Writer-Director Ruchi Joshi talks about her short film 'Murakh' in an interview with A Potpourri of Vestiges

A Potpourri of Vestiges Feature

Ruchi Joshi, Murakh, The Idiot

A Potpourri of Vestiges recently caught up with writer-director Ruchi Joshi who recently co-directed a short film along with Sriram Ganapathy titled 'Murakh' aka 'The Idiot'. The film is a dark satire revolving around a man who is arrested for hijacking an airplane and the chaos that ensues. 

Murakh, produced by Katharina Suckale under the banner of Bombay Berlin Film Productions, is an official selection at the 40th Asian-American International Film Festival, New York.


How the idea of  ‘The Idiot’ originate and why did you choose this subject for this feature? Was there any particular incident or issue that prompted you to make this film?

Sriram read about an Egyptian man hijacking a flight for some personal reasons and immediately assumed a terrorist for being a Muslim. The perception and our tendency to jump to conclusions painted a clear picture of the world plagued with prejudice and paranoia. This triggered the idea for our film. With so much turmoil all over the world with the Muslim ban, the refugee crisis and the beef lynchings, it was becoming more and more important for us to express our outrage. This story provided us with the perfect opportunity.

The title seems inspired by the title of the Dostoevsky classic. Are there any other similarities between your short and the novel? 

There is no connection at all between Dostoyevsky’s novel and the film. The title is entirely coincidental. ‘The Idiot’ was the working title and we meant to change it but could never come up with anything better. We did change it to ‘Murakh’ though which means ‘Idiot’ in Hindi/Punjabi because it felt more rooted. ‘The Idiot’ is now the official English title.

Tell us about your individual journeys and how did you end up collaborating on the film?

I was always fond of writing and knew at a very young age that I wanted to be associated with films. I did my MA in cinema studies from La Trobe University, Melbourne and after finishing that, I came to Bombay hoping to make films some day. I started working as an assistant director with filmmakers like Navdeep Singh, Bharat Bala and well-known ad film directors learning a lot in the process. After that I decided to go independent and started writing. My feature film script ‘All about Her’ was selected for NFDC Screenwriter’s Lab, Bosnia & Herzegovina. Later the same film was in the coproduction market in Film Bazaar, Goa where I met Katharina and Arfi. We have been friends and collaborators since. We are now working towards making a feature film together.

Tell us about your scripting process? How did you go about writing it? Are there any real life references and incidences the script draws from?

Sriram came across the newspaper article about the Egyptian man and shared it with me. We immediately felt ourselves drawn to the idea and decided to write a feature based on it. While we were still thinking about the feature, we thought why not do a short version of it. Intrigued by the possibility of exploring a complex subject in a concise manner, we put our heads together and started formulating a storyline. Once we were happy with the skeleton and had the basic flow ready, I started writing the first draft. Sriram wrote the second draft and then we wrote the third draft together. We shared it with Katharina and Arfi and they loved it.

What are the challenges involved in writing a script and making a film that uses real life incidents and references and delves into true incidents?

Reality is indeed stranger than fiction. If you came up with a bizarre and outlandish idea for a film from imagination, people would be quick to say that such an incident is impossible and hence incredulous. But with a real event, however strange, people have to believe it. Instead of questioning the event itself, they start focusing on the characters and the intricacies of the story which makes them connect with the film. Reference to real incidents also evoke more sympathy and empathy since you know that there is a real person, a real victim involved. In that sense, there are more advantages than drawbacks. The only decision one must make right at the start is how much one wants to stick to the real event and what is it that one wants to say through it. The idea was never to be loyal to the real event, the idea was to study the relationship between the society and the character who is clearly a misfit.

Ruchi, you have co- written and directed ‘The Idiot’ with Sriram Ganapathy. We would love to know how you went about collaborating with him. How does the creative process vary when it is a collaborative effort vis-a-vis working on it individually? What are the challenges usually involved in a creative collaboration of such a kind?

Sriram and I collaborate often and usually right from the conceptualization stage. I am the one who actually does the writing part but we usually discuss the tone and the storyline before I start writing. Once I have the first draft ready, we once again come together and hone the script until we are both happy with it. Even when I am working on my individual projects, I make it a point to take advice, suggestions and creative inputs from Sriram.

What were the other challenges you faced during the making of the film and how did you overcome them?

The biggest challenge during the making was shooting the whole film in one day. It was crazy and chaotic and while we were a little behind time almost all the way through, we did manage to finish. Another big challenge for me was to ensure that everyone involved in the making of the film was on the same page in terms of the tone of the film. We had to be careful about maintaining the balance between the absurdist nature of the evening, the gravity of the issue and the satirical tone of the telling.

Were there any apprehensions in your mind about the film attracting any controversies owing to the theme it deals with?

Not at all. We never thought that there was anything particularly controversial about the film. Perhaps due to the political atmosphere right now, it feels like a brave film but there have been many films in the past exploring the same theme and propagating the idea of living in peace and brotherhood and finding within ourselves the ability to understand and empathise with one another. What perhaps is different about this film is the story itself and the tone but certainly not the theme. In today’s context, it is important to talk about the issue more so than before. The whole point of making this film was to make my character Abdul the face of every victim of prejudice around the world which would not be possible without attracting attention, so fear and apprehension were out of the question.

Internationally, many short films have been adapted into acclaimed feature films. This however has not been the case with India, barring a few? What do you think is the reason for the same?

I really can’t say why. Although I recently found out that there have been quite a few of those in the South. Anyway, my theory is that there aren’t that many short films in India in the first place. With hardly any encouragement, difficulty in getting locations and permissions, making short films here is extremely tough whereas abroad, it is easier due to government support and subsidies. They also have several film festivals and online channels where their short films can be showcased. With only a handful of short films in India, the chances of them getting made into features are lesser.

Do you think the film has the potential to be developed into a feature film? Would you like to take up the challenge?

Like I said earlier, when Sriram came up with the concept, it was for a feature. We later decided to make a short instead but the moment we finished the film, we knew that the subject and the story both deserved a more detailed, nuanced and elaborate storytelling. We have since, finished writing the first draft of the feature film version of ‘The Idiot’.

The film will have its World Premiere soon at The 40th Asian American International Film Festival. What are your expectations from it and which are the other festivals it will be screened at? And what plans do you have regarding the release and distribution of the film?

AAIFF provides us with a great platform to present the film to an audience from diverse backgrounds. This will be a great opportunity for me to express my worldview as a writer-filmmaker and also talk about an issue that is extremely relevant in the present context. I am looking forward to the festival. Beyond that, I really don’t know, only time will tell.

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