Silence, film therapy in session

The lockdown may have paused the film and television industry’s frames, but it has become the central figure in filmmaker Kabir Singh Chowdhry’s latest movie ‘Mono Maniacs’, which has already garnered 2,000 hits on YouTube, with filmmakers and artists like Richa Chadha,Varun Grover, Deepa Mehta and Maya Krishna Rao talking about it. Deepa Mehta recently tweeted: “Between poetry and the macabre lies Kabir Singh Chowdhry’s Mono Maniacs – see it and gasp.”

Shot during the peak of the lockdown with a phone camera, and starring his mother and house staff, the movie has been loosely adapted from ‘Berenice’, a short story by Edgar Allen Po. A surreal take on the absurdness of the situation, ‘Mono Maniacs’, while revealing multiple facets of characters when encountering a never-before situation like the pandemic also takes a dig at the state’s methodology in enforcing a total lockdown.

“During the curfew and pandemic, I thought why not make a film around all these restrictions of movement, I thought it would be a step above the Gonzo style,” says this director of ‘Mehsampur’, which won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2018 Jio Mami Film Festival.

Adding that like everybody else, he was incarcerated within the four walls of the house and had to seek his actors and inspiration, from within these constraints, the cook, the house help along with her children became his protagonists.

“Through observation, I tried to figure out their state of mind and get an insight into their fantasies and dreams, fears and desires,” he says.

Chowdhry feels that the process of making the film was also a revelation of sorts as he observed his mother, theatre director Neelam Mansingh Chowdhry and staff more carefully with regards to the story. Fact and fiction get mixed up and I tried to pull out the sense of class, and caste that asserts itself no matter how grave the situation may be. Like philosopher Slavoj Zizek says, “Cinema is the ultimate pervert art. It doesn’t give you what you desire – it tells you how to desire.”

In many ways a therapeutic experience for him, the filmmaker recounts that though he tried his hand on many things during the initial phase of lockdown -baking, cooking, cleaning, re-arranging books and furniture, something was definitely amiss. “I wondered about the existential crisis that the people within the house may be experiencing during the pandemic. I felt that since we were all locked down together, why not collectively explore our anxieties like a group activity, hoping to turn this very crisis into something liberating. I think the film did do that for all of us.”

Made with a “zero budget” without expensive cameras, crews etc, Chowdhry feels that while everyone struggles to be ‘happy’, his way of dealing with life is through work. “Writing and painting are my tools, and I think the pandemic freed me from certain considerations that assail one during the process of filming — anything was possible, and one didn’t need expensive aids.”

Even as epidemiologists point out that the worst is far from over, the filmmaker is hoping to make a few more films during the lockdown. “I have already started working on thoughts and ideas — that’s what keeps me sane.”

While the critically-acclaimed ‘Mehsampur’ travelled to many festivals and won him awards, the battle for funding has not really become less fierce for him. “Frankly, my films do not straddle any template, but hover outside the fringes of conventional paradigm. This is a choice I made, and hard choices lead to hard journeys.”

Planning to make ‘Lal Pari’ and ‘The Ruined Map’ (tentative title) once the lockdown eases, Chowdhry feels the future post the pandemic will be very different. “The kind of audience would change with newer viewing habits since the perception of how to access a film has shifted from the cinema to the home. But then, as a filmmaker I am interested in the process, where I can extract the abstract out of the mundane and create chaos from the existing order.”