Siddharth Sinha on his short film The Job, which walks between reality and unreality through the character of a French expat played by Kalki Koechlin.
The theme of The Job starts with a disturbing soundtrack, of water gushing incessantly, before the screen fills with a pair of hands washing relentlessly. FTII alumnus Siddharth Sinha conflates the Shakespearian vision of Lady Macbeth attempting to clean her hands of guilt with a modern awareness of psychological illness in a film starring Kalki Koechlin as a French expat trying to keep a job in India. Sinha packs every moment and frame with meaning so that many viewers — as reviews show on YouTube — are left wondering about what’s real and what’s not in the protagonist’s life.
“I am drawn to both kinds of cinema — the slice of life story where there is not much happening, and which are the most difficult films to get made and also difficult to be watched by a wider audience. I have worked at MAMI film festival selection committee for several years and have fought for these films to get incorporated in the festival list as such films grow on you with time. I’ve been attracted to the opposite kind, as well, where everything is happening at the same time. There’s so much happening that it has got all jumbled up. It’s edgy, chaotic and restless and the characters are going bonkers,” he says. Sinha’s earlier short film Udherbun, produced by FTII, won Jury Prize at Belin International Film Festival and National film award for best short fiction film in 2008-09. Excerpts from an interview with Sinha:
1) What drew you to this topic of OCD and a psychological disorder?
I understand that mental health is a widely discussed subject right now and I am happy that finally we are talking about it. I studied psychology as a major; so back in the day, our professors and few students started a counseling programme to help anyone who is going through an emotional crisis. I was an active member of this group. Back then, it used to be such a hush-hush matter, we had actually put letter boxes in various spaces in college so that anyone who needs counseling could drop a chit with their identity card number and professors could contact them directly and talk to them after college hours in strict privacy. Things have changed drastically since then. Now, celebrities are coming out and discussing this issue on social platforms.
I cannot deny that a woman losing her mind has been a very intriguing subject for filmmakers in the past. Betty Blues, A Woman under Influence, Requiem for the Dream and Blue Jasmine are iconic films on the same subject. These films have mesmerised me and I guess, somewhere, subconsciously I wanted to re-create these iconic characters in my work.
2) Why was it necessary to feature an expat, and a French expat at that?
Back in 2003-06, when we were students at FTII, we used to watch two to three films every day, from black and white to new classics, as a part of our curriculum. Most of these films happened to be European. Somewhere, after consuming so many of these films, our own reality of India and Europe got terribly mixed in our heads. Once, at a rainy drunken party night at FTII, when we all were singing loudly, a friend, who was totally smashed, stretched out his hands from the window and said, ‘It’s raining in Europe…just feel it’.
Well, you see, cinema was born in France and we have borrowed so much from French cinema since its inception, both the techniques and the aesthetics. My film, too, is a token of love to French cinema.
3) As Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth inspires your character in the film, tell us about your process of adaptation from word to screen.
We have a long tradition of adaptations from literature into cinema. Producers are more forthcoming as they know what they are betting on, masses like it as most of the time it’s easier to watch a film based on a classic instead of reading the book itself and filmmakers are generally intrigued by the close observations of life in these great works of literature.
But then there are so many examples of adaptations gone horribly wrong. There’s a new saying ‘Don’t judge a book by its movie’. Milan Kundera actually refused to give any of his books for film adaptations after he witnessed what happened to his famous classic Unbearable Lightness of Being.
When I got my hands on Macbeth, I thought, how to adapt this work into something which brings out the feeling of new age cinema. The first thing I told myself was ‘I won’t be going literal on this for sure’.
4) What are your next projects?
There is a film project about a mother and a son and it has been a while that I’ve been trying to make this film. I’ve got Rotterdam Film Festival’s script grant for this film. Konkona Sen Sharma is on board but, somehow, it has not got made yet. The general feedback I have received so far is that ‘its dark’. But I am optimistic.
Second is a feature film project. It is a series of six short films with the theme of sex and death. They are mad, whacked out, dark, pulp-ish stories. They are exciting stories, written especially with digital platform in mind.
Another feature screenplay is almost finished. It’s a crime-drama thriller based on a real event. It’s a unique story and the protagonist is again a woman. The film deals with deep dark psychosis.
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