Dial M for Films, moderated by Smriti Kiran, focuses on breaking down what lies behind the moving image through sharply curated, specific, live conversations with film talent

The Mumbai Film Festival has launched an online knowledge series, Dial M For Films, curated by Artistic Director Smriti Kiran, which features celebrated figures from the film industry. Filmmakers Kabir Khan, Zoya Akhtar, Reema Kagti, Bejoy Nambiar, Vasan Bala, Shakun Batra, Ruchi Narain, actor Parvathy Thiruvothu, and editor Shweta Venkat Mathew have previously appeared in these sessions.

“These sessions are a gold mine of anecdotes and insight gained through lived experience of years spent in the industry by some of the best in the business we have today. I feel inspired by these conversations and I am hoping that so will the next generation of filmmakers and their contemporaries. This kind of honest sharing by the creators with their audience, aspiring film professionals and their fellow artists is why the series was started in the first place,” said Smriti.

Khan spoke about how journalist Saeed Naqvi’s believed that everything we consume in terms of international news is usually through a Western prism. While on a trip across Central Asia, he along with Naqvi landed in Tashkent. To prove his aforementioned point, Naqvi went around on the streets and asked people to direct him to the nearest mosque.

In MAMIs Dial M For Films series Kabir Khan Shakun Batra Vikramaditya Motwane share anecdotes of their film journeys

Kabir Khan’s Dial M For Films session

“It took us an hour and a half of asking around, and yet nobody could point us to a mosque. This was a country, which, according to Western media, was being overrun by Islamic fundamentalists. And right there a realisation dawned upon me that there is always a gap between the story that’s being told to us and the story that should have been. That gap in the story has fascinated me for years. In retrospect, when I look at some of my films, almost all of my films explore that gap. That gap between what should have been told to us and what was told to us.”

Batra, known for his acclaimed dramedy Kapoor & Sons, spoke about directing one of his commercials, which was produced by Rajkumar Hirani. The young filmmaker he explained his vision for the commercial to Hirani, whose only question was, “What is the story?”

Batra said he wondered why Hirani was so adamant on the story of a 30 second advertisement. Hirani’s line of questioning soon made him realise that the technicalities of filmmaking were as important as what it is that one wants to communicate. He said now that he often asks this question to most of his collaborators.

“I think that’s how you define the rhythm. Once you decide what it is that you want to communicate and make the audience feel, everything that’s happening around you has to add to that feeling, has to add to that communication,” added Batra.

Nambiar discussed the magic of collaboration with different actors and filmmakers. He grew up watching Mohanlal’s films and eventually had a chance to direct the actor in his short film Reflections. But before the opportunity landed in his lap, he approached the actor at a film set alongside a friend who was also a Mohanlal buff. Nambiar narrated his story to Mohanlal, who agreed to work in the short.

In MAMIs Dial M For Films series Kabir Khan Shakun Batra Vikramaditya Motwane share anecdotes of their film journeys

Bejoy Nambiar and Mani Ratnam | Image courtesy: CH Bhalu

After his first short, Nambiar worked on Mani Ratnam’s film Guru, which led him to believe that collaboration is one of the most magical processes in filmmaking.

Guru opened my eyes. It was a completely new experience for me. Coming from the short film mentality, I saw this massive film being put together with all these different people coming together who were the best of the best in the industry. We had Rajiv Menon for cinematography; Samir Chanda doing production design; A.R. Rahman sir for music; Abhishek (Bachchan), Mithun Chakraborty and Aishwarya Rai (Bachchan) in the lead roles, so it was just the best of the best coming together. I was starstruck not just by the actors but also by the technicians. I was like a fly on the wall just watching everything. What I thoroughly enjoyed was how every head of department, people in these departments took onus of the script and were able to push the envelope within their own spectrum; how they were able to push that much harder to give vision to what Mani sir wanted to do. I saw that in close proximity,” shared Nambiar.

Vikramaditya Motwane spoke about the importance of feedback, and developing trust in the people one collaborates with. Motwane formed a Sunday script club called Skeptic Tank with Akshat Varma so writers and directors could feel safe and receive constructive feedback on their stories. Some of the members were Anvita Dutt, Devashish Makhija, Neeraj Ghaywan, Navdeep Singh, Arpita Chatterjee and Abhishek Chaubey.

“When you’re listening to feedback, don’t defend yourself in the moment; never defend yourself in the moment. Just listen. Let people tell you what they feel. Imbibe it and listen to them. Then afterwards, if you need to, you can form a defence. But don’t defend your intention because if your intention is not on the paper, then your intention has not come through in your material. You have to be aware of it,” explained Motwane.

Watch the Dial M For Films series here: https://bit.ly/DialMForFilms

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