The MovieSaints short film section (shortScape) is relatively new compared to most digital platforms, but the collection is versatile – a melange of Indian student diploma shorts, world premieres, regional stories and festival titles. Watching some of them requires a fee (between INR 10 to 80), but the platform offers an option of a full refund if "you don't like the film". More often than not, viewers might find themselves not exercising this option.
I've previously reviewed three of the short films in this section. In my opinion, all three are worth watching for different reasons:
Then there's a peek into the opposite end of the dysfunctional-family spectrum. Abhiroop Basu's hard-hitting Meal is a tense, thoughtfully designed and silent short about a wounded family preparing to eat lunch in a riot-hit city. Read the full review here.
The NRI family gets a makeover in Ayush Dahiya's Maa, where a pensive man decides to pay his estranged sister a surprise visit. There's more to their history than the film lets on. Read the full review here.
In addition to the three mentioned above, here are five of my favourite short films on MovieSaints:
Dir: Devvrat Mishra
Arguably the finest film of the lot, Number Two is an affectionately crafted exploration of social hierarchy and class bias in Lucknow. Unlike most shorts, it doesn't spell out its rage, instead choosing to immerse the viewer into the silent experience of a poor teenager who finds an abandoned Western commode on his street. The logline is eye-catching, but the commode – a fancier way of disposing human waste – is a clever metaphor for the economic duality of urban India. He crushes on a female classmate the same way he is curious about the commode – like an Indian kid daring to reach for "Western" values. Much of the film details the boy's mundane routine. Activities like ironing clothes and washing a toilet acquire the depth of cultural commentary. If you look closer, the duality exists in the way the film designs its title: Number Two is not one but many rungs lower than number one, and the two English words appear in Devanagari script.
Dir: Maharshi Kashyap
Produced by the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute, Poetry of Whispers is a wonderfully meta ode to the restless art of student storytelling. Shot as a single-take film, the camera weaves from an Assamese boy in a hostel into the rural environment of the girlfriend he's talking to (in whispers) on a late-night phone call. Their conversation is interesting enough on its own – she describes her single-parent home and a missing cow while he muses on his relationship with the big city. At one point, he asks if he can make a film about their chat, thereby revealing the inner workings of the real-life director at his own film-school – possibly at a stage where he's always thinking of "exploiting" life for the sake of art. The last minute is the cinematic equivalent of waking up from a dream. Yet, the young film, even in revelation, refuses to break its steady gaze with us.
Dir: Mukul Haloi
The increased exposure to Assamese cinema after the rise of Rima Das has also led to a string of exceptional shorts like Ghormua – a quietly confident, multidimensional and intimate critique of a region in the voice of its own witnesses. An FTII production, Ghormua uses the language of storytelling – a writer visiting his ancestral village wonders what the first line of his autobiographical book will be – to present a stream-of-consciousness portrait of a land often romanticized by outsiders. The unhurried film, through a skillfully shot narrative, also hints at how the human mind often tends to exclude trauma from its memories of nostalgia. Selective remembrance is something a writer cannot afford.
Dir: Pranav Bhasin
A riotous parody of underdog documentary-making, Wolf of Chawl Street targets every single poverty-porn trope used by non-fiction narratives to heighten their cosmetic rags-to-riches arcs. Luv, a slum-dwelling loafer, tells us his gully-boy-style story about how he found his calling as a Banksy-inspired "graffiti" artist. The poker-faced mockumentary then wryly reveals his journey – featuring a proud mother who worried about why he was never big enough to be arrested, an imprisoned best friend, and Luv's unlikely vandalism 'business' where he makes people famous by scribbling their names in historical areas. This short also works as an ingenious take on the social-media-influencer culture, where some of the most ridiculous ideas randomly turn into overnight sensations.
Dir: Ravi Shankar Kaushik
Another brick in the revolutionary wall of on-screen heroines reclaiming their narratives, Chuhedaani is an exquisitely paced and eerily performed short that weaponizes its atmosphere – of petty patriarchy and repressed womanhood – to reveal a slow-burning revenge story. The title is an indicator of a "snap" twist for the ages. Even though the premise is familiar in modern-day Hindi cinema, some films understand the grammar of suspense – where the anticipation of something happening becomes the story – better than others. The control of the craft is evident in how the actress (Bhoomika Meena) speaks and does less to evoke more, like a pressure cooker perpetually in danger of letting out a silent whistle. After all, just like beauty, even brutality, is in the eyes of the beholder.
Tambur: Filmmaker and musician Shefali Bhushan, who was responsible for one of the most underappreciated movies of the last decade (Jugni), stars in her own short about a singer struggling to practice in a noisy and "secular" new neighbourhood.
The Boy with a Gun: The title says it all, for this alarmingly affecting short about a rural schoolboy who discovers a pistol and begins to get attached to the 'toy'.
Manipulated by Fingers: Probably the strangest and most morbid of the lot, the short fixates on an almost Tim-Burton-esque vibe to present a tale about two friends who are addicted to the red soup of a small local joint. Its secret ingredient? Severed human fingers.