conceived in my 1st year of undergraduate college. When I was young I was enchanted by the movies I watched, and somehow I thought that I could tell an equally good story myself. As you grow up this kind of notion either begins to fade away or take shape. Through the first few months of college I believed I could be in the acting profession, but while I was dreaming about it I was also constructing a story for myself. When the dream crashed, and I realized how bad an actor I was, what remained was that story. My belief in my storytelling skill was light-years ahead, and stronger than, my acting skill. That is when the idea of ‘creating’ new people, new stories and new worlds hit me and I started learning how I could do it, and do it right.
MB: And you took no schooling to learn film making?
SD: My school was the cinema that already existed. That taught me the values and ethics and rules to be followed and broken. My college hostel room was my classroom and I was my own professor. I bought books on cinema and filmmaking, learnt the art and skill of screenwriting. You wouldn’t believe Mike, but by the end of college where I was enrolled to study Economics, I had covered a curriculum on cinema which ranged from thesis on varied world cinema, production designing, cinematography, color palettes, youth, sexuality, politics and women shaping the art of moviemaking, etc.
But filmmaking is not like other academics. Your tests are the films that you make, and mere recollecting and reproducing what you have studied doesn’t matter then. Your decisions as a director are now governed by the story you are trying to tell and its demands and necessities to be told effectively. Most of what I know I learnt while actually making a film.
MB: STARING UPSTREAM is your first film, is that correct?
SM: I like to call STARING UPSTREAM my first film. Though, back in 2008, I can say I had tried to make a short film without understanding any aspect of filmmaking. I didn’t give the film enough time and resources. I hated the result because there was no element of filmmaking in that effort. I burned the tapes, I was so embarrassed.
MB: Tell me how the story for STARING UPSTREAM came about?
SM: I had come to Mumbai in August, 2010. I was working in a BPO [Business Process Outsourcing] for survival when a colleague, who actually aspired to be an actor, sensed my passion for filmmaking and wanted me to write a story for him. Though I don’t work that way, his personal character intrigued me. More than that it was the world and the society he came from that I was drawn to. Marriage was another thing that I was always puzzled about. I just don’t understand how that works here in India or anywhere else. It’s such an unnatural event in a human life. And I’m amazed at people’s fascination towards it. I clubbed them together with another important element– Woman. In the winter of early 2011, with these three elements, I weaved my story about a complex marriage situation in a small town in Northern India back in the late 1980s. I guess at the core it’s about how they fall apart and still stick together.
MB: And your cast, how did you find them. Did you know them previously or did you have a casting call?
SM: Only someone really fortunate can expect such a wonderful team of people that I got. I had to get a Director of Photography first and that’s where it all begins for me. Riju Samanta, my DoP, accompanied me for location scouting and auditions. We went to New Delhi for auditions but were disappointed with what we got there. I chose to trust him with his suggestions for the cast as he knew the story and characters really well. He suggested Anil Mange, a Whistling Woods graduate, for the lead actor and Anil suggested Nayani Dixit, from The Film and Television Institute, for the female lead. My first conversations with both of them assured me I had to look no further. What enhances this first film’s experience are my interactions with my cast and crew. These people are talented beyond description. The details they requested about their characters, the probing and research about the husband and wife and the period they were enacting, all this and the entire process was so welcoming because I wanted to approach the characters that way too. Let it be the violence, the intimate privacy of a woman, or the sensitivity of the subject, these people were so mature the way they treated all the aspects of getting into the skin of the character.
MB: Aside from the creative aspects of film making, there is the business side also, and unfortunately the financing for STARING UPSTREAM collapsed. What happened?
SM: This is one episode from my early experiences that is going to haunt me for some time to come. The gentleman who came on board as the financier had some issues with his financial situation which were strategically covered up and were not disclosed to me until everything started falling apart. Immediately after the principal photography got over we sensed trouble. My inexperience or my age is no excuse to drag my cast and crew into the mess that we were pushed in. I did not want my film to be associated with that person and his company so I took up all the liabilities pertaining to the film and got all the underlying rights transferred to me individually. This way my film was safe and still had hopes to find the audience it deserves someday. I am blessed to be doing business with people who, actually, should only care about their money and not my problems, but they are patient and are supporting my Crowd-Funding campaign with sincere intentions. It’s difficult for short films of this scale and budget to find a buyer or investor, especially when it’s unfinished. Going democratic with fundraising seemed like a noble option. Hence we are Crowd-Funding now on indiegogo.com/Staring-Upstream and we are doing well.
MB: Director/producer Onir used a similar novel approach to funding his recent film I AM. Is that where you got the idea for your own funding?
SM: Whatever Onir does somehow redefines the perception towards filmmaking and cinema, and the way to get a story told. I did a lot of running around, negotiations, convincing and pitching to prospective investors but the complexities with this project and its associated liabilities tend to give investors excuses not to play the crusader and rescue the film. I felt like a single parent who could not provide enough for his child’s needs to grow up. That’s a bad feeling. Of course, Onir and [co-producer/actor] Sanjay Suri came in the news with their way of raising funds for their film and I had no idea about Crowd Funding as a prevalent concept and mode. I wanted to know if this practice was exclusive to their project, and what I found were websites dedicated to Crowd-funding and thousands of projects seeking funds this way. This was enough to make me hopeful and give it a try. This way my family grows from a single parent to many guardians to make sure my child, my film, grows up healthy and protected.
MB: Once the funding comes through and the film is completed what will be your next steps with it?
SM: When that happens, Mike, I’d run to some Himalayan village, lock myself in a cottage and will come back to the world when I’m sane again! On a serious note, that would be a time when I would like to thank and reward each contributor for their support and generosity and dispatch their perks and incentives. As for the film, it will take a trip around the world through the film festival circuit. Based on our performance at these festivals we have a distribution strategy planned out which is designed for both commercial and non-commercial viewers. I want as many people as possible to watch this film, and to tell me it’s bad if they feel that way, but I want them to watch it. We want to turn every stone in sight.
MB: Who in the world of film making do you admire?
SM: I have great admiration for directors who write their own films. I am not referring to the auteur theory exactly, but that is one aspect of filmmaking that I feel good about because it’s such a personal process of a story’s development. The answer to this enormous question isn’t contained in one or two names. Directors like Francois Truffaut, De Sica, Godard, Almodovar, Takeshi Kitano, Terrence Malick, Vishal Bhardwaj, Anurag Kashyap, Majid Majidi, Jafar Panahi for his relentless passion, and the list doesn’t end; Woody Allen, remarkable guy; Jean Pierre Jeunet and Martin Scorsese whom one can never exclude from this kind of list.
MB: No doubt you have particular films which have inspired you, as well.
SM: My list is really long so I will name just five in no particular order- THE 400 BLOWS, THE TREE OF LIFE, THE SONG OF SPARROWS, TWO WOMEN and ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER.
MB: Do you have any other projects in the works?
SM: I have been trying to find answers about marriage and how this thing actually works. I’m not against it, just curious. So, my next film, which I’m writing now, is a feature about a much older couple understanding marriage as a union and as a necessity, a little later than they actually should have figured it out. It’s going to be an easy film while viewing, a light hearted take on the issue, unlike my first film.
MB: Despite the headaches associated with making a film, what has been the most gratifying thing thus far?
SM: I’m grateful for the entire experience. What I have seen and experienced in my first film has made me realize and understand things that people wouldn’t always learn so early in their careers. I don’t know if you’d agree with me on this but I think it’s good to have a rough start so you are trained and tested for the success you might enjoy later in life. And I’m grateful for that. If you still need me to point to a few things in particular, that would be – appreciation from friends and family. I see it in their eyes. They look at me like I grew up suddenly and they are looking for answers because they are puzzled and amazed at the same time.
It felt really good when I saw my cast and crew happy with the results. When I see a faint smile or dilated pupils in their eyes while watching the rushes or trailers, it is an incredible experience. Also, when I saw the rushes for the first time, for every shot that I liked, and I liked all of them, I could claim ownership. I’d say to myself “That’s your work Sidharth. You can be happy about it.”
Now is your chance to be a contributor to the arts and help a struggling cast and crew complete a work that has meant so much to each and every one. If you would like to contribute towards Sidharth’s film (and contributors get some darn nice incentives, not to mention the good karma you will accrue!) and help see it to completion and appreciation, you can donate (even just $25.00 is a great help) at indiegogo.com/Staring-Upstream.
To view the trailer of STARING UPSTREAM just click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6h8GEzdigyA.
And to learn more about the film, join the facebook page at facebook.com/Staring.Upstream