“Keep a little fire burning; however small, however hidden”: Cormac McCarthy.
This is what exactly the two brothers from the hinterland of Bihar have been doing for more than a decade. They clung on to their dream of filmmaking despite grim circumstances. From being outsiders to knowing absolutely nothing about technicalities of cinema to losing family support in their “mad” pursuit to developing a script from scratch to cherishing it for a decade to finally able to shape it up into a full-fledged feature film- the journey of Satyanshu Singh and Devanshu Singh is nothing less than a movie plot itself.
11 years after its birth, the brother-duo’s labor of love, “Chintu Ka Birthday,” is creating quite a ripple. The movie debut-screened in Delhi at 10th Jagran Film Festival where it received a thunderous applause from the audience. It went on to evoke similar reactions in 17 more cities before coming to its final stop in Mumbai on Sept. 28. No wonder, the movie has been coveted with Best Film (Viewer’s Choice) award at the festival.
The movie was also admired at Indian Film Festival Boston earlier as well where it grabbed triple awards- Best Film, Award For Technical Excellence and Best Actor in Negative Role.
“Chintu Ka Birthday” manages to tickle, move, surprise and tug at the heartstrings- all at the same time. Even if situation seems to be far removed from our own reality, it is somehow totally relatable. It unfolds over a day wherein an Indian-origin family is determined to celebrate their six-year-old’s birthday in war-torn Iraq. The movie has a brilliant cast of Vinay Pathak, Tillotama Shome and Seema Pahwa and is AIB’s first film project.
Satyanshu and Devanshu first came into light when their debut short film “Tamaash” won National Award in 2014. Ourtitbits got an opportunity to talk to Satyanshu, who opened up about his love for writing, his rendezvous with “Chintu Ka Birthday” and his journey as a filmmaker so far.
How did it all begin?
“I was 14 when I thought for the first time that I should do something in filmmaking. And that happened because of ‘Satya.’ That was the movie which opened my eyes to many little things that I had never observed earlier. The movie made me fell in love with the craft.
Despite my growing love for cinema, I continued studies and got through Armed Forces Medical College (AFMC), Pune, and since family financial condition was not very good, I ended up joining it. But I could not curb my dream of filmmaking and finally in 2008, after giving my final exams, I quit medicine and AFMC altogether. And that was the time when my family, extended family and everyone I knew back in my home town thought that I had gone mad. When I needed their trust and support the most, no one believed in me.
Except, of course, my brother. When my family turned their back on me, my friends stepped in and supported me in whatever way they could and made sure I pursue my dreams.
How did “Chintu Ka Birthday” take birth?
In 2007, when I first started writing the story, I was still in AFMC. I did not have a laptop, nor was I familiar with scriptwriting. We (me and Devanshu) wrote the whole story on our instinct. Back in those days, we did not have 24-hour internet. I used to go to internet cafés to download scripts and study them.
Despite the setbacks and lack of professional knowledge, I always knew I will be able to do it. AFMC in fact gave me more strength to pursue my dream. My love for cinema only grew and thrived there. By the time, I was ready to graduate in 2008, the complete script of ‘Chintu Ka birthday’ was also ready.”
Satyanshu is a fecund writer and has written close to some 180 poems and verses. In fact, some of his work was featured in 2010 hit “Udaan.”
“Udaan was our first big project. My brother was working on a project in Mumbai where he got in touch with Vikramaditya Motwane. He read and liked our script (Chintu Ka Birthday) and since he knew that we write in Hindi, asked us to pen down the poems for Udaan.”
There were four poems in Udaan out of which three were written by the brother-duo. Each has its own story.
“This poem I wrote exactly on my Dad. He was back in my home town, clearly upset over my life decisions and I had decided that I will never go back home. The entire poem is directly addressed to my father.
The poem that appears initially in the movie was a part of my collection while the one which Rohan (the lead) recites to his young brother in the hospital, I wrote that one especially for the movie.”
You might not be aware but the director-duo already has a National Award in their kitty for their debut short film “Tamaash.”
“We wanted to learn and practice directing and that’s how ‘Tamaash’ happened. Although at that time, I felt that it was unnecessary to go to Kashmir for the shoot, it actually turned out to be amazing. We started sharing it on platforms after which it started winning awards and accolades. It eventually won National Award after which our family finally started seeing what we were dreaming and aligned with us. I finally visited home after seven years.
Yes, we do gravitate towards child stories. In fact, Devanshu really loves working with child actors. People underestimate the value of child actors. In fact, it is easy to influence the audience through them.”
On journey of “Chintu Ka Birthday”:
“Vinay Pathak was not our first choice because everyone thought he is apt for the role of father and we wanted to try someone else. But when he read the script, his eagerness for the role was truly inspiring. We had to wait for two years when the shoot could begin but he maintained his stance and enthusiasm. In the end, we are really happy and grateful that it was him who played the role of father.
Tillotama was our very first choice. We both are big, big fans of hers and we feel that she still has not received as much due as she deserves. She is a urban modern girl and the role was of extremely simple, small-town, coy mother. But she transformed, just as she does for her other roles.
In fact, she has worked harder than anyone else on the project. She learned Bihari-Hindi as well as singing. She was the one who insisted to sing the movie’s solo song herself. The song was recorded on the set and not conventionally in a studio. There were 200 people on the set at the time of the shoot. She was singing so beautifully and peacefully that everyone was spellbound.
Devanshu looked for the child actor himself. He even went to Bihar and Jharkhand to scout one but found him eventually in Delhi. Vedant’s father is a theatre actor himself so he knew the intricacies and also acted as his coach.”
How easy or difficult it is to work with one’s sibling?
“We complement each other a lot. We are flexible and completely trust each other. We understand, respect and are impressed by each other’s territory of expertise.
Devanshu is a prolific ad film maker and I am a regular writer. It comes down to our ability to produce good work.”
“The Indian film industry has been very warm to us. Never in 12 years, I felt that the industry is not helping us or not giving us opportunities. It is us who need to prove ourselves worthy of their love and attention.
Jagran Film Festival gave us tremendous exposure. Delhi debut screening was overwhelming. We are still trying to figure out a way to bring the movie on the big screens. We want more and more people to watch the film.
I am dying to tell several other stories. There is so much to do and so much to learn.”
What kept you going all these years? Wasn’t it tough or frustrating?
“A lot of people ask me this question and some even with angry passion like ‘how could you be so sane after working on the same project for all these years?’ .They want me to tell them that it was very tough. They want to hear about my struggle. But I always tell them there was never any struggle.
It’s like when you fall in love with someone, you don’t do that with a condition. If you love your art, you will love it irrespective of what it is giving you. When that love is so pure and so intense, it is all you want. That does not mean I didn’t want to see results. But achieving results was never my sole-primary motive ever. And that’s why it never felt like a struggle.
I only felt a bit of setback when the movie was removed from MAMI 2018 due to Me Too movement. Had I been a big filmmaker at the time, chances are high it would not have happened the way it happened. I did feel victimized for a bit…….
But I never felt frustrated. Fact is we can never be good enough when it comes to art or music or sport or any other form of human expression. The standards set by the masters; best of cinema that is available around the world, is much greater than what we can ever achieve in our lives. We can never say that we are fully ready. So more time one gets, it is a kind of blessing because one can continue to improve.
Both I and Devanshu never felt like struggling all these years because we love our work so much that it is part of our existence. We just kept working and continued to improve ourselves.”