Sandhya Prabhat: “A film changes personality constantly at every stage”

Lee Bob Black interviews Sandhya Prabhat.

Sandhya Prabhat.

[Note: This interview was originally conducted in 2011 for the International Literary Film Festival.]

Lee Bob Black: “Deadline” is your graduation thesis film for your MFA in Animation and Digital Arts from New York University Tisch School of the Arts, Asia. Where did the idea for your film come from?

SP: At the time when we were asked to come up with stories for our thesis films, I was re-reading the meta-fiction novel by John Fowles The French Lieutenant’s Woman, which was initially prescribed to me when I was studying my Bachelor of Arts in Literature. I was also incidentally beginning to get fascinated by the genre of concrete/visual poetry where the form of the printed poem on paper reflected the content of the poem. On looking back, I realize that these inspired me to begin “Deadline” as an attempt to tell a story about itself. Also because I wanted to myself see, how such a story would end.

Deadline,” by Sandhya Prabhat.

LBB: You’re a filmmaker, animator, and illustrator. Which — if any — of these do you associate most with and why?

SP: I have just taken baby steps into all these three. I am enjoying myself thoroughly and am learning a lot by dabbling in these various arts. I took to animation because I’ve always loved to draw. It feels incredible to sketch 24 frames with care and caution and at the end, watch them together form a second of animation! I think I’ll enjoy anything if it involves drawing, painting or in general, any sort of visual expression.

LBB: What is the best bit of advice about filmmaking, animation, or illustration that you have ever gotten?

SP: This is a tough one. All my teachers at Tisch Asia have given us several quote-worthy pieces of advice. I would always scribble these down in the margin during lectures. Their words echo in my head now at the right moments.

A line that I like to keep in mind always while creating anything is what my teacher Matt Sheridan would ask us to remember about the piece being created: “It is what it does.” This is vital to remember, I believe, if one needs to know how to manipulate a created piece to make it be what one wants it to be.

A screenshot from “Deadline,” by Sandhya Prabhat.

LBB: Singaporean filmmaker Eric Khoo selected “Deadline” to receive a grant from NYU so that it could be remade in HD and in a stereoscopic 3D version. What advice do you have for filmmakers who haven’t yet gone to university or haven’t yet received grants?

SP: I have been fortunate to have the best of teachers at Tisch Asia, and to have met some great filmmakers like Eric Khoo. Their words have immensely shaped my thinking and have helped me sharpen my skills. My teachers graciously continue to be my guides and answer my many emails even today!

However it is also true that many gifted directors, actors, and animators have not had a formal education, leave alone university training! I have grown up watching lots of terrific Tamil movies. Tamil cinema is the second largest Indian film industry and most Tamil filmmakers are self-taught. It’s only a matter of where one finds knowledge resources, guidance, and inspiration available. For me luckily, it was all available on campus. For others it may be elsewhere. Unlike many other fields, filmmaking does have the ability to welcome a talented and passionate storyteller who knows no universities or grants.

LBB: What are you working on now?

SP: I’m working as a freelance animator and illustrator from hometown Chennai, India. I’m engaged in a few projects now, most of them in progress. I am, along with friends, one of the animators for a TV show that is going to air in 2012 in Singapore. I’m also working on a screenplay and creating artwork for an independent film project. I have completed two animation projects from India: one for Candle Light Productions based in Chennai, and the second, a promotional video for Shopo. I’ve also been illustrating and painting. It’s been very exciting!

LBB: What other plans do you have for the future? For instance, would you like to make more literary films?

SP: I am enjoying my freelance work but all the same, I look forward to making my next film. I have stories to tell and ideas brewing. But I’ve so far had my classmates and teachers to give me great feedback at every stage of making a film. Although I’m in touch with them all, I realize that having them around all the time for advice was a luxury I may not get again. It’s a matter of mustering up that bit of courage to start off a film on my own now.

I’ve also learnt that a film changes personality constantly at every stage, until the very last cut. So who knows . . . some of my ideas may turn out to become literary films!

LBB: Why did you make “Deadline” is in English rather than in Hindi?

SP: I am from Chennai, Tamil Nadu, and my Mother-tongue is Tamil. There are hundreds of recorded languages spoken in India’s twenty eight states and seven union territories! Down south here, I grew up speaking, reading, and writing Tamil and not Hindi. However, my education has entirely been in English.

Since my inspirations for “Deadline” were in English, I instinctively thought out the whole story in English. At the very beginning I did want to make a language-less film. I wanted to make my writer a painter, and have him draw and not write. But I found that this was forcing my story and its essence to go an unnatural way. I finally decided to tell it just the way it sounded in my head, in English and about a writer, and that worked well for me.


Sandhya Prabhat is an independent animator and illustrator based in Chennai, India.

Lee Bob Black is a writer and editor.