To Cinema, With Love

Episode 10: An Affair with Storytelling

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Although none of you actually care, this is my final time writing for the series “To Cinema, With Love”. Before starting, I just want to thank Ananya Grover for letting me write this series. More than anything this series has been akin to letters I write to someone I deeply love, and rereading them just makes me fall in love even more. 

I thought a lot about what this article should be. I wanted it to be a story of my love affair with cinema, but I just couldn’t find anything. So here, I found my college essay explaining that very thing. Although this essay got me rejected from one of the best film schools in the world, I think it encapsulates the affair in the best way possible.

The scream of a newborn child breaks the silence of the cold streets. When the child was born, the townsfolk asked the mother, “Why did you bring this child into the world?” She looked at her newborn baby smiling up at her. “I asked questions of space, of time— of the born, and the dead,” she said, “and, in reply, I got this baby as the answer.” 

“What have you decided to name the child?” the town’s oldest woman, through the wrinkles on her face, asked the mother.

“Story” the mother replied.

All the stories that we tell are just extensions of the questions to which we want answers. The biggest example of this for me is found in my relationship with my grandfather. My grandfather was a religious man. His morning ritual was to get up, take a bath and do his morning prayers. While the prayers were of no interest to me, the stories he used to tell— stories of gods and demons; humans, and animals— were what grabbed my attention simply because they managed to answer the burning questions I had for him at the time. From how the universe was created to how humans were created, he answered all of my questions in the form of epic stories. Each story had a plot, action, drama, romance and every other element of a film that would get a thirty-minute long standing ovation at Cannes. This was my first encounter with the power of storytelling. Stories can suffice the burning need of answers to man’s questions. Naturally, I began reading and watching stories in every form possible; but, storytelling on film influenced me most.

It was Story’s eighteenth birthday. His friends were all leaving as the party decorations were getting removed. As each friend left, they would hug Story really tightly and thank Story for always being there for them. At any given time in school, one could see people going to meet Story as if he were their personal therapist. They would share all their problems with him, and Story would manage to tell them some tale of characters that sprung from his imagination that would solve his friends’ problems instantly.

Most importantly, Story never left his friends alone.

If there was ever a quiz on “old films that aired on cable TV in India” that offered a million dollars to the winner, I would easily be able to pay for school. Sadly, no one has made that quiz yet, so I can’t really earn anything with this trivia. Growing up, I was mostly alone because I had two working parents. Naturally, cable TV was the babysitter who kept me company. Most kid just saw cartoons; I saw films, in both Hindi and English. All these films helped me become the person I am today. They helped me navigate through life and all its required decisions then— and they still help me now. 

Story was an old man. He bought a new house at the top of the mountain to enjoy the view as he sipped his morning tea. Every now and then, he would have hikers stop and talk to him, asking if they desired shelter, of food, of water— or sometimes, simply desired company. Many a time, he would meet people who were engaged in something they didn’t want to do. Through the magic of his tales, he would help them realize their true calling. 

I was at the KWHS Investment Competition at the Wharton School of Business. I was asked by my teacher to be the team leader. After months of hard work, research, and practice, my team and I were on stage, holding hands, and waiting for the announcement of the winner. As they announced that we were the global winners, I was speechless. As I held the trophy, I felt as if I had cheated someone, and that someone was me. I later realised this feeling was because I had forgotten who I was and what I wanted.

Let me backtrack a bit…

I always wanted to be a storyteller, but due to pressures of what Indian kids “should be,” I got sidetracked and threw myself into studying business. When I used to tell people that I wanted to be a filmmaker, the expression on their faces made me feel like I had just told them that I wanted to be a murderer. So, I gave up my filmmaking ambitions to do society’s “noble” work. For me, this meant that when my teacher asked me to lead the investment competition team, I just said, “yes.” I felt that, perhaps, this was a way I could fit in; but after winning my biggest competition ever, and that too on an international scale, I realised where I had miscalculated. I remembered all the times I had heard a story and all the effects it had on me— how it made me cry, laugh, be angry and excited all at the same time. I decided, shortly after, that there was nothing more I wanted to do apart from telling great stories.

These are the stories that I want to tell: I want to tell stories that can do for others what stories did for me, and I want to tell all of these stories in the most visual way possible. I want the films I make to be answers to people’s burning questions about the world and about themselves. I want the films I make to be their confidants and their best friends. I want to make films that help people realise what they truly want in life. I want to use the shadows that fall on the actors’ face, their position in the frame, their clothes and dialogue to tell these stories. From what lens I use to capture her expressions to what note plays in the background when she laughs or weeps, I want to use every visual tool possible to communicate stories to the audience in the most vivid and effective way. 

– Siddhant Chandak, Amity International School, Noida

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