Connecting the ‘DOTs’ of Human Connection: A Feature Film Made in Lockdown
Writer & Director: Shilpa Krishnan Shukla
Virtual DOP & Editor: Mathew Jenif Joseph
Produced by: Shilpa Krishnan Shukla, Shivanu Shukla and Mathew Jenif Joseph
Cast: Ahaana Krishna, Aishwarya Kumar, Aparna Pradeep, Lalit Prabhakar, Parna Pethe, Raaghav Ranganathan, Sai Pogaru, Saran Jith, Shishir Sharma, Suman Nagarkar
10 strangers; 5 pairs; 1 human connection – this is the premise of DOTs, a completely remotely shot feature film, with actors hailing from India and Singapore. DOTs is based on a fictional social media site (someone please make it real!) that connects strangers from around the world based on a set of premeditated criterias. They then have two hours to interact, afterwhich their virtual connection will be lost forever.
Whenever I read “entirely remote production” in synopses, I get nervous. Simply because the film ends up being disjointed, with awkward cuts and transitions. This is through no fault of the filmmakers – it is almost impossible to have seamlessness with so many inconsistencies working against you. However, DOTs was a very pleasant surprise and its success is thanks to the collaborative effort between the cast and crew, under the direction of Shilpa Krishnan Shukla.
Shukla wrote these five stories separately and then used the social media factor to tie them together in a pretty knot. Her creative choice of having the entire film take place as webcam interactions is extremely smart and makes for a smooth viewing – almost like watching a secret Zoom meeting that you should not be a part of.
DOTs features five couples – the wise elders, the hopeful youngsters, the curious queers, the long-lost friends and the quirky mismatches. What may seem like an archetypal pairing is far from it – each couple features twists that you would not expect and steers clear of becoming cliche.
Another asset to the film and the concept is its actors. Each one of them stood out to me in their own way and melted into their roles. Working off each other’s energy is essential to create memorable chemistry but they emoted flawlessly, even without the luxury of physical interaction. It was realistic and enjoyable to see each character transition from being painfully awkward at first, to having some sincerely heartwarming moments towards the end of the two hours.
If I had to stretch for a negative (and I mean really stretch), I would have appreciated it if the pace was quicker. While I understand the need for awkward pauses to properly set up the characters and their hesitancy with the app, some parts could have moved along faster to make for a more riveting watch. There was a lack of variation in the shots, given the premise, leaving the performances and dialogues to carry most of the film.
DOTs left me ruminating about the versatility of human connection and which senses are vital to form that connection. It makes its point that what connects us most is our shared experiences, despite how much physical distance there may be between us. At the tail-end of the circuit breaker (in Singapore), this film was a poignant reminder of the importance of having open, quality conversations.
Sinema.SG had a chance to chat with Shukla after the premiere of the film as she offered a holistic picture into her experience making this film.
What are some challenges you face with direction? How did you direct your actors to achieve the tone you wanted?
It was definitely challenging in terms of being aware of and reviewing all the nuances.
There were some instances where the final footage reached me and I saw it in full resolution and smoothness – only then did I realise that there could have been a few things that I could have changed or corrected in terms of the performances. Having said that, because we did plenty of rehearsals, these were quite minor things and the actors were already fully onboard. They were at ease with what they had to do. Some of them did their scenes without actually seeing their co-actor at all during the shoot, and even then they could really emote. Thanks to the planning, the prep with the rehearsals, it was not too difficult.
In terms of the overall tone, I first get actors to read and approach the character on their own. I build from there. I don’t start off saying this is exactly how I want it but I like watching what the actors, themselves, bring to the table. Based on that, we build or tone down various things. It is collaborative in that way. I feel that through this, we can get more natural performances, with the actors bringing a lot of the spontaneity.
What inspired and drove you to make this film, amidst lockdown, instead of waiting it out to do actual physical shoots?
Even before the virus or the lockdown, I had kicked off a film called Vesta which involved shooting remotely with 16 actors from four countries. A theme was given, the actors shot and sent the footage over. This happened in the third quarter of 2019. Once the lockdown hit, Mathew Jenif Joseph (virtual DOP and editor of DOTs) and I finished up Vesta and released it in April. Remote filmmaking is not new to me.
I thought of DOTs mainly because it was a good opportunity to work with all these actors in various parts of India and Singapore. I had met most of them fleetingly at film festivals or screenings. While they had expressed interest to collaborate, because of the physical distance, I never thought it was practical. However, when the lockdown came about, I thought this was the best time to collaborate with them. That was really the genesis. I wrote the various stories, shared them with the actors and they all were quick to jump on board, which was great. Waiting for an actual physical shoot was never considered.
What did you want to convey with the film?
Ah, this is a tough one! I don’t purposely try to convey anything in my films. I just take a situation and see how it could potentially develop. So in the case of DOTs, what would happen if two youngsters meet on a platform and find that romantic spark? What would happen if a middle-aged man and woman sign up – how could that go? What about members of the LGBTQ community – what would a conversation between them look like? What could be the backstories of these people, what would they be hoping for when they come on such a platform, what would they get, and how would they move on? Those were the main thoughts. In the backdrop of it all, there is the lockdown – how it impacts various people, how they handle boredom, loneliness, fear or anxiety.
Catch the trailer of DOTs below: