Savia Jane Pinto
Naren Multani and Hozefa Alibhai have another feather in their short-film cap. The duo’s recent short film, The Waif, has received a special mention at the Barcelona Film Festival. It has also been shortlisted for the Chicago Film Festival.
The film shows a young boy, who is going about his day on a crowded street. As the film progresses, you see vendors, bystanders and other people on the street stop what they are doing and gape in shock and disgust at him, making him feel extremely uneasy. What everyone is staring at is the chopped hand that is stuck to the crotch of the boy’s trousers.
A flashback sequence follows, which shows the boy at home, where his grandfather is dying. Just before he dies, the grandfather places his hand on the boy’s crotch. The hand becomes a fixture on the boy, as someone cuts it away from the old man’s body. The shot moves on to one of the boy waking up in a sweat after an uneasy, disturbed sleep, and it is left to the viewer’s imagination to understand whether this was a dream or reality that had become a nightmare.
Multani, who is the film’s director, is head of the film division at McCann Erickson. Alibhai, the producer, is head of the film division at Publicis. And Raghu Bhat, who has written the film, is executive creative director at Contract. Nevertheless, The Waif is an independent piece of work.
During the discussion, Bhat’s opinion was that the film should highlight the after-effects of child sexual abuse, much after the actual incident takes place. This is why the film starts from where normally all child abuse films end – an old man taking a young child into a room and closing the doors.
“The idea was to convey that an abused child feels like he is useless and that everyone knows about his violation,” says Multani, explaining the reason for showing a chopped hand stuck on the boy’s crotch. Multani made the actor in the film, Vivek Sharma (who has worked for Ogilvy in the past), wear the trousers with the attached hand for two weeks so that he’d feel the uneasiness that an abused child would feel.
The film took four long months to complete due to unavoidable circumstances. Shot in the narrow lanes of Mohammad Ali Road, to signify the claustrophobia that an abused child feels, every shot in the film is a metaphor that bears a link to the child. The balloon vendor indicates his once happy childhood, the TV screens depict how media has become all pervasive, whether one likes it or not.
The area where the film was shot is commonly called a car graveyard and fit the theme of the film to a T. Many impromptu shots were taken. The scene where the boy is shot from a terrace was done after jumping through Alibhai’s aunt’s kitchen and landing on the terrace of the building.
Sufi music plays throughout the film, and the words too try to describe the disturbed mental psyche of an abused child. Multani wanted the background score to have shades of Sufi (the style that Karunesh has, as Multani explains it), but it was Pankaj Awasthi’s idea to add lyrics to it. Awasthi is the composer, songwriter and singer for the film.
Why was it called The Waif? Bhat tells us, “Though the child is dressed up decently, in his mind, he is like a waif, who is extremely vulnerable and isn’t healed of his troubles.”
The film was intentionally treated in an abstract manner to enable different interpretations from different people.
The Waif was shot on a shoestring budget. Most of the people who’ve worked on it, such at the cinematographer, the post-production people and the suppliers of the camera and equipment, did so without taking any money because it was more of a public service film.
In the past, Multani and Alibhai have received accolades for their other short films, such as 9 Minutes to Nirvana and Newsstand in Heaven.