It is always interesting to meet someone who is passionate about a concept and believes it will earn its share of likes. Even better if you met the person soon after the concept hit the start button and with time, got to see the concept grow into a culture. With Cyrus Dastur, that is how it has been. The head and heart behind Shamiana Short Film Club in India, I first met Cyrus when he was introducing screening of short films from across the country and the world to the city of Ahmedabad. He was doing the same in other cities as well. Films that carried local flavour, yet those that allowed you to be part of global culture.
Shamiana Short Film Club was established in 2008 but began and ran as The Mocha Film Club in Mumbai since 2003. Thirty-seven-year-old Cyrus was, back then, freshly out of Mumbai’s H R College. A B.Com degree, double graduation in Law and Masters in Corporate Law, his line of study nowhere disclosed the theatre and film lover in him. “But ever since I was a child, I was inclined to performing arts. For that matter, I have dabbled in every department of theatre, be it acting, directing, adapting, writing, backstage, lights, music… I have been doing theatre since school days,” says Cyrus, whose love for stories and sharing them perhaps got him closer to films, watching and showcasing them. He is also the youngest playwright to have his play staged at the Tata Theatre, National Centre for Performing Arts, Mumbai – The Home Coming – when he was just 19! “It is the first published work on child sexual abuse in the subcontinent,” he mentions.
The journey of Shamiana short films screening has been consistent and steadfast, which explains its growth from Mumbai to Pune followed by Ahmedabad and later Delhi, Goa, Vadodara, Bangalore, Kolkata. In fact, the last two years have seen rapid growth – more cities and centres. “Like if I am in Kolkata, it is not just one place that the short film club runs from, it is about six to eight campuses. Same is the case with other cities now,” informs Cyrus of the club that is now in 25 cities including Gurgaon, Chennai, Hyderabad, Cochin, Lucknow, Panipat and will soon have presence in Dehradun, Shillong, Nainital, Mussoorie.
While Shamiana continues to grow, Cyrus is currently involved in the making of Sweetie Desai Weds NRI, a full-length Bollywood film produced by him along with two others and directed by Hasnain Hyderabadwala. Does he believe there’s a formula in contemporary filmmaking that clicks? “The film scenario across the country has drastically changed. There is willingness to experiment with subjects, people are open to newer, interesting and unconventional cinema and thanks to the digital boom, a theatrical release is not a do-or-die for most small films anymore,” says Cyrus before elaborating on what he thinks made Shamiana click. “Honestly, we just did the right thing at the right time. Shamiana came up when new technology was coming in mobile cinema, social media platforms were getting popular, the new cinema wave was getting stronger and attention spans were getting shorter,” he says, naming a few directors from Bollywood whose first short films were screened at Shamiana. “Kunal Deshmukh (Jannat, Tere Liye fame), Bijoy Nambiar (Shaitan, Wazir fame), Karthik Subbaraj (Pizza fame) are some,” he shares.
So, what makes contemporary short films strike a chord with gen-next? “The clarity of the writer-director along with the right set of actors to essay roles is the strongest ingredient in the recipe for a good short film. Short films have also democratised the entire concept of filmmaking. If you can give a good story in five to seven minutes, it is short and sweet and also easy to make which is why a lot of people believe even they can make one,” reasons the cheerful dispositioned filmbuff, who when not working, travels and reads fiction, non-fiction, biographies, “anything that can help me grow as a human”. And the knowledge he gathers is further directed towards the young populace. “I go as and when time permits. I am scheduled to go to campuses in Delhi, Bangalore, Kolkata, Chennai in the coming month to share insights on cinema,” sums up Cyrus who conducted a session with Campus Princess beauties a day before our chat. “Interestingly, one would imagine young girls (battling it out in a beauty pageant) as glamour-struck, into fashion, make-up, etc. but I was pleasantly surprised to know, during my interaction with them, that while some had acted in a short film, some others were talking about working in one.”
Now, that’s what we call creating a wave.
Photographs : Aneri Nihalani
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