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Short films get a new lease of life, thanks to the internet
Payel Majumdar  22nd Aug 2015

A still from Elaichi, a Nimrat Kaur-starring short by Terribly Tiny Talkies.

hen Christopher Nolan made Doodlebug, a short thriller that begins with a young man in a filthy apartment, trying to kill an insect that seems to be scurrying across the floor, he was little known. As the film progresses, the camera reveals that the bug is a miniature version of himself, which he manages to squash under his shoe. Later, we get to know that each movement the bug makes is mirrored by him, and he is himself squashed under the shoe of a larger version of himself. Doodlebug is a celebrated short film now, but Nolan's class project had been stashed behind the memory, before YouTube made it go viral again. When Anurag Kashyap made That Day After Everyday, his controversial take on everyday feminism with respect to the film was much talked about on social media, and picked up by viral content sites such as BuzzFeed and ScoopWhoop, apart from the digital wing of most major news publications. Ahalya, another short film by Sujoy Ghosh, has Radhika Apte (who incidentally played the lead in Shor in the City) and Bengali actor Soumitra Chatterjee playing out an alternative narrative to the Ahalya myth. Instead of the woman turning to stone, every man who falls under the wiles of Radhika's charm and comes in contact with the touchstone is trapped inside a miniature sculpted version of himself. In yet another short Elaichi, all of which released in the space of a year, Nimrat Kaur plays a lonely widow who has had no respite from her dead husband. The husband has ironically turned up as a ghost and keeps her company.

Ritesh Batra, before directing Lunchbox, had come into notice because of his short Cafe Regular that, apart from doing well in a number of festivals, had also been viewed extensively on his Vimeo channel. Due to Vimeo and YouTube doing well, and the easy availability of fast internet on our mobile phones nowadays, short films (under 20 minutes, which is usually the internationally accepted criterion for their selection) has been given a new lease of life. Until recently, they barely had any presence at all, except for in film schools as diploma films, or in international film festivals that honoured young filmmakers. It was a medium for recognition at a film festival, if at all that. Not so much with the internet age, where Vine-makers get celebrity status and their own street in Hollywood. Social media has made consumption and distribution of films more democratic than ever before, with a significant amount of senior filmmakers opting to release their films online instead of in theatres. Netflix and Amazon will each release feature length films on their respective streaming sites this year, both being major productions.

From The Lumiere Brothers’ first experiments with film, to Disney’s animation, the short has always been a space which features avant garde experiments. Big production houses leave little scope for experimenting in films, and hence the importance of shorts and the need to keep the art form alive becomes even more important.

Back in India too, mainstream filmmakers have started to look at shorts, and are getting involved in a variety of ways. Anurag Kashyap, has teamed up with The Viral Fever, an entertainment company that makes short comic sketches, and have now moved on to their own television production Pitchers. Terribly Tiny Talkies is another company that releases slice-of-life shorts mainly produced by unknown faces, mostly independent and amateur filmmakers, but it is not unusual to have Bollywood actors starring in them. On television however, an alternative visual medium, it is rare to see an actor of Bollywood acting or participating in any show unless it is for the promotion of their films, or as a part of a television commercial. Video content on digital media on the other hand, is a freeway, with minimum regulation, and mass scale accessibility. (India is ranked only next to China in the world, with over 300 million users on the internet.)

It is ironic that while movies began with shorts, they completely disappeared until about a decade ago. From The Lumiere Brothers' first experiments with film, to Disney's animation, the short has always been a space that features avant garde experiments. Big production houses leave little scope for experimenting in films, and hence the importance of shorts and the need to keep the art form alive becomes even more important. Unfortunately, short films were never given enough consideration by a mass audience before this. They were, at best, relegated to a niche audience, and for a short period. The internet — as usual — has changed the game, and in one of the stranger ways of how things worked out, breathed new life into one of the earliest forms of filmmaking by making it marketable.

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