KGP researchers’ short film awarded in JIFF 2021

It takes a huge amount of guts, ambition and skill to tell stories about the sections of the society considered taboo. The people we look down upon consciously or subconsciously, the people who are no different from us, yet we treat them quite differently.

‘Pichhutan’, a short film, is another step towards such storytelling. A group of research scholars from IIT Kharagpur, called Firstep Productions, created this short film from very limited resources and was awarded for ‘Best Mobile Short Film’ in Jaipur International Film Festival(JIFF) 2021. They have made many other short films, like ‘Offside’ and ‘The Taste of Life’ encompassing various social issues and communities.’Taste of life’ was nominated in the International science film festival of India 2019, and ‘Offside’ was officially selected in Kolkata International Film Festival 2019. Awaaz, IIT Kharagpur interviewed Saawan Bag and Jeet Majumder from Firstep Productions to know what does it take to create a marvellous piece of art out of scarce resources, while pursuing their respective scientific pursuits during PhD.

Following are the team members of Firstep Productions:

  • Saawan Kumar Bag(director, writer, editor): PhD(photonic sensors), Department of Physics
  • Sayan Dasgupta (writer, actor): PhD(particle physics), Department of Physics
  • Jeet Majumder (Cinematographer): PhD(palaeontology), Department of Geology and Geophysics
  • Avik Bhanja (writer, actor): PhD(inorganic chemistry), Department of Chemistry

The short film Pichhutan revolves around the lives of the prostitute community and sex workers. The meaning of the title ‘Pichhutan’ is the attachment with the things one has in his/her surroundings. The team wanted to portray the different aspects, elements of happiness and culture that the society never tries to see.

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We talked about the journey they experienced from script to final edit of Pichhutan. Like many great things, the creative ideas of the Firstep team also seed in their halls. The core team of Firstep is composed of Saawan, Jeet, Sayan and Avik. Saawan mainly writes the screenplay but it is sculpted by continuous group discussions, fine-tuned by certain requirements and initiatives in character placement and cinematography. Sayan has a great interest in theatre acting and had also acted in many interhall plays during GC. He actively contributes to the various creative decisions of the films and also helps to groom the actors. Apart from technical constraints like very basic camera, editing software and other equipment, since all their movies are Zero Budget, the greatest challenge they face is time management. Because all of them are research scholars, their weekdays are jam-packed and hardly get time on the weekends. Besides, coming from various departments it is always a daunting task to get a common time slot where all the cast and crew members are free. For that reason, they wrap the shooting of the films in a single day.

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We were curious to know about the different elements and key features they use as tools in their films because many films have great stories but it takes a lot more than that to be awarded internationally. They explained that the storyline of both the short films is linear and simple, no complexities being involved, but they dedicate much of their time to focus on the symbolic portrayal of certain emotions and chemistry evolving with the story. Like in the short film-’Offside’, another short film that was selected in JIFF 2021, the jersey no.3 represents the 3rd sex, a shot of Adha Nariswar shows the dual nature of the protagonist and the aspect ratio shrinks and expands in the last scene highlighting the freedom and empowerment. Most of the scenes in Offside were shot in some sort of boundaries portraying the socially confined life of the protagonist. In Pichhutan, a short reflection of Durga’s idol on the protagonist’s makeup mirror, a shot of sugarcane being crushed etc. represents the exploitation. The protagonist is seen visiting places to meet her ends. The way she sets off to work during the day shows that she is confident, strong, happy and beautiful. But as the day passes and the sun sets, it takes away all her exuberance along with it leaving a void within her. The night is no different from the day, except the fact that she has lost the scent of her strength. But the Sun rises again, brings in new rays of hope, happiness and power with it.

The team believes that contribution to the art of filmmaking isn’t made until the film has some innovative way to portray simple emotions and project out the deep and hidden dynamics of people.

All the members of Firstep Productions are pursuing their PhD, being in transition from students to scientists. We asked them about their source of motivation to take some time out of their busy schedule and creativity out of their scientific projects, putting it into filmmaking and doing it so well. Talking in these lines, Jeet- a graduate student in Geology, answered that during his fieldwork he was supposed to do photography in much technical and proper manner. And that seeded the motivation for cinematography in him. Whereas Saawan built his temperament for writing screenplays and directing films through observing people from all walks of life and watching global cinema. He started filmmaking his journey in 2017 and the Firstep production was born. The most common aspect he finds between scientific research and filmmaking is using creativity and skills to build something from scratch. He believes that we all have some creative energy to do something apart from academics be it painting, writing, music etc. And using the creative energy to build something meaningful is always the biggest satisfaction be it scientific research or filmmaking. This is the reason why they were passionately doing this when they didn’t even envisage themselves being awarded.

The team has an ultimate goal of making a full-length feature film which can be built in a proper way only with the technical and financial constraints fulfilled with proper workforce. Talking about their plans, they said that after their PhDs they might be in various academic or industrial positions but they will either take a break before joining or some time off from their jobs to work on the film. Nowadays the entire process is so optimized and technologically advanced that shooting wraps up in a month in most cases. With the recognition they have received due to Pichhutan, they are in a good position to pitch their idea to get financed. Getting selected among the 220 films out of 2500 films sent from almost 85 countries in the world is also a great confidence boost for them. It has proved the concept that no amount of constraints had ever restricted someone to make a good film. Their script for the full-length film is in its initial stages and will be completed soon. Meanwhile, they are looking for people across domains to collaborate with them.

The team acknowledges that they have been blessed to have a supportive friend circle that most importantly gave them peaceful mind space to work on these projects simultaneously handling their PhD. They are also grateful to IIT Kharagpur as all of their short films were shot completely in different locations of the campus.

Awaaz, IIT Kharagpur congratulates Firstep Productions and all the people who supported the team in numerous ways whenever needed. We wish that they get all the support and recognition they deserve so that they continue making brilliant films and projecting the unknown stories from our society that are meant to be told.

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