Alankrita Shrivastav has explored topics that are largely swept under the carpet in Indian society. The filmmaker talks about her approach to stories that fascinate her
A 55-year-old widow enjoys reading an erotic novel on the quiet. Five urban women struggle with desire and ethics as they achieve their ambitions. A college fresher transforms into a singer who loves Miley Cyrus, when she sheds the inhibitions her family has foisted upon her. A middle-class clerk steals petty amounts from her co-workers to pay installments for her plush new apartment she has forced her husband to book to keep up with ‘high society’. A middle-aged woman rediscovers the joy of living after a young man declares his sexual attraction towards her.
Stories such as Lipstick Under My Burkha, Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare, and My Beautiful Wrinkles in Modern Love: Mumbai come by in the film world only every once in a while. These characters (and more) are extremely real in their complexities, habits, biases and more, which is where everything stems from for filmmaker Alankrita Shrivastava. Something new every time – how does she do it?
“I start thinking about a person, and then the two most important things sort of emerge – one is the character and the other is the world the character inhabits.”
“It’s strange but there is no method to it. For me, everything – the stories that I write and the films and shows I want to make – emerges from a character. I start thinking about a person, and then the two most important things sort of emerge – one is the character and the other is the world the character inhabits. I don’t know how they come in, these random things in my head!” she smiles. From these random thoughts stem the socio-economic context, the profession, the situation the character is in, the crises they face and the resolution. It gets her to think more deeply when things start taking shape.
Director at work: Alankrita on the sets of Lipstick Under My Burkha
The process has posed so many challenges for her since the beginning, since the women or men she portrays are all too real; they could be the person sitting next to you in a train or walking next to you.
“I think that, definitely from the word go, I haven’t done anything to help myself fit into the mainstream.”
“When my first film Turning 30 released in 2011, the digital age had not yet set in,” the filmmaker reveals. “The film was largely in English, and it was about this girl experiencing a crisis before turning 30, which I feel is something a lot of young urban women sort of go through.” She knows it is the point when a lot of women start thinking whether there is any meaning to life. “I remember we had a difficult time with the distribution because anyone who would come to see it or the buyers were like ‘Kya hai ye picture? Kya hai ye ladki?’ I think that, definitely from the word go, I haven’t done anything to help myself fit into the mainstream,” she says. And that is exactly Alankrita’s USP as a filmmaker.
Director at work: Alankrita with Bhumi Pednekar and Konkona Sensharma on the set of Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare
Of course, that does not make her films devoid of drama or humour, both of which she enjoys, but this comes from life rather than heroism. This also stems from the fact that depending on the circumstances, one’s moral compass also changes. “See, if I have no money and I want to steal something, it is very different from having everything and still planning a crime. It is a random example, but, yes, thought processes do differ,” she explains.
Implying that everyone exists in different shades of grey and, sometimes, we are a darker grey, sometimes a lighter grey and, sometimes, a mix of both, Alankrita says she likes to go after characters who are on the fringes of society in terms of privilege, constantly trying to find something, trying to figure something out. “Sometimes even if they are more privileged, there’s something inside them. They still need to sort of grapple and deal with it. I like that complex interiority of the character, because I feel that’s more human and very, very interesting.”
“I like that complex interiority of the character, because I feel that’s more human and very, very interesting.”
Which is why, when one watches any of her films, there is often a reflection of personal crises in the characters on the screen. Alankrita is able to pull this off because she thinks of herself as the audience and writes what makes sense to her. “It should ring true to me and should be something that I would enjoy watching. I don’t like how some people think the audience won’t get it, and therefore they want to simplify things.”
In the process, she acknowledges feedback from trusted colleagues and friends. Does she find it hard to let go of a character or a scene, or even a dialogue? “I am more aware of what’s going on since I write and direct, and it is an advantage because I know the larger scheme of things.” Even when an actor has a question, she knows everything – the exact line and reference – clearly enough to be able to answer.
Calling the shots: Alankrita wearing the director’s hat and with her team (below)
At the same time, she also acknowledges the distress of sometimes having to leave her writer self half out the doorway after wearing the director’s hat, acknowledging why a particular scene needs to be shortened. “Once I’ve finished shooting, however, I’m very objective at the editing stage,” she beams, mentioning that she is not attached to what’s written or what’s shot.
We catch her on that very note and ask her to pick a favourite work. “That’s the difficult one!” she says, “but let me give you a very cheesy answer – it’s like a mother loves all her children equally, and each child has his or her own destiny.” Despite that, she admits that Turning 30 will remain close to her heart just because it was her first directorial venture. At the time, everything was a first for her. “I was so naive, so young when I made it. And Dolly Kitty… would be my most complex script in terms of writing. Lipstick is one that got the most love. As a director, I am super happy with the finale of Made In Heaven,” she adds, now laughing out loud at how she has managed to mention almost all her work! “It actually just depends. Bombay Begums has a totally different perspective. Everything that I’ve done has a different place in my heart,” she finally settles on as the answer. She knows that no matter which film or series, it does reflect a part of Alankrita.
“I think the one big thing for me is that they (OTT platforms) have given me a chance to go into the formats I didn’t know. Writing Made In Heaven was writing nine episodes that dig into the characters, develop them, express so many stories.”
Her two web series, Made In Heaven and Bombay Begums, and her segment in Modern Love: Mumbai came with the digital boom. Evidently, streaming platforms have brought a huge shift in the narratives being shared. They changed the canvas, so to say. “I think the one big thing for me is that they have given me a chance to go into the formats I didn’t know. Writing Made In Heaven was writing nine episodes that dig into the characters, develop them, express so many stories,” she reveals. It was the same with Bombay Begums; it’s six episodes, going intensely and in a microscopic way looking at the characters over six episodes. That said, she really wants the audience to continue having the cinematic experience in the theatre.
The love of the audience stems from there, and it is what keeps filmmakers going. “That’s most precious,” she tells us. “A message from someone on how they loved a character or a film; I think I’ve learned to focus on just that because I feel that gives you the energy to do your next work, rather than let criticism weigh you down.”
When she needs some time off to process things, she immerses herself in the world of books. “I just love reading and I find writing therapeutic. My curiosity is piqued by people around me. I find human beings interesting, and I love watching people, having long conversations with them and just seeing what their lives are about. Perhaps my next character can come out of it!”
Also Read: Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari Tries To Adopt Mentor Sudha Murty’s Simple Ways
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