In the fashion of most startup stories, lore has it that ‘Chicken Sambar’ was named in a rare moment of lucidity. Rahul, one of the founding members and the director of their latest project – ‘Fiction’, explains that the naming of the project was less ‘cool’ than it sounds. They named it because it just sounded ‘right’. No prophetic epiphanies and revelations here.
The production house was founded about a year and a half ago at the School of Communication, Manipal. One of its older members, Nishmitha, says that the initial idea was to make good music videos. The root intention was to make sure the quality of audio in music videos were at par with the visuals, and to figure out ever-evolving ways of making such videos. Over time, the team expanded into making short films too, and saw the addition of many enthusiasts.
Here we reach the two major components of everything Chicken Sambar does – indefinable whims and an enthusiastic adherence to those whims. Rahul places every project that the team has ever taken up (and every project has almost always seen new members joining the team), in the same verve: a bunch of people wanting to learn to do things on their own. The team would self-supervise and experiment to their hearts’ content.
The heart is never content, of course. Sometimes you need a little ‘Fiction’ to spice things up. “I started writing during an internship in Mumbai. I was living in a shoddy apartment with a friend in Byculla, and the area was full of decrepit bars and terrorizing stories of mob gangs. It was an unreal experience, and I think this project started off as a manifestation of how unreal things felt,” says Rahul when asked about how he started writing the story for ‘Fiction. “But most of it was written without any real intention or end in mind. I see it as having happened naturally; the story came whenever it had to, and I honestly had little control.”
The two major story-lines see a pimp named ‘Gandhi’ going on ‘an extraordinary quest of love and redemption’ and a character called Ansh who tries salvaging his romantic relationship a night after he is dumped. The two stories are sandwiched between the story of an unnamed man and a girl named Maya – who accept that they are merely characters in a story. The little that we know from the first cut shows Maya to be a hunter (and hunting here includes, well, eating) and a lot of the movie consists of ‘drug-addled’ visuals, judging from the lighting, set-up, and background scores. You can check out the video here:
“It is not meant to be. We felt mainstream Bollywood restricts you in a lot of ways from exploring, and we did not want to be restricted,” Rahul explains further. The spirit is shared, as this is a common feeling of bonhomie. “We want to be a family, more than a team. We think everyone on board should have fun doing what they are doing; it’s a way of finding out what we are capable of”, chimes Disha, who’s handling art. Some are exploring new grounds with time, as Mahalakshmi, “I initially came on for BTS (behind the scenes) photography but Rahul saw my art one day and asked me if I’d like to help with art too. I agreed.”
Yet, things can get tardy at times. Crowd-funding a film is difficult with a story as non-conforming as this one. There are awful days – potential investors turn away, and people dismiss the project at the first glance. People get bogged down and worn out, but everyone tries getting back. The struggle is real. The story, though, doesn’t feel so sometimes.
“I can’t believe that this is happening. I never had the courage to believe that people would agree to work on this. But they are, and it’s unbelievable,” Rahul exclaims. Realism or its restriction doesn’t seem to be the biggest of bothers for this ensemble of ‘college kids’. Unmindful of naysayers the team is burning nights out into dawns, casually playing down the unreal amount of work going in. In a way the filming almost is a mirror of the film: things don’t seem to need to be real to be true.
Probably this was what earned it the complicity of acclaimed Kannada actor and director Raj Shetty. Raj, whose directorial debut “Ondu Motteya Kathe” (OMK) received critical acclaim for its non-conformist comedic storytelling, will be donning the role of Gandhi. “I am very excited to work with Fiction. My character is so beautiful and so human,” says Raj.
But there is more to it than just the compelling storyline. “It is nothing but a reflection of OMK in terms of team efforts, though it’s a completely different genre. I chose to take this project up because it’s a student initiative to make a film that doesn’t abide by the norms of filmmaking, and that takes a lot of courage.”
Experimentalism is the go-word. What will come off it, is yet to be seen. Expectations might be difficult to ascertain at the moment – but one of the older members, Prajwal, rightly puts it as,“They are cooking something and it isn’t a plate of chicken sambar.”
You can help crowdfund the project here.