Ruchi Joshi On Directing ‘The Idiot’ And Quashing Religious Bigotry And Prejudices

 Directors Ruchi Joshi and Sriram Ganapathy‘s short film Murakh a.k.a The Idiot is the story of a man (Arfi Lamba) arrested for hijacking a plane and the chaos that ensues. Through this premise, the film which uses dark humour to drive its narrative, attempts to shed light on a society plagued by bigotry and paranoia.

 At a time when incidents of communal clashes and hate crimes seem to be on an upswing, Joshi and Ganapathy’s film seems to serve as a much needed call for introspection.

The 18 minute film which is produced by Katharina Suckale (Bombay Berlin Film Productions) and shot by Ganapathy is an official selection at the 40th Edition of the Asian-American International Film Festival in New York.

We recently caught up with Ruchi Joshi who spoke to us about what triggered the film’s core premise, her association with Lamba and Suckale and collaborating with Ganapathy among other things.

Republished below are excerpts from the same.

How did the idea of ‘The Idiot’ evolve and what prompted you to make it?

Looking at the events around the world, it had become impossible not to say anything. The refugee crisis in Europe, the ‘Muslim Ban’ in America and the beef lynchings in India had left a deep impact. Although the lynchings raised their ugly head after the completion of the film, the seeds of hate had been sown for a while. In that sense, it was a tragedy waiting to happen. Stereotypes perpetuated by the society lead to prejudice and fear which in turn leads to ghettoisation and the “us vs. them” narrative. We soon become strangers to one another. We become afraid of each other, stop understanding and empathising with each other and start referring to each other as “the other”. This growing gap makes us forget that the other is just as human as yourself and feels the same emotions.

Through this film, I wanted to show the world the face of the victim of these horrendous events. When we read about a 16 year old Junaid in the papers, he is an abstract concept, or worse a statistic. For empathy, sympathy and understanding to be created, you need to know Junaid, understand him, his language, his mannerisms, his behaviour, his clothing, his parents and his lifestyle. Abdul, my protagonist, is the face of every victim of prejudice, in and around the world. While these thoughts were brewing inside, Sriram came across a newspaper article about an Egyptian man who hijacked a flight for personal and somewhat outlandish reasons. But being a Muslim, he was immediately deemed a terrorist. The perception and the immediate conclusion said a lot about the atmosphere of paranoia created around the world. This triggered the idea for our film. I must add that our film is a political satire and a dark comedy. I believe humour is very impactful and urges a person to search themselves for answers. But with humour, you also get away with a lot.

Tell us about your journeys and how did you end up collaborating on the film with Katharina?

I am from Ahmedabad and since childhood I have loved writing. With many writers and media related people in my family, films always fascinated me and I knew I wanted to be associated with them, one way or the other. I did my MA in cinema studies from La Trobe University, Melbourne and then came to Mumbai hoping to make films. I assisted some fantastic directors like Navdeep Singh, Bharat Bala and a few ad film directors for a while and then started writing independently.

My feature film script ‘All about Her’ was selected for NFDC Screenwriter’s Lab, Bosnia & Herzegovina which turned out to be a great experience. At the Film Bazaar, Goa for the same film, I happened to meet Arfi and Katharina who showed interest in the film. We have been friends and collaborators since. We are planning to make a feature film together soon but it seemed like a great idea to make a quick turnout short film in the interim. ‘The Idiot’ gave us all a great opportunity to work together and also unite on a theme important to all of us.

How did you go about researching and scripting it? What references did you draw upon while scripting it? How much it is inspired from real life?

The process was very quick. Sriram had come across the newspaper article about the Egyptian man a few months earlier. He had shared it with me and suggested that we make a feature film based on it. We were immediately excited by the prospect. Later however, we started thinking how about first making a short film based on the same event. It seemed like a great idea. We put our heads together, came up with a skeleton and then I started writing the first draft. Sriram worked on the second draft and then both of us together worked on the third draft. When we showed it to Katharina and Arfi, they loved it. Katharina’s suggestion however was to shorten it a bit. That proved to be a great exercise.

Arfi Lamba in a still from ‘The Idiot’

You have co- written and directed ‘The Idiot’ with Sriram Ganapathy. We would love to know how you went about collaborating with him. How does the creative process vary when it is a collaborative effort vis-a-vis working on it individually?

Sriram and I collaborate often from the conceptualisation stage. I usually do the actual writing but we discuss scenes, characters, tone etc. before I start writing. Even when he is not involved in a project I am working on, I make sure that I take his advice, feedback and suggestions. On the set, we are still learning to work together. But since we know each other well and know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, it works out fine.

Being a DOP he is technically proficient, very experienced on sets and hence excellent with thinking on his feet. While I being a writer, need space and time to think. I need elaborate planning and prep in order to be able to execute properly. So eventually our combination, I believe, is a good one.

Given the fragile times we live in, was there a fear about the film inviting a political or other kinds of backlash owing to the theme the film deals with?

 There was never any fear. To be honest, we never even thought we were saying anything particularly new or controversial. The presentation, tone and story may be different. But the message is the same old one, that of brotherhood, understanding and empathy. The film seems brave because of the times we are living in. But through out the history of filmmaking, there have been enough political satires and films propagating unity between different communities.

Internationally, many shorts have been adapted into acclaimed feature films. This however has not been the case with the Indian cinema barring a few notable exceptions. What reasons would you attribute for it and how do you think the industry can overcome it?

I really am not qualified enough to comment on why more short films don’t get made into features here in India and why it seems to be a common practice abroad. Just as a theory, perhaps internationally a lot more short films get made and there are enough festivals to showcase them. Making short films abroad is easier than making them in India with difficulty getting locations and permissions here. There they even get subsidies and government support. Since there are a lot more short films being made there, the chances of some of them turning into features are greater, perhaps it is as simple as that.

Virendra Saxena (centre) in a still from ‘The Idiot’

Given its relevant and topical theme, do you think ‘The Idiot ‘can be adapted into feature film?

Like I said earlier, when Sriram came up with the concept, we always thought of it as a feature. Only later, did he suggest we make it into a short. Once we were done with the short, I knew the subject and the story deserved to be told in a more detailed and nuanced manner. We almost immediately got down to writing the feature and we have recently finished the first draft.

The film will be having its World Premiere soon at The 40th Asian American International Film Festival. What are your expectations from it and which are the other festivals one can expect to see the film at? What plans do you have for the release and distribution of the film?

We are very excited about AAIFF but honestly I don’t yet know what to expect. The platform gives me a two-fold opportunity; one, for me to express my worldview and present myself as a writer and director and two, to talk about an issue that is really important in today’s political context. Whether it will travel to other festivals or not, only time will tell. What I am happy about is that people whose views and opinons I respect have liked the film. Katharina will be able to throw more light on the release and distribution side of the film.

Tell us about your future projects?

So as I said earlier, I have recently written a full length feature version of ‘The Idiot’ and I hope to make it soon. Other than that, I have two other scripts, ‘All about Her’ and ‘Killer Kumar’. ‘All about Her’ requires a big budget and that is perhaps something I will do later in the future. A couple of production houses have shown interest in ‘Killer Kumar’, let’s see how it goes.

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