Shilpa Krishnan Shukla, a Malayali based in Singapore, has been making films since 2008 and wanted the challenge of working in languages she was less familiar with.

Flix Film Festival Friday, December 06, 2019 - 17:25

Shilpa Krishnan Shukla knows English and can understand Hindi very well. That was enough for directing Tashi, a bilingual film she made last year. She enjoyed the challenge of back-and-forth translations so much, she decided to take it one step further this year. Now, she’s made an anthology of eight films, in eight Indian languages.

Kathaah@8 (Stories@8), Shilpa's anthology in Malayalam, Tamil, Gujarati, Marathi, Assamese, Bengali, Telugu, and Punjabi, is part of the World Cinema category of the International Film Festival of Kerala, 2019. A Malayali living in Singapore, Shilpa is happy to bring the film home to Kerala and premiere it at the IFFK.

“After Tashi, I wanted to make it more challenging by working in languages that I was even less familiar with. That was the starting point of Kathaah@8. It features Malayalam and Tamil, which I understand very well, but also Gujarati, Marathi, Assamese, Bengali, Telugu, and Punjabi that I am not familiar with at all,” writes Shilpa in an email interview.

You might find your head spinning just listening to the process. Shilpa wrote the original dialogues in English and got her cast – 18 new actors among them – to translate it to their respective languages. She would then get them to translate it back to English and Hindi for her understanding. "When I listen to their translations into English, I usually am able to pick out subtle differences, and verify if the translations are doing justice to the original feel intended for the dialogue. Like this, I did several rounds of discussions with each team. I think, at the end of the day there are many similarities across all the Indian languages – the sentence structure and the tonality especially, so over a few discussions, we were able to nail it.”

Why eight languages, and not seven or nine or 19? That was the number of languages Shilpa had managed to successfully cast for – and that’s also the hour of the day that threads the stories in the anthology together. The tagline of the film goes: ‘8 stories | 8 languages | 8 pm.’

“It means that all the films showcase stories, events, that happened at 8 pm. Hence, Kathaah@8. When I zeroed in on the idea of threading together the films around events at a particular point in time, 8 pm seemed like a good fit. Not too early, not too late, just the right time to converse, reflect, and plan, as the day ends and night sets in,” Shilpa writes.

Other than that connecting thread, nothing much can be revealed about the films. Shilpa says there might be an unintentional inspiration of real life stories, but otherwise the connecting thread is subtle.

It also never occurred to Shilpa to have any of the films directed by anyone else, as it usually happens with anthologies. “I wanted the challenge and fun of making films in various languages, and this was the starting point of the project. It never occurred to me not to direct all of them myself!” Shilpa says.

Shilpa has a full time job as a marketing director with a global healthcare company in Singapore. On the side, she has been writing, directing, and producing independent micro-budget films. It began with two of her one-minute long films getting shortlisted in the top 25 films of an online film festival 11 years ago. Kathaah@8 is her fourth feature film. Other than Tashi, she has also made a Malayalm-English bilingual feature feature Pularum Iniyum Naalekal / There’s Always Tomorrow, that went to 37 film festivals and won many awards. She also made another award-winning, zero-budget, English feature, Mausams in 2011.

Her actors are all like her, interested in cinema as a hobby. “All of them have other full time jobs and did this as a passion on the side. Since so many of them were new to this, we had several rehearsals before the shooting. Also, because many of them have grown up or lived outside India for decades, we worked a lot on their diction and pronunciations in the regional languages too,” Shilpa says.