| DEBUT LAURELS: The Who am I' team takes stock of its movie-making achievement. Picture by Pabitra Das
Homework between takes. Stars skulking onto sets in furtive pairs. No fighting prima donnas, no clashing schedules. And above all, not a single adult. Away — far away — from the spotlight, Who Am I' was filmed in two days by debut directors with debut actors. It is, claim its producers (the only adults on board), the first film in India by the children, of the children and for the children.
The 17-minute movie may appear to be about adolescence, but Who Am I' is more about making dreams come true. And not just on the silver screen. Nine kids — eight girls from Birla High School and one boy from St Thomas’ — scripted, directed and acted in the film, produced by Gaurang Films, behind Tapan Sinha films like Safed Haathi, Anokha Moti and Aaj ka Robinhood. Shot at Oxford Bookstore, Lion’s Park (at the Dhakuria Lakes) and a Moira Street flat, the film is to be screened at Nandan-III and Oxford, and is also on its way to children’s film festivals in Bologna and Chicago.
“I was at the Cairo film festival when one of our associates asked me why no films made by children came out of India,” recalls Manav Jalan of Gaurang Films. Back in Calcutta, Jalan contacted a number of students and ran the idea by them. “I am lucky this group of kids took me seriously. Most wouldn’t believe anyone would listen to them and such a film could be made.”
Priyal Agarwal, a Class VIII student of Birla High, heard out Jalan’s proposal, and decided to call a meeting. On March 26, eight school friends put their heads together for a “brainstorming session”, where they picked their theme. “It seemed natural, since adolescence was something we were all going through,” says Priyal, a bubbly 13-year-old. She and the “older girl” of the project, Richa Agarwal, in Class X, got down to writing a script and, “just like that”, they were film-makers.
With Ekta Shah, Radhika Mittal, Ankita Surana, Gunjan Agarwal, Amrapali Dutta, Vedika Arora and the sole boy, Ateet Saraf (recruited to play the much-needed boyfriend, taking the teen total to nine), they had all the cast and crew they needed. The sets were ‘closed’, as the cast kept it a secret from friends and teachers. Apart from a cameraman behind the digital camera, everything was in the hands of these able young adults between 13 and 16 years.
The creative team didn’t have to look far beyond their daily lives to find gripping material. But you have to be ‘with it’ to get it. Teens may often complain about being ‘fat’, but here, the insult is turned on its head to mean ‘fascinating and tempting’. “That was my Net chat nick (name) and it just crept into the script,” smiles Richa.
Squabbles over boyfriends, dieting woes and sibling rivalry have all been worked in. Priyal, playing the central character, is squashed between an older and younger sister. “A teenager is always confused over whether he or she is an adult or a child. And parents usually give us the responsibilities of adults but don’t let us do the fun stuff because we are still ‘kids’,” adds Priyal.
For once, these nine teens could have all the fun they wanted, with grown-ups footing the bill. But they took the responsibilities of an “adult” project in their stride, and then some.