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One-third of the trio that made Goonga Pehelwan and won the national award for it, Vivek Chaudhary is now flying solo and working on two parallel documentaries on opium economy which are already drawing eyeballs. Read about his dramatic journey as a film maker-researcher here.
We meet at a cafe which I visit frequently. It’s a Thursday evening and the next day Vivek leaves for Seoul to attend the 11th DMZ International Documentary Film Festival. Dressed in gray t-shirt and cream shorts, curly-haired and lanky, Vivek looks like a college boy. We order lemon tea and get down to business, the first order of which is his childhood.
“I was born in Navrangpura in Ahmedabad, but I have no memory of that place. I grew up in Manav Mandir area. I have very fond memories from there. During vacations, I remember that I would leave in the morning to play cricket and at night my mother would have to come looking for me to go back home,” he says.
Vivek was born in a Marwadi family originally from Barmer, Rajasthan. He grew up with two elder sisters and a younger brother in Ahmedabad. His father is a government employee and mother, a housewife. As a child, he was an above-average student with a strong inclination towards sports viz. cricket and tennis.
“My family never burdened me with expectations. So, I was always free to pursue whatever I wanted. That in itself was a challenge because then you have to learn from trial and error. That’s why I have gone down multiple roads like tennis, CA and MBA; and then found out why I didn’t want to pursue them.”
Developing a vision
Having a strong inclination towards sports, Vivek played tennis from 4th to 12th standard, during which time he played both state and national tournaments. But he also realised that he wasn’t good enough at it. However, this wasn’t the only time he felt this way. Vivek studied commerce for his graduation while also pursuing CA. During his articleship, he realised that this path was also not for him. And so with his MBA too at the Faculty of Management Studies (FMS), Delhi, he didn’t find a sense of belongingness in the course, feeling a certain lack of excitement towards it.
“I have tried different things just to realise why I didn’t want to do them. But that contributed to my journey in different ways and brought me here. My friends, especially, have had a huge influence in what I do and where I am. It was because of them that I took commerce, joined extra-curricular activities and most importantly volunteered at Dhristi.”
During his college days at HLCC, Vivek and his friends were more interested in extra-curricular activities, which is how they met Gaurang Raval, who headed Drishti Communications at that time. He invited the whole group to volunteer at Drishti, which they did for the next two and a half years.
“We had fun at Drishti. It was a bunch of students from HL and Xavier’s who were all volunteering. We would go there after college. We would watch documentaries and have discussions. The organisation also gave us liberty and free rein to help with the arrangements for their film festivals. This exposed us to a whole new world and got us hooked to documentaries.”
Trying something new
While pursuing an MBA after college, the influence of work at Drishti Communications stayed on. It was during a trip to Auroville with his friends that the next step towards his film journey began. They decided on a gap year to make a film. While they weren’t sure of a topic, they knew this was something they wanted to give a try since the documentaries had left a great impact on them.
“It was a long discussion which started in Auroville and continued over chat and phone conversations. We decided to take a gap year and make a film. On what, we didn’t know. So the hunt began for a good topic.”
It was during this time that Vivek had stumbled upon an article in Mint Lounge on Virender Singh, a wrestler who had just won a gold medal at Deaflympics, 2013. After finding out further details from the journalist, he managed to meet with Virender, who used to train only two kilometres away from Vivek’s college. After meeting him, Vivek was convinced that he wanted to make this film. His friends, Pratik Gupta and Meet Jani, agreed.
Once all three of them put their hearts into it, things started falling in place. They didn’t know how to make a film and they learned it on the job with support from Dhristi, which also became the producer of the film.
GoongaPehelwan went on to win the national award for best documentary of 2014. By this point, the three friends had formed Videowala, a production company. The award boosted their business and Vivek started receiving commissioned work.
Starting all over again
“We were doing very well as a company. But for me, the joy was gone. I don’t know why but I was frustrated and didn’t know what I believed in or what I really wanted to do. In 2016, a personal tragedy occurred which pushed me further down the rabbit hole. I knew I had to leave everything and start again.”
When he was in Barmer because of this tragedy (he wasn’t comfortable sharing the details of it), he kept hearing the news of poppy getting banned and he wondered why people kept bringing it up. In February 2017, Vivek decided to step away from everything, left the team, and began his research on the poppy ban. Deep down, his craving to tell social stories, found a trigger in this subject. As an artist, his thinking is unconventional, someone who wouldn’t want to limit his craft to commerce and entertainment, but to contribute towards telling stories that can move societies.
“I started seriously researching about it in 2017. I was devouring any material I could get about opium. I travelled a lot and met people directly, indirectly and tangentially connected to it. And I knew I had to make a film on it. In 2018, I started shooting which was an altogether different challenge. I had used my own money and my family’s money for it. And the costs kept rising as time went by and I still didn’t know if I had a film or not. That was very depressing.” In Vivek, you don’t just meet an empathetic story teller but also a persistent researcher. And, in my opinion, his struggle as a filmmaker lies in combining these two strains and turning it into a film.
In between, Vivek took another project to generate some capital for himself. During that time, he participated in DOCEDGE Kolkata, a training cum pitching initiative. He ended up winning four awards for his pitch on the poppy film and was invited to pitch his film at the 11th DMZ International documentary festival, Seoul and in International Documentary Film Festival, Amsterdam.
“My earlier work was done as a group project. So, I wasn’t sure if I even knew how to make a film. The last two years have been very painful as well as very satisfying because of that. By April 2020, I plan to finish two documentaries around opium. Probably after that, I might feel confident that I can make a film,” he says smiling.
As I finish this article, Vivek has returned from Seoul and has won the Best Project (Young Talent) Award for his pitch for the poppy documentary project. In Vivek’s story we see a creative persons hunger to create and to express. What would be a challenge for someone else, turns out to be fodder for persistence for him. It is a possibility, that some readers may not find his choices rational, but than, isn’t irrationality the seed for originality and creation ?
We leave you with this thought to ponder upon.
To follow Vivek Chaudhary’s journey from here, you can connect with him on Facebook here.
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