A 66-million-year-old Hill in Mumbai disappears under the eerie glow of alien lights. That’s the instantly-intriguing premise of ‘Gilbert,’ a seven-minute-long short film that mixes science fiction with a historical structure. Based on the very real Gilbert Hill in Andheri, its makers were in awe of the monolith that has likely seen dinosaurs and probably even the emergence of the human species, and have taken
Gilbert Hill has been in the news for many reasons, though often not the best ones. With encroachments and civic apathy threatening the foundations of the hill, the black basalt rock formation is crumbling. Efforts are being made to upgrade the status of the hill from Grade II heritage structure to Grade I. But even though it has this status, many are unaware of the significance of the timeless piece of history.
The Gaodevi Temple rests on the top of the hill today, which was formed as the earth squeezed molten lava from its clefts in the Mesozoic era. In a bid to raise awareness about the structure coupled with their own love for science fiction, Director Omar Iyer and Stand-Up Comedian Karunesh Talwar came up with ‘Gilbert’ two years ago and released it online on Monday. Considering how India doesn’t have many homegrown feature films or short films dedicated to science fiction, this short and its aesthetics are amongst few and far between, keeping both the look and tone of ‘Gilbert’ as fresh as its storyline. “The credit for the look goes to Vijesh Rajan from Plexus. The visual effects artists there have created many memorable sequences for mainstream Bollywood films. Vijesh really turned things around for us,” said Iyer.
Brought up on a healthy diet of science fiction and alien theories, Omar Iyer was always fascinated with all things extra-terrestrial. Growing up with one eye casually trained on Gilbert Hill, he realized its importance only a few years ago. The encroachment and the deterioration affected the duo. “Awareness for the hill was what motivated us to do this. There isn’t much out there that is good content that we can watch. So we thought, why can’t we make something? We were fascinated with Gilbert Hill and saw how horrible it has got over the years. We didn’t know about its significance but we did research and formed a story around what we found of this weird Government- BMC- Builder nexus around this hill,” he said.
Omar has a production house called “OK! Taking…Productions’ that produced the movie along with actors, technicians and artists who did the project pro bono. The film also screened at MAMI Film Festival under the directors under 25 category. The current film is an extended version of the same. “We wanted to do a full blown sci-fi film around the hill which nobody really knows much about. Instead of doing a documentary film we fictionalized it by taking it in the sci-fi comedy zone and make it simple and relatable,” he said.
It is rather odd that with Hollywood coming to India for VFX, India itself doesn’t have its own burgeoning sci-fi culture. Omar wants to change the context where aliens don’t just attack America but are welcomed to India as well. “There are some great VFX artists in India but we don’t have as much Indian content. Money is a big function here and good VFX costs a lot of money. Generally, even mainstream films don’t have a big budget for VFX, so the budget for shorts doesn’t count. There is a fear that people will not consume this content but there is an audience for all kinds of films today. The fear of failure and not wanting to experiment too much holds them back. A Vision and a Visual sense are very important for any film. Although, I see that the South Indian film industry experiments with VFX more than Bollywood does,” he said.
Omar wishes to create a full length feature or a web series in sci-fi genre. “Getting the capital might be a challenge but I am working on stories that can work well on the web format,” he said. He has already received positive feedback from the viewers and said that he is happy that people are googling the hill, which is what he set out to do. The ironic truth about the aliens taking away the Hill either to preserve it or study is that the hill exists and is actually in danger. As the short film talks about the lights’ one year anniversary and the apparent disappearance of the hill, can we expect it to survive in the real near future?
Watch the short film here:
Feature Image Courtesy: Omar Iyer
Words: Preksha Malu