What do you do when you know that your husband is having an affair? Become a tragedy queen, seek revenge, or pray to God to put some good sense into the man? Contrary to what Bollywood movies have taught us all these years, there are craftier ways of dealing with the situation. In Chhuri, one of the latest short films to take the internet by storm, the seemingly ordinary homemaker (played skillfully by Tisca Chopra) is the one who has the last laugh. The husband and his lover (Anurag Kashyap and Surveen Chawla) - and the viewer too - couldn't have guessed what's coming!
To tell an engaging cinematic tale in 10-15 minutes is not an easy feat. Yet, there are a growing number of Indian short film-makers who are rising up to the challenge. To share stories that don't work on formulae, stories that don't revolve around stars, stories that entertain, stories that engross. Interestingly, quite a few big Bollywood names are entering the space, bringing in better funding and garnering viewer interest. And the best thing is that you don't have to attend film festivals to watch short films; YouTube is a treasure trove of these small wonders.
When's the last time you saw Anupam Kher play the romantic lead in a film? Kheer, by Terribly Tiny Talkies, is an endearing ode to senior love. Because love is for all ages and everybody loves a good love story. In Interior CafÃ© Night, Adhiraj Bose takes us on an enchanting journey of young, unrequited love and second chances in life. It's sheer magic to watch Naseeruddin Shah and Shernaz Patel light up the screen.
What makes these stories work is not only their originality, but also the sensibility, which is very Indian and relatable. While Jackie Shroff and Nina Gupta give a delightful desi twist to 50 Shades of Grey in Khujli, Pocket Mummy shows Madhoo (Remember Roja?) play an urban Indian mother, who is loving and sacrificing, yet nothing like the stereotypical Bollywood 'ma' that we are so used to.
The beauty lies in the little nuances and bold characterisations that nudge you out of your comfort zone. Whether it's Konkana Sen Sharma and Tillotama Shome playing unlikely friends in Nayantara's Necklace, Chitrangada Singh rendering the role of a dodgy call girl in Kirchiyaan, or Kalki Koechlin portraying the suspicious wife in The Thought of You, there's always more than what meets the eye.
That Day after Everyday, by Anurag Kashyap, made under the banner of Large Short Films - starring Radhika Apte, Sandhya Mridul and Geetanjali Thapa - explores social issues such as eve-teasing and gender sensitisation with such candour that it drives home the message without being preachy. It's a thin line that Kalki Koechlin manages to toe as well with Naked, an artistic outcry against cyberbullying and slut shaming.
Indian short film-makers are finding their voice, speaking about subjects that were hitherto unvoiced. And if the YouTube views and international accolades are any indications, they are doing a splendid job. India's first silent LGBTQ film Sisak, directed by Faraz Arif Ansari, has won 34 awards at global film festivals. It's as much a personal saga of two men meeting in Mumbai's local train as it's a socio-political take on homosexual love.
More than anything else, the choice of subjects is refreshingly varied. From the tragicomedy of a Parsi widow grappling with token condolences (Afterglow) to the perils of living with a dead but clingy husband (El'ayichi), the world of short films made in India is as diverse as her people and culture.
In many ways, short films offer the perfect middle ground to the sedative escapism of mainstream cinema and the stark realism of documentary films. If that tempts you enough to do a YouTube search, Ahalya (a brilliant thriller in Bengali, with English subtitles) or Chutney (a gripping dark story, with remarkable performances) are good places to start.