Jenny K: Recently Julie and I got the rare treat of watching an Indian film…
Julie M: Not SO rare, since we do it several times a week around here!
Jenny K: Well, let me finish…the rare treat of watching an Indian film, not in our local cinema, but getting a behind-the-scenes look at the work of a new filmmaker, Hemant Gaba, and his first feature film, Shuttlecock Boys, before it reaches the multiplexes.
Julie M: And we didn’t have to eat one kernel of stale popcorn to do it.
Jenny K: Shuttlecock Boys is quietly making its way around the international filmfest circuit, hitting New York, Chicago and Seattle along with home festival venues in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Delhi and Shimla, finding its audience city by city. I found it through Facebook…of course, where else?
I home in like a guided missile on anything on the net tagged India and Cinema, and when browsing one day, I found mention of Shuttlecock Boys and was delighted by the sweetness of the trailer.
The difficulties that they faced getting it made at all, as chronicled in an article on dearcinema.com, were daunting. I was won over by this “Little Engine That Could” style of film promotion, and was determined to catch the film when it was shown in New York last fall at the Gotham Screen International Film Festival…until work got in the way, again.
Thankfully, Hemant didn’t let it rest there. When I wrote to ask where there would be other chances to see it, he wrote back and told me that he could let me, and Julie, too, check it out for ourselves…
Julie M: So glad we were too, because it was a real treat to feel like such a film insider, at least for me, who rarely goes to film festivals.
Jenny K: The premise of the film, not to give anything away that’s not in their trailer, is a classic dilemma with a unique solution. Four friends who have grown up together sharing their hopes and dreams, usually while batting a badminton shuttlecock around in their neighborhood streets, decide that their only hope to escape their uninspiring, middle-class fate is to become a team off the court as well.
All of their individual strengths are needed to achieve their seemingly hopeless dream of opening a corporate catering company. One of the young men is a talented, if currently unemployed cook; another is a student accountant with no interest in passing his CPA exam, but who manages to keep the group’s finances balanced. One is the “face,” handsome with quite a gift for dealing with the public due to his full-time call center job. And the fourth, the man behind the plan, can’t see himself selling credit cards for the rest of his life, so decides to take the plunge into his future, dragging the rest of his dosti with him for the ride of their lives.
It is a quiet film, as I’ve said, almost too quiet on occasion, and the lack of a continuous soundtrack disoriented me a bit and made me think it was too rough, but as the film rolled out its story, the very lack of so-called polish gave it a bit of the cinéma vérité feel of the director’s background with documentary work. The same is true of the young, unknown actors. Without traditional star pull, the story had to stand on its own, no item numbers, no high gloss, on just the heartfelt performances of these young men.
Julie M: The characters are supremely engaging, particularly so when we get glimpses of each of their individual lives and tribulations without going into too much backstory. Contrary to my co-blogger, I thought that the folk-rock background music, used very judiciously, was absolutely pitch-perfect in creating the mood. Wouldn’t have wanted any more.
Jenny K: The mainstream and highly entertaining rom-com Today’s Special, starring Aasif Mandvi and Naseeruddin Shah (my DVD finally came!), flaunts polish and charm galore while giving us a restaurant success story that glosses over the actual work that goes into this kind of project. In contrast, Shuttlecock Boys paints the trajectory of the boys’ almost painfully naive business plan with heartbreaking detail. What were they thinking of? How could they have gone into this with no preparation, on a wing and a prayer? No one would expect them to succeed…and so you’re held on pins and needles as to what the outcome will be. Happy ending or cold reality? Perhaps a bit of both.
Julie M: And the ending was perfect given all that went before.
Jenny K: We all know how hard it is to get a film launched, particularly in an industry like India’s where there is such a tradition of “Filmi-Family only” membership, that it’s a huge wall to climb to get your picture seen. However, with new filmmakers like Mr. Gaba and his compadres at Pennywise Films in the picture, if they are all as engaging as Shuttlecock Boys there may be reason to be hopeful that more and more new independent films will find a home. Check out the audience reactions at the festivals.