Farhad Ahmed Dehlvi is a film maker who has an unexplained affinity for strong emotion. A brief conversation with him gives you an insight into a brain that almost fervently seeks to give the viewer a stirring theatrical experience. His directorial debut,
Seher Hone Tak, is an extension of that ethos - a 13-minute-long short film that explores the emotional state of an elderly woman living alone in a big city - and gives us an agonising glimpse into her desolation and helplessness.
The film, which premiered at last week's Cannes Film Festival, highlights how seemingly mundane things in everyday life coupled with the reassuring presence of a few strange people around helps you to survive while living alone in a big metropolis.
The story is set in a high-rise apartment in Mumbai, where an old woman (played by Sakina Mehta) spends her day answering the door bell to her newspaper man, dhobi and the vegetable seller. These terse, humdrum conversations form a part of her daily routine. Her day is spent shuttling from watching the television to making chai to a quick nap in her dimly-lit room. But a power cut rudely disrupts her routine one day, taking away from her the tiny comforts that help her get through the day. "We develop a support system around us that becomes like a surrogate family to us. The film tries to show how we react when that is taken away from us," explains Dehlvi.
The film has little dialogue, with Dehlvi placing a special focus on lighting and sound. "The objective of making such a film is to get inside the mind of the viewer through a series of rousing images - you do not always need dialogue for that," he says. "Also, as a cinematographer, I feel that visuals alone are more powerful." Dehlvi's poignant painting of the lonely existence of the old woman is perfect, as he captures her innumerable emotions - that of relief, happiness and despair - with aplomb.
A fitting example of that is portrayed through the phone call she receives from her son every evening. Her cheery eyes immediately give way to a sense of forlornness when her son hastily hangs up. Mehta fits into the role of the old woman nicely, bringing to life the harrowing experience you can suffer from while living alone.
Dehlvi says that as a film maker, his job is to tell the viewer the story that is ingrained between the lines, and he focuses greatly on the sub-textual aspect of a film. "The idea of loneliness is significantly prevalent in India. What goes through the mind of a person who is living alone? How does such a person survive? That's what I wanted to bring out in Seher Hone Tak," he says.
The film was received warmly at Cannes, with Dehlvi's incisive and elegant style impressing the juries. Dehlvi says that through his short films, he strives to connect the individual with the universe. "The film has to impact the audience. Through the narrative I've used in Seher Hone Tak, I think I've achieved that," he says.
Dehlvi, who worked with Hollywood director Ang Lee in Life of Pi and Vishal Bhardwaj in Kaminey, adds that the spurt of short films being made is good for the industry. "Short film making is something akin to a proof of concept. It is an excellent way to find your feet in film making. Film makers have realised that," he says. "And most important, making a short film, in a lot of ways, is a liberating experience."
Dehlvi will next start shooting for another short film, Rene, which stars Xander Berkeley (of 24 and The Mentalist fame). The story revolves around a young boy who is the sole survivor of a hunting accident that kills his entire family and chronicles his growing up with the trauma of the loss of his loved ones.