Kabeer Khurana is a second-year undergraduate student at Ashoka University who belongs to the upcoming generation of enigmatic filmmakers. He has scripted and directed several films already, many of which have been awarded multiple honors at international film festivals. Kabeer’s latest work includes ‘Religion For Dummies’, a 5-minute stop-motion film based on fraudulent religious practices in India (watch the video here). In this interview, Kabeer talks about his love for filmmaking, his experiences in the industry, and his future plans.
Q: Why do you love filmmaking?
I think filmmaking is a great blend of passion, aesthetics, sensitivity, skill, and aesthetics. Besides, a perennial love for writing, photography, art, music, and entrepreneurship eventually culminated into the world of audio-visual storytelling. Where does your interest come from? I was fortunate enough to have been born and brought up in a creative environment and film has always been in my blood. My grandfather was a filmmaker and a painter, and both my parents are filmmakers as well, so it seems inevitable that films would be my choice of career.
Q: Tell us a bit about the projects you’ve worked on in the past.
When I was eight, I started working on short 30-second-long animation films. I remember in the 5th standard, a group of friends and I even developed a film projector (with a shoe-box) and used to draw directly with OHP markers on 35mm film strips, charging a rupee for every film that we screened. During my one-year architecture stint in Mumbai post my 12th, I worked as an Assistant Director and VFX Supervisor on Sony Pictures India’s “T for Taj Mahal” and simultaneously directed a film called “ism”. After quitting architecture school in March 2017, I directed “Strings” and “Religion for Dummies” and started a publishing venture called Bombaykala Books.
Q: What gave you the idea for Religion for Dummies? What did you want to express through it?
I announced Religion for Dummies on IMDb in July 2017 as that was when we started work on the pre-production. The idea for it came about just after the release of Ram Rahim’s Messenger of God film. It was at that time that I started questioning religion and the mysterious origins of self-proclaimed God-men who seemed to be fortified by sycophants and bhakts, such that they could not be held accountable to anything.
Q: What was the process of making ‘Religion for Dummies’? What things did you have to keep in mind with respect to your audience?
I think the main challenge for a film like RFD (Religion for Dummies) was to make a point without making a reference to any specific religion. Religion is a controversial topic today, and so, the idea was to make an impact in the most subtle and artistic way as possible. The process of making it was actually quite interesting, but was undoubtedly a mammoth of a task to execute especially since we had an extremely tight budget. Over 8 artists and visual designers came in pro-bono on board during the pre-production stage to work on the concept art and storyboarding, and there were multiple test shoots that were done to plan out the timing and choreography of the film.
We did extensive pre-production, research, script development, costume development, and set design. Every single mural transition seen in the film had to be carefully planned out with reference to the timing of the characters moving in the frame.
We shot for 8 whole days at 16-hour shifts each day! We had to keep our actor, Nakul Sahdev – remember the show ‘Ishaan’ on Disney Channel? -, constantly hydrated as we didn’t have an air-con/fan on our set and had 20+ extras coming in every single day. It took us 4 months to work on the post-production as the timing and editing had to be bang-on.
Q: Are you interested in directing your own Bollywood movie? When do you think you will initiate such a project?
(laughs) I think it’s too early put a timestamp, but yes the intention is to eventually make a Bollywood film. However, I don’t think I’m ready just yet. There’s a lot to learn before I dive into my first big project as, unfortunately, in the film industry, the first impression is the last. I am trying to gain a good amount of intellectual depth, aesthetic sensibility, and technical knowledge before I jump into making films. After Ashoka, I plan on doing a course in fine arts or design before joining film school.
Q: What’s your #1 goal as a filmmaker?
I want to make films that challenge the audience, both intellectually and visually – films that are thought-provoking, question the system and set the ball rolling. However, this doesn’t mean that I will be compromising on the entertainment aspect of cinema. The idea is to keep an audience engaged and yet make the point you want to make.
Q: One tip you’d give to people who are new to/hesitant to try filmmaking?
I’ve met a lot of aspiring filmmakers who just keep ‘thinking’ about making a film, and often spend their time over-intellectualizing their stories. Well, the fact is that you are never going to be completely certain and confident about the film you are planning to make! Just go out and shoot with absolute conviction! While it’s good to be a thinker, it’s far more important to be a doer. Just give in to cinematic liberty and go out and tell the story you’ve been meaning to tell. There are no perfect stories or perfect films… everything is a point of view and for me, it’s important to express it through cinema.
Q: Any upcoming projects that we should be looking forward to apart from ‘T for Taj Mahal’?
Yes! I’m directing a film called “Karma Cafe” which is about a restaurant where customers don’t eat what they pay for but eat what they deserve, according to the laws of Karma. I’m also directing an animation film called “Syntax” which is based on a concept by Elon Musk. I’m currently working on the concept art and storyboarding of both the projects and simultaneously pitching to producers for funding.
Visual content curated by: HC Ashoka Visual Content Team