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Escape to victory: AIMC students win another award with brilliant film about disability

The second such recognition for its students within a few weeks, The Vain Escape is a testament to the brilliant pedagogy of its faculty and the reservoir of talent that it is nurturing



From left: Director and lead cast of The Vain Escape, Aviral Puri, screenplay and script-writer Smriti Kaushik and second lead Praveen Yadav, which bagged the second prize at the Xpressions’ 21 National Film Festival.

A stocky man groans lying on a dusty floor at a construction site. Within minutes one is reminded that he is in captivity as he is slapped, kicked and gagged by his captor. Despite all this, the protagonist draws on his determination and manages to get up. Soon his captor returns but he manages to push him down and makes an attempt to escape. Unfortunately, the audience realises, the man has difficulty walking and is visually challenged. With great difficulty, he grabs hold of the walls, and feels his way towards the staircase and just as he is about to alight, the villain again returns behind him and glowers at the man: Moral of the story? Some battles are never ending. Let’s take a pledge to end this one by: Donating our eyes, goes the inscription before the credits roll.

This is the plot and narrative of The Vain Escape, a silent film made by eight students of the Apeejay Institute of Mass Communication, Dwarka,  which recently won the second prize at the Xpressions’ 21 National Film Festival organised by SGT University. The second award for AIMC students in quick succession is a testament to the pedagogy of its faculty and the reservoir of talent it is nurturing.

We caught up with the lead cast of Aviral Puri and Praveen Yadav, along with Smriti Kaushik, who has written the script and screenplay. Puri also dons the hat of director for the short film. In an interview, the trio discuss the genesis of the film, the support provided by AIMC faculty in the project, their future plans and the craft of filmmaking. Edited excerpts:  

How did you arrive at the idea for this film?

Smriti: Initially when we were told that we had to make a silent film, our team members came up with different ideas. The ideas that Aviral and I came up with were similar. My idea was based on psychology. It involved an individual, who is being chained or kidnapped. He gets glimpses of how various members of society have been pulling him down at various stages of his life. Aviral’s idea involved an under-construction building in which a disabled individual is being held captive. His captor was actually a metaphorical character who represented the constraints society places upon us. While we were discussing it with our Professors, they advised us to amalgamate the two ideas into one. So we came up with one common idea with a social message that propagates donating one’s eyes.

Aviral: Initially we wanted to make a short film for the annual We Care Film Fest hosted by AIMC which has disability as its central theme. We thought we could make a silent thriller centred on the theme. To give a dark vibe to it, we shot it in an under-construction building.

Praveen: We came up with a story of a disabled person trying to escape from the clutches of a person who has held him captive. The protagonist is facing darkness in his life. We use the person holding him hostage as a metaphor for this darkness. Being visually challenged, the villain in the film is a metaphor for the darkness which is holding him back.
Aviral: In no way are we trying to show that the person who is visually challenged cannot overcome his challenges. The title Vain Escape refers to the story in which, despite trying so much, he wasn’t able to escape on time owing to his disability. The larger picture is that all of us have problems, circumstances and people in our lives that hold us back.

Please tell us a little about the film fest and how your team emerged triumphant there.

Smriti: The festival was a hybrid event. It was going on at the SGT University campus and for people like me who were outstation (I reside in Rajasthan) and a majority of guests, the films were shown online.  

Aviral: Movies from around 20 states were shown at the two-day festival and we won the second prize on the final day. The faculty at AIMC provided us a platform to showcase our talent. We had a team of eight people with different specialisations. Smriti, for instance, is good with writing, Praveen, who played the second lead, is good at acting as well as ideating.  Pratha is good with the camera and Ayushi is good at understanding how things work while shooting. Our mentors Professor Naveen Gautam and Dr Rajiv Kumar Panda helped us with the intricacies of shooting a film in a badly-lit, dark, construction site and the nuances of production values and making the ending crisp and impactful. All these valuable tips helped us emerge as a winner.

After Vain Escape, you have already made a talkie, we hear. Please tell us about that project.

Praveen: Our second project is called Validation. It is the story of a person who is procrastinating about whether to climb up the Kailash Parvat. This was a theme we all agreed upon since it is again a multi-layered concept.

Smriti: It again had a social message: The only validation that one needs is her or her own rather than seeking it from the outside world which includes friends, classmates, family or relatives, or neighbours.

After two successful projects, what are your career plans? Do all of you want to be filmmakers or want to pursue something else?

Smriti: Since I am studying digital media and online journalism, I am already working as a digital marketing executive with a Canadian start-up. But since we have started our Youtube channel, I will want to continue my association with my friends like a production company in which each of us has a niche that he or she is best acquainted with.

Aviral: I am a student of Television and Radio Journalism but my interest lies in acting and direction since I have done theatre for more than six years. Beginning with amateur groups, I was associated with the Shriram Centre for Performing Arts. I also did a course that FTII conducted at IIMC, Delhi. These days I am working with the SHYO Theatre Group headed by Mr Sanjiv Johri. I am interested in acting as well as film production. Going forward I want to be a filmmaker because he gets to control a lot of things on the set and the person who is running the vision. Since there are certain characters I want to play, I would want to be an actor, too.

Praveen: Since we have studied both film production and journalism, I wanted to be a sports journalist to begin with. But as my interest in film studies deepened I discovered I have a passion for film production. Looking ahead I am keeping both the options open: Given an opportunity, I would go into either filmmaking or sports journalism.

Please tell us about the filmmakers who have left an indelible impression on you?

Praveen: Anurag Kashyap is somebody I admire immensely. Right from Black Friday, to Gangs of Wasseypur to Masaan, his style of storytelling is brilliantly realistic and has a massive connect with the audience.

Aviral: Among the filmmakers I like in Hollywood are David Fincher known for his psychological thrillers with an underlying philosophy and  Christopher Nolan. Mr Nolan shows in his films something that we can’t even imagine in our dreams. Also, the themes and execution of Stanley Kubrick are also something that have influenced me in a big manner.  

Smriti: Of the current crop of filmmakers l like Shoojit Sircar and if we were to go back to our golden age it is Guru Dutt. There is no match to Guru Dutt Saheb. The ability he had to portray the characters and the topics that he chose for his movies in that very era is in itself commendable. Shoojit does not function conventionally and is always treading the road less taken. He is great at discussing things at a slower pace which is completely opposite to what the world is right now. From his body of work, I really like October, the story of a hotel-management intern who takes care of his comatose fellow intern with Varun Dhawan, Banita Sandhu and Gitanjali Rao in the cast. From his present films, Sardar Udham is again very different. Because it is a topic that could have followed the patterns of a pre-independence era movie with everything that we’d already watched. Every time we see a Jallianwala Bagh depicted on the screen, it is made the same way, very dramatized. But in Sardar Udham the emotions were chosen aptly, the goriness was chosen aptly and everything was appropriately projected. 

Aasheesh Sharma is a seasoned journalist with an experience of more than 25 years spread over newspapers, news agencies, magazines and television. He has worked in leadership positions in media groups such as Hindustan Times, India Today, Times of India, NDTV, UNI and IANS. He is a published author and his essay on the longest train journey in India was included in an anthology of writings on the railways, brought out by Rupa Publications. As the Editor of Apeejay Newsroom, he is responsible for coverage of the latest news and developments in the Apeejay institutions. He can be reached at [email protected] He tweets @Aasheesh74