Meet Raktim and Dhritiman, two young filmmakers who when they first released their documentary, never thought that their film would be screened across the world in so many Internatonal and national film festivals .Winner at the Brahmaputra Valley Film Festival, 2018, their film The Man Who ‘Speaks’ Nature has received about six honourary screenings, has received awards at festivals like International Nature Film Festival, Godollo, 2019, Festival International Nature Namur, Belgium along with being selected for more than ten festivals across the country and world.
1) When did you first start to develop your interest towards photography and film making? Is there someone who inspired you?
I have been around cameras ever since I can remember. My father who was a video journalist, used to own a DV camera. Every day before he left for work, he would clean his camera and I used to look though the viewfinder. My first vivid memory was a shaky video that I had taken. It was really fascinating for me to look through the viewfinder, and that instilled my curiosity to know more about cameras.
At that point, I did not know who or what to look up to for inspiration. I was still new to the world of videography. But now, I think I finally have a better idea, or rather, a perception, about finding inspiration. Anyone who makes me stop for a moment, and look at the world in the perspective they create through the camera, I consider them an inspiration. One can learn so much by all the talent that is out there today that it is both overwhelming and humbling.
2) How did you first meet Manoj Gogoi and had the idea of making the documentary, The Man Who Speaks Nature?
I saw a video of Manoj Gogoi on Facebook where he was calling out to wild birds and feeding them. I had never seen anyone call out to birds with such love as if they were his own. The birds would fly to him, sit on his arm and eat food straight from his hand. I was really amazed by this. I looked him up on YouTube and saw that there was not a single mention of him on any film. That was when I decided that someday, I would like to tell his story to the world. The very thought of this project would get me excited and that was when I knew what I really wanted to do with my camera, to tell stories.
And then one day, I told my friend Dhritiman about this idea of making a film on the story of Manoj Gogoi and asked him if wanted to be a part of this project. He was interested, and that was how The Man Who ‘Speaks’ Nature happened.
3) Has your approach on wild animals changed after meeting Manoj Da? How does it feel like working with him, shooting while he rescues deadly snakes and other wild animals?
Yes, of course. The love for wildlife was always there but I never had the opportunity to observe them from so close. There are so many little things that you get to learn when you observe these animals from so close. And personally I have learned so many things about wildlife and their behavior from Manoj Da.
Working with him has is always fun, informative, and exciting. Every rescue is a whole new different experience. Also it feels really sad to see those distressed animals in such a helpless condition. For instance, growing up we are always taught to kill snakes, because they might be venomous. But that’s not true, there are more non- venomous snakes than venomous ones, and they do not harm you unless you do something that threatens them and every one of them plays an important role in the nature. So I guess we still have a lot to learn a lot about wildlife.
4) Did you and your team ever anticipate that your documentary would receive so many accolades and be selected for so many international film festivals?
When I first decided to make the film, the only motive was to bring out an extraordinary story of this person to the world. I never thought of how people would react to this film, and film festivals were not even on the list. But I am really happy that the film has been screened at so many festivals around the globe. What makes me happier is that Manoj Da’s story is travelling to different countries and people are getting to know about him as a person. And this is what I as a filmmaker wanted, to be able to tell a story to the world.
5) Besides photography, what do you like to do in your free time? Are there any other hobbies you have?
To be honest, I am usually on my laptop most of the times where I am either working, watching a film or show, reading or learning new things from YouTube.
Other than that I like to spend time with my dog Bunny, go on short drives around my hometown with him, and most importantly click his pictures. Also I enjoy watching funny videos on Youtube or other social media platforms.
6) What are some of the challenges you have faced as a filmmaker? Is there anything that can be done to improve the independent fimmaking scenario in India?
I guess every shoot has its own challenges. If I speak particularly about this film, then I think one of most challenging part was the video shoot. While filming wildlife, one has to be very careful and maintain a safe distance, but for me I had no choice but to stay near them because I did not have any tele lens with me. So I was always staying close to Manoj da while filming his rescue endeavours and at times that was quite risky.
I think these are probably the golden days for indie films. There are so many good independent films that are coming out every other day, and the reception we get from the audience is a huge support. On those lines, since the independent film community sort of start from the same foundations, hence they should stay supportive of each other as well. Constructive criticism is very important at this point, because only then can there be proper growth. As for the themes, we have access to such localised and indigenous ideas, narratives and topics, that there is always something to fall back on. That is the beauty of independent cinema.
7) What’s next for you as well as your production house Empty Cup Films?
Right now Manoj Da and I have started an initiative for wildlife conservation awareness where we are trying to make videos related to wildlife and wildlife conservation. We have created a YouTube channel for the “The Man Who ‘Speaks’ Nature” where we are uploading these videos.
I am also trying to develop a story idea of my own for a short film and there are few projects of my own that I haveshot during this lockdown which I am thinking of releasing soon.
And as for Empty Cup Films there are few projects on the line. Besides someclient projects, we are even developing our own script, so let’s see how that goes.
- How and when did you first develop your interest towards filmmaking? Would you say you were interested even as a child?
I am not quite sure when I developed an interest in this whole art form called filmmaking but for sure I have to give the credit to my parents and their amazing parenting. While I was growing up, my mother developed this culture of collaborative storytelling where we both will make up a story (that was my first experience of a writer’s room when I think of it now). Because of that from a very young age, I developed an interest in storytelling. Also, my mom made me watch, though I found it pretty boring at that time, films by Kurosawa, Antonioni, and Ray and other classics. I liked how we can build a small little world of our own in this thing called imagination with stories, and I was bewildered by how we have a control that world. Filmmaking is just a tool to express my stories.
- Your film The Man Who Speaks Nature has been nominated for a quite a number of film festivals. When did you first have the idea of making the film?
My friend and colleague Raktim came up with the concept of the film at first. He was thinking about making it even before we both met. Our main goal with the movie was to tell this story which deserved to be heard and inspire people to take action towards nature. We were true and honest to our subject matter and I think that is what matters in filmmaking and storytelling; being true to the story. Awards and everything else will follow afterward for sure (as cliched as it may sound).
- How do you send your films to various film festivals, what is the criteria for getting selected and how do you get to know about upcoming festivals?
For us and for almost every other filmmaker out there one main source of communication between the festivals and our films is a website called ‘Film Freeway’. Film freeway is like an online shop for film festivals. For criteria, as our film was a documentary related to nature, we sent it mostly to nature film festivals and non-fiction festivals around the globe. Now after a certain level of networking across different festivals, we get emails inviting us to submit our films.
- Besides filmmaking, what are the other thing you like to indulge in during your free time?
I have to be honest here! I am a filmmaker because filmmaking and writing was and still is my passion. So when you make your passion your profession there’s actually not much free time left. But when I get time away from my client/own projects, I mostly read, travel, watch shows or movies (as a filmmaker that also actually is my work) and sleep. I enjoy a little bit of Jazz here and there, when I am not doing anything, to calm my mind.
- You have travelled outside and met many international filmmakers; would you say their take on filmmaking is different? Also, being from the NE region, what are the difficulties you have faced in the process?
I will not say their take on filmmaking is different because in this age of globalization, filmmakers of my age, we grew up watching almost the same films and our idols and inspirations are almost similar. But I would say that they are far more exposed to the technologies in day to day life that we seldom use here. I am not saying technology will make your art better or less but most certainly it takes away some weights from the shoulders of the artist and it makes room for more creativity, rather than worrying about technicalities. Also while working in and with overseas clients I have very clearly noticed that their payments and clients are far more artist-friendly.
Being from the NE region obviously, there are problems that we face but if I concentrate on the good sides I have most certainly noticed that we are exposed to far more scenic locations than others. To get this huge canvas and this level of unique bag of stories in Mumbai you have to pay a lot in R&D. But for us, it is just there. So I would suggest to my fellows that despite the difficulties, let’s use the resources as much as we can.
- How did you and Raktim meet, and when did you guys decide to work together?
A year before we made The Man Who ‘Speaks’ Nature, I was working on a music video (around 2017) and I was searching for an editor and one of our mutual friends gave Raktim’s reference. We did the music video and after that, we stayed in touch. Slowly we realized that our visions are pretty similar to each other or at the very least we can understand each other well enough. As a director whatever I think, Raktim, as a DoP and a fine editor, has the ability to put that thought into vision. Also when we work together we become each other’s critic while collaborating in ideas and I think that is very necessary. Then we made our film and the rest is history as we started our own company.
- What are your future plans? And what do you see lying ahead for Empty Cup Films?
I am working with some of my colleagues and trying to develop a few short films. And me and my mom, we are both working on a script for my first feature film as associate writers. It is in the writing process now.
For Empty Cup Films, we have quite a few plans now. Basically, we are investing time, money, and energy in it to make it more than just a production house. Our plan is to make it a full-fledged service provider. We are trying to invest in some pieces of equipment to enhance our efficiency. We will be making it a collaborative platform where all the artists from NE and India can grow together.