By Isa Ayidh, UG’22
The Creators is a series of profiles of Ashokans who are actively involved in different creative fields including, but in no way limited to, music, photography, creative writing, and visual or performing arts.
“I don’t watch a lot of short films,” admits Kanishk Devgan, actor, writer, director, and editor of Qabil’s Quarantine, the short film that won the title of ‘Best Film—Jury’ in the ‘Quarantine Film Challenge’ conducted by My Film Project India. Although Devgan, a Political science student, always finds himself working on a new project, his final assignment’s deadline proved to be the catalyst this time: “When everything’s feeling still, deadlines can help,”.
And the concept of stillness is what Devgan explores in his short film. He evokes an unexplored tangent of the storytelling inspired by the pandemic through his protagonist Qabil, scripting a story of an individual whose life hasn’t changed post-pandemic. “This might be a different, personal perspective,” thought Devgan. Through consecutive shots of Qabil’s to-do list, he acknowledges the burden of mundane tasks that fall on individuals with mental health issues. The idea for this visual stems from his personal experience with depression and ADD: “When you’re depressed, time plays tricks on you, and I wanted to convey that through the filmmaking,”. Devgan backgrounds the shots of Qabil picking himself an outfit with sounds that incite the memory of video games where players can dress up their characters. Not only does this draw Qabil as an indecisive person, but it also reinforces his anxiety, as at the end of the scene, he picks up the outfit he wore from the start.
“I just thought I’d make it about some of the stuff that happens to me,” says Devgan, acknowledging his film as a subtext of his mental health. “I really wanted control over the character’s expressions, and I had no one else apart from myself to play the role,” he recalls, acknowledging the multiplicity of roles he occupies for his short film. But don’t mistake his intentions as Devgan doesn’t limit the film to one particular genre or exercise his own identity over Qabil’s character: “I’ve never really been big on that concept or that way of categorising things,”. He simply chose to write about a character he empathises with: “Or you’ll never be able to understand them and see what drives them and the story forward,”.
As he didn’t have a camera or a tripod in hand, he shot his award-winning film with his phone, with the help of his mother and brother. As a Media Studies student who plans and writes his scripts according to the available resources, a lack of resources, and the unfamiliar—yet familiar—workspace of his house was one of the points that drove him to script a film about the quarantine. During the pre-production stage, Devgan wanted to film a satirical mockumentary of a quarantined supervillain. In the milieu of communalism, he wanted this film to tackle Islamophobia, but yet again, the dearth of resources put its foot down: “At the end, I went with this particular story because I felt more confident with,”. His film stands as an attempt to make the form of art illustrate the state of the artist, and its post-production takes inspiration from English director, screenwriter and producer Edgar Wright.
As a filmmaker, Devgan realised that his idea of the narrative shifted in the process of editing: “I made some major changes to my original narrative during this stage,”. Using the trope of ‘show’, and not just ‘tell’, Devgan establishes Qabil as a character who struggles to complete his basic tasks: “Some people may view it as pathetic. But it’s a reality for a lot of people,”. A shot of an alarm ringing at two in the afternoon, followed by another of Qabil waking up, is one of the deliberate ways in which Devgan concretised the character’s apathy and emptiness. The film closes on the scene where Qabil talks to his friend over the phone—who quickly acknowledges the state of the migrant workers, to which Qabil responds with an ironic, ‘I have to go’—and ends the conversation with the impossible promise of ‘See you soon,’.
This kind of exposition through different forms is not new to Devgan as he has worked on four short films, juggling the roles of director, writer, producer, editor and cinematographer. “The best way to make films is to, you know, actually make films,” he puts simply for anyone aspiring to dabble in the art form. He took his time to build his acquaintance with the craft: “It started with one short film I would make every year from 8th grade onwards, with no equipment, no experience, no teachers.”.
Devgan loves Charlie Kaufman’s works, but insists: “I really like a bunch of other filmmakers but there are simply too many to list”. In an attempt to mobilise collaboration through a community of film lovers and filmmakers, he founded Navrang, Ashoka’s film society. The undertone of his short film is satirical, and this is a theme that Devgan explores in various forms, be it film or writing, and founded Ashoka’s satirical magazine: Kalinga. Currently, he’s working at Exposition Pictures, the production company of Ashoka alumni Kabeer Khurana and Rohan Parikh. As a rising fourth-year, Devgan plans to start shooting for a web series, Kandy and the Neurotypicals, once he gets back on campus.