I didn’t mean it to be a public service announcement
Filmmaker Sumit Purohit says his latest short ‘Vakeel Babu’, slated to premiere at the Indian Film Festival in New York, deals with the issue of gender-based violence without being preachy in its approach.
The short film aims to spark a conversation about the critical role lawyers play in the lives of clients seeking justice against gender-based violence, particularly 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, screenwriter and editor of the acclaimed ‘Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story’, said his challenge as director was to edit the short in a way that it makes his point but doesn’t come across as sermonic. .
“We always knew the movie had a message, but how do you disguise it so it doesn’t start to look like our characters are speaking directly to the audience. Because then it becomes a public service announcement, what we didn’t do ‘ I don’t want to.”
“So you hide it through your frames, your music, and your edits. A lot of effort went into making every detail authentic. The movie had to look real,” the director said.
According to the makers, the film traces the journey of lawyer Shiraz Hassan (Banerjee), who is distracted by the pursuit of success through his digital video channel, then “is approached online by an anonymous victim with a powerful attacker – will- take- the deal?”
Purohit joined the project when the basic script for the film – by Kanishka and Suyash Barve – was in place. The team recreated a small town located in Mumbai and shot the film in three days last October.”
Purohit, who made his directorial debut with the 2010 documentary “I woke up one morning and found myself famous,” said the film is about domestic violence and the role of lawyers in such cases.
“It’s not just about knowing the law, it’s about knowing how you treat the victim. It’s not just about telling them about the law, but also understanding where they’re coming from. Often , it’s about the written law rather than human interactions… That’s what we meant.What also happened with OTT is that the approach to storytelling is determine if your content can resonate with global audiences.
“It’s important that you start telling local stories, either it’s telling a local issue or it’s set in a local mythology or politics. What the film is about is probably a global issue, but my approach, with the music, his background is very local,” he added.
Anushka Shah, producer and founder of Civic Studios, said the idea with “Vakeel Babu” was to balance “the idea of entertainment and empowerment”.
“We also had to make sure it was a contemporary story, which is relevant for today. The character we created is based on many real lawyers, who use their social media presence to collect an audience, spread the information. We met with some of them to make the treatment realistic,” she said.
Shah said the research included reviewing more than 50 academic papers, which “carefully explored” the issue of domestic violence and ways to address it.
The team also interviewed more than 120 people, including victims of domestic violence, lawyers, judges, police officers and NGO workers, to understand the reality.
“We worked backwards from that to figure out what the problem is and some ways out of it,” Shah added.
Purohit, whose writing credits also include Prime Video’s popular ‘Inside Edge’ series, said ‘Vakeel Babu’ is an ‘Indian film at heart’ and is curious to see how American audiences react to it. .
But the director insists that although the short is set on a topical subject, he is not “making any change” in society with his art, but simply getting people to think and start a conversation.
“Films can bring solutions, launch debates and question. But as a filmmaker, I don’t see myself as an activist, I understand my privilege. I create, I do something that is a very complacent 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,” he added.
[With Inputs From PTI]