A short film titled Monks On Mission made by a team of young monks at ISKCON Gurugram won the Outstanding Achievement Award at the 24th monthly season of Tagore International Film Festival (TIFF) last week. The film has been automatically nominated for the prestigious Sun of the East Award, and is based on the Covid-aid programme initiated by ISKCON temple at Gurugram in the second wave.
The 11-minute film is written and conceptualised by monk Padasevan Bhakta Das, directed by HG Rambhadra Das, President, ISKCON Gurugram, and the editing, shooting, and sound design was done by Pankaj Shyam, who was a Freelance Graphic Designer before becoming a monk. A total of seven monks — Aradhya Gaur Das (lead), Sri Nitai Das, Sevya Giridhari Das, Parmatama Hari Das, Rakesh Roshan, and Rahul Jhanghu, along with Padasevan in a small role — have acted in the film.
“The idea was to show what we are doing to inspire people to help others. Movie-making was something I always wanted to do, and our temple encouraged and provided me with the resources. On the recommendation of a friend in ISKCON Delhi, I did a free script writing course by Pixar available on Khan Academy website, and then I planned the whole film and its different scenes on a piece of paper and showed it to the President,” says Das.
The movie opens with a monk getting a call from a Covid-affected family desperate for food, and from there begins a chain of calls. “The film is about the dilemma of whether we should go out to help people or keep ourselves safe inside the temple. Mainly, because we have very limited resources. Our temple is under construction, our kitchen was in a temporary setup and there was the risk factor for those who would go out,” adds the monk.
The shooting began in the first week of May, and was completed in a week, and the film was released mid-May. The protagonist is a monk, who goes about his daily routine till one day something changes his whole life. But he faces the challenges and overcomes those problems. So, the film has an introduction, rising action and falling action,” adds Padasevan, who also wrote the film’s dialogues.He goes on to share his behind-the-scenes experiences, saying, “I had some idea about acting, but everyone else was doing it for the first time. Even one-minute scenes took us two hours to shoot, with 30-40 retakes. But it came out well.”
Unlike professional movie makers with a barrage of camera equipment to shoot one scene, the monks managed to shoot the whole film with just the temple’s DSLR camera. “We would shoot one scene from different angles with that camera. We did not have a professional audio recording device, so the dialogues were recorded using smart phones that were hidden mostly in the pockets of the monks’ clothes,” adds Padasevan.
The film also taught the makers how to incorporate creative differences. “I remember an incident where an old lady got upset after her meal got delayed. We wanted to have that scene in the film. One team member wanted to go to her place and shoot the scene, while I was of the view that it should be done over the phone. But he insisted on visiting her, and she agreed to re-enact the scene, and it came out well!” says Padasevan.