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“Truth is truth is truth.”
“There is something so real about dysfunctional relationships.”
“As an actor, you only have yourself to use. I use and abuse any relationship I can, and if it leaves me cold, I imagine.”
Part II/III of Sohrab Nicholson’s video trilogy is finally here! We have waxed eloquent at length about our soft spot for Sohrab Nicholson and his melodies, and as a part of the exclusive release, we decided to catch up with the actors featuring in the video trilogy – a medley of mavericks that have conspired in this feat of storytelling exploring the darkest crevices and the headiest highlights of a relationship, taken on the journey by visionary director Sachin S Pillai.
[Watch it below]
I. For What
An actor, musician, dancer and one half of the electro-funk band MADBOY/MINK, Saba Azad’s performance in the atmospheric debut video of the series was subtle and understated, setting off the heightened emotion in the track without seeming contrived. The video has been shot in the streets of Bombay, in architect Kunaal Kyhaan Seolekar’s picturesque house and a clearing near Kolad dam.
“I’ve known Sachin for a long time and we’ve worked on a couple of projects together so I’ve seen him in action before,” she says. “His style of direction is to give the subject a background for the situation or the mood and then letting him or her be. He then goes ahead and shoots whatever he likes. Sometimes, you’re just sitting around doing nothing and he’ll quip, ‘Okay, we’re done!” and you’re thinking, ‘Oh, we were shooting?’ There’s no real pattern to that man’s insanity.”
Saba confesses that she is a sucker for sad music, and calls ‘For What’ a ‘beautiful, haunting song’ that she thought was quite ‘blue and melancholic’.
“Sachin, Nicholson and I just drove off onto the highway, and out of the city, in the middle of the night...the monsoons had just begun then, so by daybreak, everything was awash in green. It was so beautiful, definitely the best drive in many years.”
Sohrab’s premise for the video trilogy was to explore the depiction of relationships and intimacy in a way that’s raw and realistic. When asked about whether there were any personal moments that she tapped into for her performance in the ‘For What’ video, she contemplates, “As with most actors, I always have to go to a bank that I rely on for different emotions. It needn’t necessarily be the same context, but a similar emotion suffices - even if it’s completely unrelated. It’s also an exercise in imagination, but that’s all a part of the fun. I’ve often thought of some seriously dark things to deliver a relatable external appearance of a certain emotion – such as how we grieve in private, it is, well, so different for every individual and so, so personal.”
II. For What II
Paloma Monnappa and Mihir Joglekar will startle you with the seething emotions portrayed in the second video of the trilogy, perhaps the most literal visual interpretation in this series. The former is an actor/model, and one half of Bombay-based Algorhythm while the latter is a model with Inega Model Management, and has been involved in still photography and fashion work, with this video being his debut on-screen performance.
A shockingly realistic depiction of the progressive stages of intimacy, this is definitely the film that has explored the darkest and most ecstatic points in an intense relationship between two individuals. Set against the stunning backdrop of The Machan Resort in the misty meadows in Lonavala, it demands from audiences that they leave themselves at its mercy, the same way it demanded from the actors, performances that push boundaries.
“Sohrab asked me to be part of this project when he was at the pre-production stages of the first video,” Mihir recalls. “Since it was a trilogy I think he already knew what he wanted as an overall concept, but they were both open to inputs from Paloma and I. Sachin knew his frames and shots really well and Sohrab directed the undertone and emotions for every scene. With that as an outline, Paloma and I were given a lot of freedom. Working in this kind of an environment meant that there was a lot of improvisational work which happened on the set, which was great.”
“I definitely feel like acting in this video is going to be opening up new artistic venues for me,” Paloma reflects. “This was, without a doubt, the most intense video I’ve had to work on. I really had to break out of my shell. I’m glad Sachin insisted on a workshop before the shoot, it really helps everyone get more comfortable with each other since everyone is forced to take part. I’ve always found it much easier to act in front of strangers. I don’t know why - but it’s harder for me to do a scene around people that I know, so I was a bit nervous about that at first. Plus I’ve never had to kiss on screen! This is definitely something we’re all really proud to be a part of and I feel like all the actors nailed it thanks to Sachin and Sohrab.”
She explains that Sohrab wanted to keep it simple since the majority of the shot were indoors, and since he and Sachin both wanted her to look like herself at home, she styled herself sans ‘make-up artist or any of that’. “We just wanted it to look real and I’m glad we went in that direction.”
Elaborating on portrayal of intimacy in India in films, Mihir had a couple of valid points, “The way intimacy is portray in Indian cinema is really just what is expected by the masses, and that’s who the majority of the Indian cinema is catering to. Kind of like supply-demand. But I think things have changed and will continue to change significantly over the next decade. Even today there are a lot of directors and actors who want to be doing more realistic work. For me, it was about being able to lose myself completely to every scene and every moment with my co-actor.”
He recalls that the unpredictable and constantly changing weather at both our locations was definitely a big challenge during shoot, and adds with unmistakeable fondness that organising a tractor to tow a car that was towing another car out of the lake, in the middle of nowhere, was no mean feat either.
Speaking about the most intense point in the video, Paloma says, “We figured it would be interesting for us to have one last look into each other’s eyes after the silent scream but this time, not with resentment or anger, but with a sense of calm and being at peace with the fact that we knew it was coming to an end. When Nicholson sings “And we tried so hard,” we look into each other’s eyes in a way that we’ve finally realised that we’re tired of fighting and that our relationship has come to a dead end and so, the ultimate choice was to just let go.”
We probed her about any personal moments she might have tapped into during the course of the shoot and she replies, “Honestly, the only way you can make it look real is if you put yourself in that position and portray it naturally on screen. The concept is something that almost everyone who has been in a relationship could relate to, so in my head I was going through all those experiences from my relationships to bring out the rawness, emotion and even the feeling of pain and anger.”
Turns out Mihir was on the same wavelength as well. “Absolutely, there is something very real about dysfunctional relationships because everyone deals with it at some point. People just learn to live with it. I tapped into my emotional memory a lot to put myself in that mental space to recollect how I was feeling in a similar situation at another time. This video for me is about two people who bring out the best and the worst in each other.”
Paloma thinks that the video portrays the different stages of a relationship beautifully, beginning with attraction then going on to infatuation, fantasy and finally the first kiss. It then moves on to intimacy and ultimately, into pain and resentment.
“From Sohrab being my most favourite Indian artist right now to Sachin being one of the most talented and visionary cinematographers/ directors that we have in the indie music scene I was really lucky to have been a part of such a beautiful creation,” Paloma winds up. ”The entire trilogy proves that you don’t always require a budget to create something amazing and unique. Sachin kept encouraging us all to give our own inputs and by the end of it felt like this was not just his & Sohrab’s baby, but all of ours, as a team.”
III. Cold Water II
The last film in the series features furniture designer and model, Anjali Mody, and theatre actor, Karan Pandit. The former runs Josmo Studio, which customises furniture pieces blending ingenuity with functionality, as well as the social responsibility strategy and social audits at Skarma, a communications & consulting firm she co-founded a few years ago. Her co-actor Karan Pandit was at the Drama Centre London for a year post which he started work in Bombay, featuring in productions like ‘Baghdad Wedding’, ‘Djinns of Eidgah’ & ‘The Interview’, for which he was awarded a META (Best Actor). He’s also done a couple of radio shows for the BBC, was a part of a Dharma Productions titled ‘Strangers in The Night’ and was a part of Sandunes’ video Slybounce. Take these heavyweights and throw Sachin Pillai’s vision and Sohrab Nicholson’s nuanced tune on a beach in Alibaug, and you’ll have the video for Cold Water II.
“I had a blast working on the project,” Karan says genially. “I guess it’s just a much more constructive way to hang out. Shooting was a lot of fun really, no real challenges, just opportunities. At the risk of sounding idealistic, that’s really how we approached the shoot. Emotionally, it’s intense, but we enjoyed basking in that. The only real challenge I faced would probably be the part where I tie myself with a huge jute rope (filthy) to a chair in the water (since our entire video is shot on a beach) and there were bits where the sea was pulling me away and I couldn’t really stay put since I was tied up. Sohrab and Sachin helped me, thankfully (laughs).”
“The conceptualisation of the trilogy was definitely a dual brain-child between Sachin and Sohrab,” Anjali tells us. “Their quirky mix of ideology and vision made the video what it is today. Sachin has been working on this concept for a very long time now, and I believe that he finally found a musician’s sound and voice that could articulate the tone behind this story.”
The most highly stylised video of the lot, the styling was done by Sohrab himself, along with the close ‘behind the scenes’ supervision of friend and stylist, Akshay Tyagi. The surreal hair and make up was executed by the equally talented Zahabia Lacewalla. Anjali is modest when told about Sohrab’s reaction to her performance, who spoke at length about how ‘she blew it out of the park’.
“Sohrab is too kind with his compliments. It was an out-of-body experience for me only because I knew I had to push myself to deliver a ‘real’ performance for Sohrab and Sachin. It was important that I gave the video my best for two of the best guys! I’m usually very comfortable behind the camera but only for still photography. My fear for film and performance was something I was terrified of when asked to do this, but I just said “Hey, what the hell. I have nothing to lose and everything to gain.” Sachin and Karan were patient enough to take me through the motions. We did an intense couple of workshops before shooting and I think the direction I got from them was something that will stay with me forever.”
Having worked in theatrical productions, commercial ventures and now, a music video – we couldn’t help but ask Karan about the parallels he might’ve noticed in terms of his acting process.
“I don’t think it’s very different,” he answers. “Truth is truth is truth. Sure, in a play you have to treat a lot more elements and there’s a lot more going on, but as an actor, your work is emotional truth which I think doesn’t change from medium to medium. Some projects are stylized, some are heightened, some aren’t, all this depends on the director, you have to find truth regardless of its style or the medium.”
Karan remarks that Sohrab and Sachin have a great working relationship which was really great to be around, and most of the inputs he received on the project came from Sachin, as ‘on any shoot, director is king’. When they began, they first had a workshop with Anjali, who he says ‘was outstanding’ and it really succeeded in opening them up. He adds that Sohrab’s visual inputs and personal reasons behind the video really put them all on the same page.
“As for personal moments I tap into as a part of my process, I always draw from my person. As an actor, you only have yourself to use. I use and abuse any relationship I can, and if it leaves me cold, I imagine. It’s a bit of both.”
Talking about her personal journey through the shoot, Anjali tells us about how she had to explore a lot of dark places that she really wasn’t too keen on revisiting, recalling that there were many times when Karan and her would need to take a break because the scene was too intense.
“Emotions I never thought existed came out. Memories that I suppressed because they were too painful to deal with, emerged in front of the camera and before I knew it, I was hysterically crying to myself. Don’t get me wrong, I loved every minute of it, but the intensity of my own emotions surprised me too – your real emotions are, after all, where on-screen emotions come from. I feel much closer to these guys now, having shared such intimate moments with them. It really opens you up to the reality of life. Sohrab’s video made me realise how beautifully painful relationships can be, making me cherish the relationships I have today.”
Explaining self-deprecatingly that she can’t act (we can see Sohrab and Sachin rolling their eyes in the background), she says that she had to make her performance look and feel real to her, and digging up these emotions made her crying seem reasonable.
“My favourite moments on shoot were the most unexpected ones. We did over 15 takes per scene. Each one, more gruelling than the last, but the ones that ended with Karan , Sachin and I going “Wow, where did that come from?” were the most enriching. The Holi scenes (spoiler alert) where I was dancing around on the beach were a lot of fun because Sohrab and I felt like children again without a care in the world.”