Art & Entertainment

Sumit Purohit On Short Film 'Vakeel Babu': Didn't Want It To Be A Public Service Announcement

'Vakeel Babu' has been nominated in the best short film (Narrative) category at the 22nd edition of the New York Indian Film Festival (NYIFF). The legal drama stars Abhishek Banerjee, Bhamini Oza Gandhi and Lovleen Mishra. 

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Sumit Purohit
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Filmmaker Sumit Purohit says his latest short film 'Vakeel Babu,' which is set to premiere at the New York Indian Film Festival, deals with the issue of gender-based violence without being preachy in its approach. 

The short film aims to drive conversation on the essential role lawyers play in the lives of clients seeking justice against gender-based violence, specifically domestic violence. Produced by Civic Studios and co-produced by TrainTripper Films, the legal drama stars actors Abhishek Banerjee, Bhamini Oza Gandhi and Lovleen Mishra. 

Purohit, the writer and editor of the acclaimed 'Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story,' said his challenge as a director was to mount the short film in a way that it makes its point but doesn't come across as sermonic.

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"We always knew that the film has a message in it, but how do you disguise it so that it doesn't start looking like our characters are directly talking to the audience. Because then it becomes a public service announcement, which we didn't want."

"So, you hide it through your frames, music, and edits. A lot of efforts were put in to make even the minutest detail authentic. The film had to look real," the director said.

According to the makers, the film traces the journey of lawyer Shiraz Hassan(Banerjee), who is distracted with chasing success through his digital video channel and then "gets approached online by an anonymous victim with a powerful abuser -- will he take the case?"

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Purohit came on board the project when the film's basic screenplay -- by Kanishka and Suyash Barve -- was in place. The team recreated a small town set in Mumbai and shot the film over the course of three days last October."

Purohit, who had made his directorial debut with the 2010 documentary 'I Woke Up One Morning and Found Myself Famous,' said the film talks about domestic violence and the role of lawyers in such cases.

"It is not just about knowing the law, it is how you deal with the victim. It is not just about telling them about the law but also understanding where they are coming from. A lot of times it becomes about the written law rather than the human interactions... That's what we wanted to say. What has also happened with the OTT is that the approach towards storytelling is to figure out if your content can resonate with the global audience." 

"It is important that you start telling local stories, either it tells a local problem, is set in a local mythology or politics. What the film tackles is probably a global problem, but my approach, with the music, its milieu is very local," he added.

Anushka Shah, producer and founder, Civic Studios, said that the idea with 'Vakeel Babu' was to balance "the idea of entertainment and empowerment". 

"We had to also make sure that it is a contemporary story, which is relevant to today. The character that we have created is based on a lot of real lawyers, who use their social media presence to garner an audience, put the information out. We met some of them to get the treatment realistic," she said.

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Shah said the research work included looking at over 50 academic papers, which "carefully studied" the issue of domestic violence and the ways to address it.

The team also interviewed more than 120 people, including victims of domestic violence, lawyers, judges, police officials and NGO workers, to understand the reality.

"We worked backwards from that to understand what is the problem and some ways out of it," Shah added.

Purohit, whose writing credits also include Prime Video's popular series 'Inside Edge,' said 'Vakeel Babu' is an "Indian film at heart" and he is curious to see how the American audience reacts to it. 

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But the director insists that though the short film is mounted on a topical subject, he is not "making any changes" in the society with his art but merely nudging people to think and start a conversation.

"Films can provide solutions, start debates and make people question. But as a filmmaker, I don't see myself as an activist, I understand my privilege. I am creating, doing something which is a very self indulgent job..."

"Our film ends where the debate should begin. I don't understand the legal system, I can just ask them questions and give people something to debate on," he added. 

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[With Inputs From PTI]

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