Idly Upma's Ini: Creating alternative content with low-budget storytelling
The Idly Upma team speaks about what went behind the making of their short film Ini, starring Abdool Lee and Sana
If you are someone who likes YouTube original content, there’s a good chance you’ve come across Ini. The short film, starring Abdool Lee and Sana, has initiated a healthy discussion among the audience.
Ini is the sixth short film by the team of Surya Bharathi, Charu Ravichandran and Sujith Subramaniam, who have been making films under the banner, Idly Upma. Written and directed by Surya, it is the story of a divorcee and a widow. Whether it’s Abdool’s hands inadvertently tap dancing in anxiety, or a high-angle shot of tea glasses, there’s clear shot division and Surya ascribes all those details to this scripting process. “We kept chiseling the script, adding details here and there, even till right before the shoot. We brainstormed ideas during our reading session as well,” says Surya.
This is probably why the characters feel like they are carrying more than they show. “They’ve traveled in life to an extent. They were both forced to marry someone, and when they eventually come out of it – he’s a divorcee and she’s a widow, their parents realise that the decisions regarding their children’s future should be left to them. So, when they meet, they don’t really need to wear any mask,” explains Surya. This is also the reason behind the ‘cylinder’ scene, to break the ice between the characters and get right into what matters. “When Sana is at the door, the first instinct usually would be to wear a shirt, but Abdool doesn’t realise that. He’s looking at this new face at his door. He is that kind of a person,” adds Surya, who is also working as an assistant director for a feature film that is currently under production.
Ini, which was shot in just two days, is a good example of the style that the team leans towards. Low-cost filmmaking, Surya explains, is their primary business model. "Anurag Kashyap is our inspiration. It is his rules on making a zero-budget film that helped shape our understanding of this model.” In fact, Abdool, who has acted in feature films as well, did the short without any remuneration.
The hyper-realistic set design is another thing that Surya and team were conscious about. Even that, he says, is an influence of Anurag Kashyap’s style.
Whether it’s the sun-glare that hits right at you or the pastel-tinge, Sujith, who donned the hat of the cinematographer for Ini, says all these were pre-planned to aid the storytelling. “It’s ultimately about the mood of the film, and to make it as realistic as possible. Like the characters themselves, as the film progresses, even the physical space and the camera shots widen as they get more comfortable with each other,” says Sujith. Surya adds that they used a Russian Helios lens to bring out the soft texture, and out-of-focus backgrounds in the short.
The team credits the comfort they share with each other for the success of Idly Upma. “All three of us had a good rapport and similar tastes in cinema as well. So when Charu wanted to do a short film, we all came together. We realised that there wasn’t a platform on YouTube for the kind of films we wanted to make and decided to create our own audience,” says Surya, adding that the reception to Charu’s Thulluvadho Ilamai, Idly Upma's first short, gave the team the confidence to keep going. They followed that up with Sujith’s Sorga Vaasal, before making Thoovana Thumbigal – another widely-appreciated short.
Interestingly, Surya says that K Bhagyaraj and Radhika Apte were the actors he had in mind as reference for the characters played by Abdool and Sana in Ini. Though it’s hard to think of anyone else as those characters now, it is amusing to consider how Bhagyaraj and Radhika would have played them.