In a small village in Balochistan, a teenager has become addicted to video games. His sister is fascinated by the blinking, colourful, animated game that keeps her brother hooked all day, but he refuses to let her play. It’s a small conflict that hides behind its innocent little banter the roots of a more serious issue. This is just one segment from Project 11, a short film made by 31-year-old Vikas Chandra and 10 other directors.
When he was a school boy, Vikas Chandra, like most kids his age, was a slave to videogames. Then he “got over it”. Now, as a filmmaker and writer, he studies them with detachment. His Project 11 is a dark thriller centred on videogames. “I wanted to make a film on online gaming — a thriller that works as science fiction too.”
Project 11 is an 11 minute, 11 second film that will be launched online November 11 (11/11/11) at precisely 11.11am. “I was aware of the interesting date, so I centred the story on the date and worked backwards,” says Chandra. Thus, Project 11 will feature 11 characters, 11 cities and 11 different directors. Yes, Chandra is fascinated with the number 11. “When you work on a theme, it is best to go all the way”.
A Patna boy with a post-graduate degree in filmmaking from Delhi’s Jamia Millia, Chandra says he was always interested in films. A couple of documentaries in Delhi, and working as an assistant director in Ghajini and in the short film Kavi, which was nominated for an Oscar last year, are highlights of his film career so far.
Chandra, who has plans of making his own feature film soon, wanted to make an international short film, but realised the costs involved in travel, equipment, etc, would be beyond his budget. So he decided to use the one tool that could help him cross cultural and physical boundaries at no cost — social media. “I shortlisted 10 cities where I’d like to shoot and launched the idea on Facebook,” he says. He researched the 10 cities, wrote over 2,000 emails to international filmmakers, and put up requests on over 200 film networks.
Once the feelers started coming in, the interviews began over Skype. “I sent them portions of the script to check if they would be interested in working with me. Each international segment had just one or two characters and a two-day shoot,” says Chandra. The international segments, where required, were shot in the local languages.
The back and forth continued, new places were added to the list, older ones sometimes cancelled, and characters were changed if needed. Chandra made use of every free medium he could — Twitter, Facebook, Skype, emails. The film itself will be launched online at www.glamsham.com.
He finally completed the shoot within a Rs9 lakh budget, which was raised by the team behind the film — produced by Ranjan Singh, with music by Vivek Rajagopalan, and edited by Geeta Singh. “We’re looking for sponsors as we intend to send it to the international festival circuit,” says Chandra.
Chandra has attempted to explore the psyche of a typical gamer in Project 11. A study by the University of Queensland’s School of Psychology, the results of which were released last week, concluded that videogames make a person insensitive and kill values such as warmth and open-mindedness. They make people identify with the aggression they get to perpetuate in the virtual environment. Studies conducted on the effects of videogames talk about how hardcore gamers have difficulty differentiating between real and virtual lives.
Chandra had been toying with this theme for a couple of years before deciding to make a film on the blurring boundaries between the real and the virtual. His characters are people who start slowly developing their virtual avatars in these videogames. He has referenced actual videogames in the film. “When you play videogames, you start enjoying the anonymity of it, and you start channelling your rebellion through that very identity. It’s like you are starting from scratch and you can change the way you want to appear in that life.”
The synopsis of the movie states that Project 11 is an underground videogame in which 11 gamers across the world are racing to cross the elusive level 11. As they do, the real and virtual worlds collide, overrun by a virus.
Who will win? And will Chandra’s obsession with the number end? 11/11/11 should give you the answers.