Team Gaysi caught with up US based Film-maker/Actor/Singer Shaan Memon to talk about his upcoming film “Bullied”. Its a story of a poor, frail high-school boy living with his single mother. He’s struggling to cross the hurdle of being Bullied for his queerness by a Gang of older boys in his high-school.
You can support their crowd-funding initiative, here.
Q. Tell us a bit about yourself?
I was born and raised in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India. Since Childhood I’ve been interested in Music, Storytelling and Acting. Did my Bachelors degree in Film & Video Design from MIT Institute of Design, Pune, India. Am currently pursuing MFA in Motion Pictures & Television from Academy of Art University, San Francisco, USA.
I started making films in 2006. I’ve made films and done theatre of different styles and genres such as narrative, documentaries, corporate videos, music, videos & infomercials making it a total of more than 40 films. I have made well praised films for clients like Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC), Center for
Environmental Planning Technology (CEPT), Darpana Academy of Mrinalini & Mallika Sarabhai and many more. I have won a couple of national & state level awards too.
In music, I’ve given many solo and band performances as a Singer and Rhythm Guitarist. A few famous places where I have performed are Natarani, café Unplugged, Rifle Club and Lions Club of Karnavati. I love to play Folk, Sufi, Country, Thrash Metal and Old Rock & Roll style of music.
I call myself a dreamer and a traveler, I have many stories to tell based on my beliefs and the experiences over the journey of life. I love to exchange stories and through them make the most out of my life. The best way to express them I found is in this fantastic film craft wherein I combine both audio and visual mediums. My wish is to work on such stories and keep the audience mesmerised for the years to come.
Q. Your film “Bullied” as the name suggests in based on Anti-Bullying & LGBT rights. In the US, bullying is taken very seriously by the authorities and activists and there are plenty of films/documentaries/videos available on the same topic – what compelled you to make this film?
You’ve asked a very nice question. Yes, I agree that bullying is taken very seriously in the USA. In India I would say, the situation is not as good in the current scenario. I would also like to mention that they’re trying to cope up with those problems but it is a long way to go and there are many obstacles.
I’ve been a victim of being bullied during my Undergrad in Pune. Physically for one semester and mentally for at least 3 years. I couldn’t find help from my parents or higher authorities. Parents were living far away in Ahmedabad and college management was not strong enough to control the bullies since they had political connections. I was helpless. But I had my mother’s teachings with me to make me mentally strong. I had read somewhere that the people who bully are in need of attention and once you satisfy their ego somehow, they would stop doing so. So I found a creative solution myself and I called all the students, management and bullies one day in our main hall. I apologized to the bullies in front of everyone that somewhere somehow it might be my fault that they are behaving like this with me. Only me and a few people from management knew that my apologies were fake and was a last attempt to help myself. I succeeded. But as the physical abuse ended, mental abuse started ! Students started calling me a loser! I remember for a very long time during our lunch break in the mess, no one would sit at the table with me. It’s been a decade now. I’ve forgiven them, the bullies, the classmates and everyone involved. May God give them peace of mind so that they learn by their mistakes.
The reason behind putting LGBT issue… I’m a straight guy. But a very dear friend of mine has recently moved to San Francisco from Delhi, India. He is a transgender person. He doesn’t want to go back! When I asked the reason behind it, he said, “ leave it bro… log bolte hain yeh to sala Hijda hai, yeh ab tali bajaega!” I was moved! India really needs to go through a serious introspection process to overcome this. Seriously. One very important thing about bullying is that even though you get help to stop the physical abuse, no one can actually help you for the mental suffering caused by peer pressure and your fellow schoolmates. That is the reason most of the students decide to end their lives finding no way ahead. That is why I’m making this film. This film is not about taking revenge and the good guy winning over bad one. It’s about fighting back in a responsible manner. This film would show both the sides of the bully and the victim and spread a really good message which would actually help the people in need.
Right now me and the whole team of Bullied is focusing on executing the project as planned and making it reach out to as large an audience as we can. We’re willing to show it in international film festivals, send the DVDs to concerned organisations and schools to make it part of their extra curricular activities and much more.
Q. Please tell us a bit on your actor selection process for this film?
Selecting actors was a tough task. Especially for the role of the protagonist. He has to be sensitive and a strong lead in order to pull it out on the screen. I consider myself lucky to have found Carlos Alfredo Jr. and Gretchen Klein as they are multi-talented. Carlos is playing the lead character of the victim named Peter and Gretchen is playing his mother Emy. They both are very expressive. I found them through SF Casting Website. Besides being a good actor, Carlos is a musician too. Currently he is busy with the shooting of “Tengo Talento Mucho Talento” Musical Talent show running on National level in Mexico. He is a contestant in it. Gretchen besides being a good and an experienced actor, has been teaching voice and piano to children since 20 years now. I remember in the audition while doing a sad scene, she literally cried and tears were coming out of her eyes! That was it, It had to be her.
For other actors, Berkeley High School has been very supportive towards us. I approached them to let us shoot in the campus and the surroundings. As soon as they read the script, they asked us if we can take some of their theatre department students in our film! How could we say no! They have been a great support.
Q. Do you think people sitting in India will be able to relate to your film?
Definitely! Bullying and LGBT are universal issues. My bullying experience was in India only I think for the LGBT issues, India has a lot to learn. So we would try our level best to reach out to more and more people.
Q. Why the crowd-funding initiative?
Crowd-funding is an amazing platform where interested people can fund and be part of the movie they want to watch! From script to screen, they can see the whole developing process and literally at the end, there’s nothing wrong to say that it’s their movie! For us as the film makers, more than money it’s about generating your own audience. It’s a fantastic platform where the people know the person whom they’re putting their trust on and as filmmakers, what could be better than having such valued audience! They can ask us questions, give suggestions, get to see the movie before the general audience and do much more. It becomes more like a one to one experience.
Q. Name a recent film you saw and wished you were a part of?
The film is Dhanak (2015) directed by one of my favourite directors, Nagesh Kukunoor. It recently became available to view on Netflix luckily. It’s a very sweet film based in Rajasthan. It’s about a 10 year old girl and her innocent belief that super star Shahrukh Khan would help her 8 year old blind brother to get his eyes back. And they go on a trek across Rajasthan in search of him!
The film is totally from the point of view of a child and there are many magical twists and turns with a happy ending. We need these kind of films in current scenario where everywhere you see negativity. I really wish if could be a part of it.
Q. What Next?
Ah,.. Next! So much to do! I’ve a couple of good projects in hand. I’m Directing an action-thriller feature film in the USA which is currently in the pre production process. Am also writing a script of fantasy-adventure-sci fi feature film which I shall soon pitch to the Film Distributors. Many other film ideas are in my mind. One thing I always promise about is that, my films will always give something good and thoughtful to the society and the content would be thoroughly researched. I respect this powerful medium of film-craft and would never waste it for cheap entertainment and money.