Nine months after releasing his first music video on YouTube, 26-year-old Saahil Bhargava has been shortlisted for the 25th LA Shorts International Film Festival – in not one, but two categories. Bhargava's latest music video, Kohima, is nominated in the Best Music Video and Best Animation categories.
Here's all you need to know about the musician, and why his achievement needs to be acknowledged.
A classically trained singer, pianist and bassist, Bhargava grew up with music. The musician, through his compositions and music videos, likes to touch upon subjects lesser spoken about. "Storytelling is the core of how I write my songs," he says. "I want to explore all sorts of stories through my music. I try to make all my stories in a way that people can resonate with them, and have their own interpretations and emotional reactions."
His earlier video, Mama, inspired by Isabella from the anime, The Promised Neverland, reflected the emotions of an oppressed woman who once wanted to break free, but is now holding her children back, perhaps out of societal conditioning or out of the sheer fear for their safety.
Kohima is an animated music video, created by Bhargava and co-director and animator Harmeet Rahal, along with their team. It tells the story of a combat soldier's struggle as he bears witness to the horrors of a war. Inspired by the Battle of Kohima – now the capital of Nagaland – in 1944, during World War II, the song is written solely from a soldier's perspective. It highlights his trauma, both physical and mental, as he fights for survival amidst a sea of pain, bloodbath and loss.
Animation had always been Bhargava's preferred mode of storytelling, although he agrees that "the pandemic helped steer me towards that direction." To create Kohima, the mode came in as a blessing. "For something like Kohima, which is based on a significant WW2 conflict, animation allows for a very visceral look at the battle. I wanted to focus on the main character's face in the video, so that the audience could see how this nightmarish battle was affecting him personally," he says.
Interestingly, the video, now with over 3 lakh views within a span of two months, has received an overwhelming amount of love from the gaming community in India. "I think the combination of the song looking familiar to those who have played tentpole shooter games like Call of Duty or Battlefield, and the sentiments of the video made it very relatable [for them]. It is also written and composed to feel like an opening song of a big war anime show, so I think the music is right up most gamers' alley," he says.
The LA Shorts International Film Festival is one of the most prestigious short film festivals in the world. The festival is an official qualifying event for The Academy Of Motion Pictures & Sciences as well as BAFTA. Therefore, the winners here may be eligible for a shot at the awards next year.
However, it's not just about winning. What needs to be noted is that in an event as big as this, Bhargava's video has been shortlisted with the likes of The Beatles band-mate Paul McCartney's When Winter Comes and the 18-time Grammy award winning American cellist Yo-Yo Ma's See Me: A Global Concert. "I'm still astounded to be nominated in the same category as legends like Paul McCartney and Yo-Yo Ma. It's inspiring and I can't wait to see how the response will be to Kohima from people who watch the festival videos," Bhargava says. The Music/Dance category is being introduced for the first time in the festival this year, scheduled to be held virtually, July 1 onwards.
Bhargava is looking to create more story-driven content in the future. While he aspires to work on a full-concept album where one story connects all the songs together, he is currently dedicating his time towards releasing his extended play record. "The next thing on my horizon is the release of my EP in the next month or so. That too will feature an animation video, but it will be very different from Kohima and Mama, both in terms of look and in sound," he says.