Gaurav Panjwani who struggled with academics in his child hood days discovered himself in theater and decided to become a filmmaker when he was in 12th standard only. Read on to know more about this prominent filmmaker.
Tell us about your life journey in brief?
Well, my life has been very dramatic. I never thought I would want to be a film maker. I have been a shy guy throughout my teenage years and I have always struggled to speak in good English. Speaking in good English has been important to me since my teenage years. My parents have always wanted for me to study in a good, top notch school. I took admission in one of the top school’s in Jaipur when I was in the sixth grade, after a lot of requests made by my parents to the Principal, the Condition being, if i wouldn’t be able to perform well in my academics, I would be handed over my Transfer Certificate, which happened. I failed badly in the sixth standard, scoring only around some 15% in the final results, failing in almost every subject. I scored passing marks only in English, although I was a bad speaker.
So, my Principal gave me my TC from the school and that is when I had to struggle with myself, as I saw everyone, my cousins, my friends getting good results and getting promoted. I saw my parents cry for me and I was shattered. Being immature, I even tried to commit suicide. I tried to gulp an entire bottle of Phenyl but didn’t go through with it. I took admission in another school in the same grade, where I used to struggle with academics too, plus an over-all perception of things. But I made sure of one thing which was, I would never fail again. I kept that promise to myself till I reached the 12th grade.
I was in the seventh grade, in an all boys’ school. Friends always told me that I am good looking and I honestly considered becoming an actor, but did not know of any resources for the same. I really admired the way the audience was always attentive to the stage plays that happened in my school. I wanted to participate as well, but since I was a weak student, teachers didn’t listen to me.
My first play was when I was in the first standard. I played the character of a soldier in a war scene. The play was about Chander Gupt Maurya’s life. I went on stage and shouted “Maaro” where I wasn’t supposed to, but the audience applauded and my teacher also appreciated it. I remember that moment as one of the happiest moments of my childhood. I never got an opportunity to act again in school. In the seventh grade, I remember discussing about the art of acting with a friend from school. He told me that he had started attending some theatre workshops. I asked him enthusiastically about the workshop and how I would love to join. He told me about the ‘Children Theatre workshop’ which was conducted in the summer vacation. I joined a theatre workshop with a senior theatre person, Jairoop Jeevan, from the National School of Drama. It was there that I started to discover myself. I believe, that workshop opened me up a lot and I learned about so many things, especially the art form of theatre and I started gaining confidence in my life too. I can never forget the experience I had in those years. Since then, all of my vacations were dedicated to learning theatre from different teachers. Thankfully, in the 9th Standard, I started doing plays in my school with much maturity. In the 11th grade, i started going to a different school and there I started to act and direct. Our team started to win a lot of inter school festivals. Since then, theatre has been my constant passion.
What prompted you to become a filmmaker?
As I had mentioned earlier, in the 11th Standard, I started directing plays and we started winning many competitions for the school and that gave me happiness. So, one day, the Principal of my school called me to her office to discuss something, I was afraid and I remember I went to the office, trembling. But she told me about her trip to Germany for some student exchange program, where she discovered that a lot of school students make short films. And she decided she would encourage her students to do the same. She asked me if I would be interested in making a short film. I was honoured to be her choice for the task. But I didn’t know about any technical specifications for film making. She told me to do some research and use the school’s camera for practice. I started working hard to seize the opportunity. I went to a classmate, Tarun Arora, who was an amateur photographer since his father ran a studio in the city, he had a sound knowledge of working with a camera. Tarun was very excited to become the cinematographer for the film. Along with him, I brought together a few students who did theatre with me. We formed a team and started shooting. The story was given by our Principal. Before we started to shoot, I read a lot of blogs about lighting and post production. One of my theatre teacher, Mr. Deepak Parrek had a little experience in film making, so I discussed a few things with him too. After shooting for four days, I realised this was what I was made for. I really enjoyed those four days of the shoot, making visual language play with different angles, focus, defocus, stimulation and the rest. The first day after rolling, Tarun looked into my eyes with the anticipation of hearing me say“ACTION”. It made me very emotional. I said it. “Action” Phew!
Later, somehow when we edited the film, I downloaded a trial version of an editing software called “EDIUS” and with its help and tutorials, I learned how to edit by myself. I kept doing a lot of experiments with it. So, finally on the 14th of November (Children’s Day), we premiered our film in our school’s auditorium and the whole nation’s media covered us, and it became the talk of the town, that some school students have managed to make a 30 minute film. That same day, Om Shanti Om and Sawariya also got released and both the films got negative remarks from Film Critics. One newspaper, I forget which one, printed a sarcastic comment saying that some young students of the 12th grade made a better film than Bollywood biggies, although I didn’t take that seriously.
I took the decision of film making that day itself.
Tell us about your team, if you have?
Excellent question, I must say, Well, to have a team in the film business is bliss. I was very fortunate that I had a great team when I used to make short films, but as a matter of fact, everyone is here to grow, everyone is here to learn and proceed. Teams and crew keeps shuffling, but I am fortunate that I always had good people in my crew. Whatever I thought of, they understood my vision and gave their 100%. But for my first feature film, I will always be thankful to all those who gave their flesh and blood to make my first feature happen. I can’t tell you in what conditions we shot the film. Be it the Technical crew or Creative Crew, they stayed there with me all the time. One great thing was, most of the people who worked with me in short films, were also in my crew for my first feature. Also, it is very important to have an understanding crew.
How many/ what kind of movies you have made?
I have made around 18 Short Films and 1 feature film. What kind of movies is a difficult question to answer. You make films about whatever you feel for. For example, as I had mentioned, I failed in the sixth standard and even tried to commit suicide. So, later in the years I made a film called, “XAMINATION FOBIA”, which dealt with the thoughts of a guy who failed and what he went through. Also, I feel that the Indian education system is just inappropriate, they teach us numbers, not the content. They give us information not the knowledge. I made the film as a sarcastic comment on the education system.When I was in Delhi, I saw the LGBT Community taking a walk called the Queer pride walk. It fascinated me and I made a short film called “FACEPACK”, which is also a sarcastic comment on the society, and the way it treats the LGBT community. In a similar way, one of my seniors, who is an avid coffee lover, kept suggesting we make a movie on coffee, as he had read this article about hallucinations caused by coffee. So it all goes around like that, you just need to trust your instincts, and believe in your concept.
What difficulties do you face as an independent filmmaker?
The Term ‘Independent film maker’ is itself a Problem. You face a lot of challenges while filming independently. Starting from pre-production to post-production till it finally gets released. But the major problem with making an independent film is its distribution. As an Independent film maker, you need to know what you are going to do after making the film. Most of the independent film makers are not sure about that. Also, there has to be a studio backing regarding independent films, although PVR Director’s Rare is working with some Initiative like that. But I also feel more studio’s should come and back up these independent films. Also, I feel if Exhibitors take interest in Exhibiting independent films, a lot of change can occur. But moreover, I feel, patience is the key for independent film makers, if he can himself discover the way out, things can work out. Like film festivals, organising private film screenings and the like can really increase awareness. At the end of the day, everything in an independent circuit is a problem and it is all about money. If you have money, your independent film also becomes big with promotions. One should not under estimate the power of advertisements and the audience.
What advice would you like to give to someone who is interested/ newbee in filmmaking?
Just keep making films and be patient. Enjoy the process and give your 100%, keep exploring the possibilities of showing your films to people. Even if you have to stand on a subway with a tag of an independent film maker and distribute your film DVD’S to people. Do it! Making films is more important, rather than talking about it. And don’t join film schools. Save time and money and invest all of it in making your films. For example, if you’re paying 100000 INR as one year’s fee, you can make at least five short films in the same amount. Cast your friends, ask your Dad to buy you a DSLR camera, get lenses on rent, ask restaurant owners to sponsor the food, for which you can advertise the restaurant in your movie. Ask local clothing stores to give you costumes for which you can place his logo in your film to advertise it. Talk to people to use their locations, use whatever lights you have, whatever makes your frame look good according to your script, make it happen!
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