Versatility is much like a fitness regime (Easily explored, difficult to keep up.) People often exploit the word by flaunting it as a quality, though the closest they may gotten to would be enjoying a cupcake and fried chicken at the same time (Yes, you can kill me for major figure of speech swooning in.)
But here’s a man who in the true sense stands and exemplifies versatility, Kushal Punjabi, an actor by profession has stepped into the shoes of a writer for a few years and direction very recently. For The Gift, his debut film as a director, he played and aced all the roles simultaneously (Incredible, isn’t it?)
After drooling over his body of work in the short film for 20 minutes , I got a chance to catch up with him for a curious chat.
First things first, how did The Gift come about?
When I first started writing the film, I didn’t think of it as a thriller. The stem of the idea was to portray contemporary relationships which aren’t as simple anymore since people are more involved in the exterior aspect of life such as social media or standard of living. Currently, the situation around the world is such that, for many people, work and virtual world have taken precedence over actual people in their lives.
Drawing a chapter from this state, I gave my own twisted rendition to it. My idea was to portray the characters beyond an individual’s black or white side, and how it takes one trigger to bring out someone’s dark side.
The Gift and its backstory…
The premise of the film I tapped upon is the patriarchal society where women have to face domestic violence and take in all the atrocities without saying a word. I personally hate that ideology.
The backstory I shared with Mandira and Gul for their characters’ relationship was that Aariana (Played by Mandira Bedi) comes from a confident background whereas Rashmi (Played by Gul Panag) is oppressed in an arranged marriage. She met Aariana and gradually bonded with her to share her situation, and while Aariana may have suggested solutions to work out her abusive marriage, the extreme condition may have led her to take the drastic step (Watch the film to find out.) Ayush’s character (Played by Kushal) represented the male chauvinist who didn’t care about his wife but was all goey towards his love interest.
Curious question, how did writing, directing and acting happen in the same film?
I was initially only writing the film and two of my very close friends Gaurav and Nandish run a production company called Weaving Entertainment. After Gaurav liked the script, we started thinking about the direction aspect, he suggested that I should direct the film because I had already worked on so many drafts and knew the angles well since I’ve been in front of the camera for long enough.
Once I took the director’s mantle, I started working backwards and determined the frames, budget and technical aspect which led me to understand that I had 22 hours to shoot the entire film in 2 locations.
As the casting process kick started, I had approached Richa Chadda and Kalki Koechlin through her secretary. Richa had already done a short film with Vir Das recently so she didn’t want to take up another short film project soon, which makes sense. Kalki’s secretary suggested that they would love to hear the script, but Kalki was busy and asked me to send it. While I wasn’t in a rush either, I wanted to sit down to narrate the story because the same story can create an extremely different impact on two people and having the director’s perspective in picture really helps one understand the intended idea.
Having approached Gul and Mandira, they loved the script in the first 15 minutes of me narrating it to them.Our next step was to get a male actor on board, and dates were becoming an issue with it. We had approached an actor who said the role was too grey for him.
Amidst all this, I invited the head of Sony LIV, Uday Sodhi for a narration over a cup of tea at my place. He suggested, “Why don’t you do it?”
Once I decided to act as well, my friend Suhaas Shetty (Who had co-written Crazy Cukkad family with me) came on board as a co-director, his presence ensured that I had a bouncing board when directing and acting at the same time. There on, we fortunately we sailed through the whole process.
Short film v/s Television, treatment of the project…
We were sure that this film was pre-dominantly for the audience who consumes online content, but I wanted to ensure that the quality was good enough for the biggest of screens, I truly think the audience today is extremely quality conscious and they can tell when its comprised. Thus I made sure I spent more on the technical aspects and employed a film camera (Which gives a better depth), got original music done for the film and worked with a professional DOP such as John Wilmor.
Thoughts on your acting journey so far…
It’s been a terrific journey and much like this profession, unplanned and full of surprises. I like acting, dancing, choreography, auto sports/bikes, and travelling ;I’ve been fortunate enough to do all of them and now I’m also writing and directing. I can enjoy being in public without getting mobbed and still make a difference with my work.
Acting for me has always been organic process creating natural impact than giving an over the top performance. I draw from the instincts I get out of the role. Looking back he reminisces, “My first role was at the age of 17-18 years with a show called City of Dreams where I was supposed to play a drug addict who follows James Dean. I had no clue how one would react after getting high, so I ended up watching James Dean movies and created my version of it, and the makers loved it.”
I’m writing two projects at the moment, the synopsis are ready, I haven’t yet decided which medium it’ll play (The brief description he shared is extremely intriguing) and I’ll also be a part of Love Bytes season 2 which will be airing in end of August on Sony Liv’s platform.
A note to end on…
People must support newer film makers or people who’re trying to create new things on screen. One should encourage new work as well rather than always going with brand films that sometimes tend to produce repetitive nature of films eventually disappointing a lot of people.
There’s often a debate of masses v/s classes, but I believe that films like 3 idiots, Dangal and many more have proven that it’s possible to have a film that meets everyone’s tastes. We shouldn’t shun out the Hindi speaking audience, they in fact possess a great judgement of content and that’s the very reason my first film The Gift is in Hindi, it is understood by everyone across the country.
P.S: While we all love watching good content on screen, doesn’t it warms the cockles of your heart to know that a contemporary creator like Kushal is trying to make a difference too? Follow him here on Instagram to keep up with all the amazing stuff he does. Until next time, #StayCurious 🙂
Watch The Gift here: