Vikkramm Chandirramani is a writer-director from Mumbai, India. His new urban crime drama ‘The Perfect Murder’ has been getting rave reviews with many critics lauding the film. His last film ‘Destiny’ won several awards including ‘Best Foreign Film’ at The Ridgewood Guild International Film Festival, New Jersey and has crossed 4.3 million views on YouTube.
Vikkramm Chandirramani, when did you start writing?
I started reading very early in life, when I was five. My father, who was an accomplished writer himself, introduced me to books. I was a hyperactive kid and as soon as my love for reading took over, our home became a quieter place, I was told when I grew up! We have always had a large collection of books at home. Writing followed soon after, and I would write stories and articles for magazines meant for children. Then, as I moved into designing websites and launched my own websites, I would write and edit content for them. Then, along the way as I learned filmmaking, I wrote several screenplays across multiple genres and formats which I look forward to filming now.
Your last short film, ‘Destiny’ which saw tremendous success in the festival circuit, was a romantic drama. What made you pick crime for your next short film, ‘The Perfect Murder’?
Short films as a genre offer so much scope to experiment with genres and storytelling that I thought it would be interesting to explore a new genre. ‘The Perfect Murder’ is more of an urban crime drama rather than a whodunit. Interestingly, the audience for a crime drama is quite different from that for a romantic drama, I’ve found.
How do you go about writing for your films? Where do the ideas come from?
The germ of an idea could come from anywhere. It could be from a news story, from meeting someone new, from a conversation or from observing someone in a coffee shop! All of us have stories. We go through struggle, some more, some less. We face rejection and disappointment, experience grief, know love and lust, feel greed and desire, get jealous and envious. This leads to a story. Then at some point, I write the screenplay. Eventually, I write the dialogues. It’s not a linear process though; sometimes I think of an interesting scene or dialogue and make a note. It all comes together finally. Then I revise the draft till I think it is ready to be turned into a shooting script.
Vikkramm Chandirramani , what were your early influences in cinema?
I’ve watched varied cinema thanks to the influence of my father. When I was twelve, he signed me up for a film appreciation club where we would go to watch various short films, experimental films and features including French New Wave, Film Noir and Indian Parallel Cinema. I would spend my holidays watching films made by Francis Ford Coppola, Alfred Hitchcock, Martin Scorsese, Stanley Kubrick, Steven Spielberg and Roger Corman. Being from India I have watched a lot of Bollywood cinema and observed the evolution of its cinema over the years, with the trend changing every decade, from Raj Kapoor, V Shantaram and Guru Dutt, to Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Manmohan Desai, Mukul Anand, Yash Chopra and later Karan Johar and Aditya Chopra and the directors they mentored.
You have a visual style in your filmmaking, without an over-dependence on dialogue. Is this a conscious creative decision?
Yes, I’d like to believe so. There is a common dictum in filmmaking which goes ‘Show, don’t tell!’. When I was learning filmmaking, it was suggested to me that watching the silent films of Laurel and Hardy and Charlie Chaplin was a good idea. They didn’t have the luxury of sound and had to convey almost everything through visuals. What they couldn’t convey through visuals, they would explain using dialogue inter-titles. Too much dialogue puts off viewers. Also, a visual film transcends boundaries in its appeal, especially because you do have subtitles.
Apart from writing and directing, you also edit your films yourself. How does that change things when you write or direct?
Editing, as we know, is a very important aspect of making a film. So much so that it’s believed that films are made twice. The second time it is made on the editing table. I like to keep my films tight, to hold the interest of the audience. Irrespective of how good your prep is, you invariably encounter some hitches when filming. Editing myself helps me take quicker decisions. On ‘The Perfect Murder’ when we were running out of time, I combined multiple shots into one in a way that’s usually common in documentary filmmaking where there is usually no scope for retakes.
How is digital changing the scene for filmmakers in India?
Digital has changed the scene altogether. There are so many OTT apps and there’s YouTube. This has made it easier to make a film and reach a wide audience, something that was unthinkable ten years back. Festivals in many countries have shown interest in screening ‘The Perfect Murder’. Viewers from small towns in India with a population of less than fifty thousand have written to me, appreciating ‘The Perfect Murder’. This is possible because of internet proliferation and increased penetration in the hinterland. I see the next few years as one of great change for India. This digital transformation has the potential to transform creative arts and will also help in meeting social goals like poverty alleviation, education, employment, etc. It’s going to be very interesting.
How important are social issues when it comes to cinema in India?
Cinema is a medium that has a huge audience and many people in India see it as a powerful tool of social change. This is partly true. However, it’s as much an art as a business. It’s important to be able to hold the interest of the audience. Viewers are turned off when you talk down to them or seem to patronize them. That said, there are some who are able to strike a good balance. More power to them.
And finally Vikkramm Chandirramani, what’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
The best piece of advice I ever got was from my father. He told me never to have any role models, never to idolize anyone because idols invariably have feet of clay. It’s better to emulate specific qualities in people you come across or read about. If you do that you won’t succumb to the halo effect and can learn even from your worst enemy.