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‘In this film, I wanted to capture the impact of pandemic on small businesses’

School of Journalism and Mass Communication alumnus Prakhar Srivastav beat the challenges brought by the pandemic to shoot his five-minute documentary ‘The Pandemic Chaat’

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“The Covid-19 pandemic that we are living through has been scary and life-changing. In no time, it disrupted the livelihoods of many, who lost their jobs. Street vendors are one of them,” says Prakhar Srivastav, 24, an alumnus of School of Journalism and Mass Communication (SJMC), Apeejay Stya University (ASU). 

Working as Junior Output Editor at NDTV, New Delhi,  Prakhar created a short documentary film during the pandemic-induced lockdown named ‘The Pandemic Chaat’. This five-minute film encapsulates the plight of Ram Charan Sahu, a chaat vendor from Lucknow, after the sudden onset of the pandemic. In a telephonic interaction, Prakhar highlights the challenges faced while making this documentary and his key learnings.

Tell us about your journey while shooting this documentary?

We were asked to create a short film related to the pandemic or its effect. The short film could take whatever form that seemed appropriate to us: documentary, narrative or abstract. The only condition was that the film be under five minutes long. During that time everything was shut due to the lockdown. And honestly, when you approach someone to shoot a documentary, people are hesitant to come in front of the camera and speak. Especially street vendors and daily-wage workers, they are not comfortable. But I approached Ram Charan Ji. His stall was almost 15 years old and I used to visit his stall sometimes to have chaat when I was a kid.  

I somehow convinced him and his wife. Initially, I started shooting in his house. But there was less light and shot compositions were not nice. Then I decided to shoot outdoors, where Ram Charan Ji, walked with his thela and I shot the documentary. I named it ‘The Pandemic Chaat’  because I wanted to highlight the adverse impact of the pandemic on these small-scale businesses. The financial challenges these vendors have been facing during this time of economic crisis.

What are the challenges you faced while creating this movie? 

Shooting this documentary during the lockdown was of course the biggest challenge. Besides this, if I would have been in college, then all the equipment including camera and mic would have been easily available. We would also have our batchmates to discuss. So for me, the challenge was that I did not have a camera. I requested a friend and borrowed his camera. Recording good audio was another challenge since I did not have a high-quality microphone. I recorded the audio using my phone recorder. 

What has been your biggest learning while shooting this film?

For directing any kind of film you need to have perspective. You need to observe the minute details that you can capture. And while I was shooting this documentary, I realised how an in-depth understanding of each shot and observation is required to shoot even a five-minute film. I learnt the importance of a close-up shot in a movie. How close-up shots highlight human expressions, emotions as well as minute details of the subject or object. When I was shooting my film, Swapnil Sir suggested that I use more close-up shots. And I understood the impact of these shots when I watched my film after it was complete. I could relate to the emotions of the vendor, whose business had suffered significantly due to the sudden outbreak of this pandemic.

Why did you choose SJMC over other journalism colleges?

Initially, I was pursuing medicine but then I dropped out. I knew my love for public speaking and so I wanted to go into journalism. One of my friends was studying in the School of Biosciences and she recommended that I come to Apeejay. She asked me to visit the campus.  And when I visited Apeejay, I met the faculty and I felt so much warmth. Each of them interacted with me. Moreover, since I am from Lucknow, I had to stay in the hostel. And the moment I entered the hostel, I saw the badminton court and I was really happy to see that. I have been a state-level badminton player and this was one of the best things. 

What are your key takeaways from SJMC?

In addition to theory classes, I learnt how important practicals are. Having hand-on experience helps understand the nitty-gritty of any subject you are learning. Let’s say, if someone wants to become a filmmaker, try to create as many videos and films – that will help you gain that practical knowledge. Secondly, one should never rush things. You can definitely make a film in a day and will get marks also. But there may be flaws and that you will identify when you re-watch the film with a peaceful mind. And I try to implement these learnings now. 

Share some of your fond memories from ASU days? 

I miss my friends and hostel life. If today someone asks me to go back and stay in the Apeejay hostel, without thinking twice, I will go there and stay. In fact, I regret that I was going home for the Holi break and I did not know that it would be my last day in the hostel. Else, I would have left after a few days.   

Harshita is Assistant Editor at Apeejay newsroom. With experience in both the Media and Public Relations (PR) world, she has worked with Careers360, India Today and Value360 Communications. A learner by nature, she is a foodie, traveller and believes in having a healthy work-life balance.

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