100 SECONDS ON THE RED SOFA: Kathaah@8
Shilpa Krishnan Shukla, writer, director, and producer of Kathaah@8, started out without any formal training to be a filmmaker.
Her fourth and latest feature film, Kathaah@8, is publicised as the world’s first anthology in eight languages, written, produced and directed by a single filmmaker. It’s also seen as the world’s first feature film in eight Indian languages – Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Malayalam, Marathi, Punjabi, Tamil and Telugu.
Shot in nine nights, the anthology interweaves eight stories in eight Indian languages all occurring at 8pm, exploring a wide range of themes surrounding the Indian community in Singapore.
Shilpa’s own story as a filmmaker began with an online filmmaking contest for one-minute short films for the now defunct independent filmmaking blog Passion For Cinema.
She recalls, “It was great encouragement for both of my entries in the competition to be short-listed in the top 25. So I started making three-minute films, six-minute films, and suddenly I was making two-hour films.”
After its world premiere and clinching the Jury Award at the Singapore South Asian International Film Festival in August 2019, Kathaah@8 made a tour of the international film festival circuit for the rest of the year. The film has been the official selection of six international film festivals – and counting – including the International Film Festival of Kerala and Chennai International Film Festival.
Seeing filmmaking as a strong passion on the side, Shilpa never expected the film’s success on the festival circuit. She shares, “I made the film because it was a really fun project to work on but we’ve been pleasantly surprised by the reception. During the film’s screening at the Chennai Film Festival, we actually had people clapping, whistling and standing up celebrating the film at the end which was great.”
For Shilpa, the main inspiration behind Kathaah@8 was her interest to work in various languages. However, she didn’t start out with the idea of incorporating eight languages into the film before she wrote the script. “I knew that I wanted to make films in different languages but I didn’t know which languages and how many,” She explains. “What happened was that I put up a casting call on Facebook for anyone interested in acting – no experience required – and clumped those who responded together based on which languages they speak.”
Her previous film, Tashi, had her working in both English and Hindi. As she wasn’t familiar with Hindi, writing the dialogue involved a long process of translation and back-translation. She decided to take the challenge to another level infusing Kathaah@8 with eight languages.
While she is fluent in Malayalam and knows quite a bit of Tamil, the rest of the languages were fresh for Shilpa. The key difficulty for the film then was to maintain the feel of the original dialogues she wrote in English throughout the multiple stages of translation and back-translation.
Another challenge behind Kathaah@8 was with the logistics of the cast. The film marks the debutant performances of 18 Singapore-based actors – none of whom were professionals. This meant that she had to work around their busy schedules for shoot rehearsals.
With 80 rehearsals in total, Shilpa started with the actors understanding their characters. As a short film with “very intense, almost one act scenes” the actors had to live through the character within their single scenes. She found that some of them struggled with this. She explains, “The way I got them trained was to give them an assignment. I would tell them that they are the same character but in a different situation and ask them how they would react to different situations.”
As with the challenge of balancing the languages, she ultimately found working with non-professional actors to be very fulfilling. “They come with a lot of excitement, a lot of commitment in how they work and they really want to give their best,” she says. “I take a lot of joy when I see how happy they are with their own performances, when they never knew that they could do [their performances].”
Despite being an accomplished filmmaker, Shilpa has to balance between her day job as a marketing director, her family life, and her passion for filmmaking. She says, “It has always been a challenge but I almost see it like I need one for the other. If I don’t have the passion, I feel I wouldn’t be inspired enough to do anything else. If I don’t have the day job, I can’t fund my passion. So I sort of need to do both.”
With Kathaah@8, Shilpa hopes that filmmakers realise that it’s “actually quite possible” to make films.
“A lot of filmmakers feel restricted by the lack of resources or lack of time. But Kathaah@8 is made with a threadbare budget with a couple of cameramen literally hand-holding the camera. Only a couple of films [in Kathaah@8] had a tripod shot. We didn’t have any rigs or dollies or any lights beyond one single LED light. It’s very minimal in that sense.”
She continues, “So I think it’s possible to make films, and I want people to understand that nothing should be a barrier – even the lack of understanding of the language should not be a barrier – and it’s quite possible to make the film that they would like to make.”
Don’t miss the last chance to catch Kathaah@8 in Singapore at The Projector on 18 January.
Watch the trailer to the anthology film below:
In the meantime, check out our review of the film!
About 100 Seconds On The Red Sofa
100 Seconds On The Red Sofa shines the spotlight on movers and shakers in the Singapore film and media scene, with each episode featuring people that are making waves and contributing to the industry’s growth and enrichment.
The Red Sofa has come a long way and has a rich history, dating all the way back to Sinema Old School in 2007. It’s seen a generation of young local filmmakers come into their own; now we’re dusting it off for another round.