The Corona virus-triggered lockdown confined many people to their homes, but you can’t keep a filmmaker down. Ananth Narayan Mahadevan picked up his Sony HD camera and decided to shoot a short film. Since he couldn’t get any actors, writers, locations, not even a cameraman and editor, he decided to shoulder all the roles himself, while also directing the film.
“First, I needed a concept, so I started reading real life stories and came across this one of a man in the US, a not too successful writer, who had been living alone for 10 years and had never been jittery. But suddenly, he starts hearing knocks on his front door and feeling that someone is there in the house beside him,” informs Ananth.
He developed and dramatized the story whereby the man not only hears someone knocking on the door and no one on the other side, but on one occasion, sees the lift come up to his floor at night, empty. Wondering who had operated it, he goes down to check and quiz the security guard who insists that the gate is shut and no one had come by. “The man comes back up to find his front door wide open and the tap running inside,” narrates Ananth, sending a shiver down your spine.
After three months, the frightened man consults a doctor who tells him to keep himself busy—writing, reading, watching movies. And the advice works. He doesn’t hear knocks anymore and acknowledges that it might have been the hallucinations of an idle mind. The doctor now urges him to pen down the experience. “It could be the script of your next film,” he urges. “So, the man sits down to write… And there’s a knock on the door,” chuckles Ananth, refusing to divulge anymore and spoil the suspense.
He not only wrote and directed the 17-minute short titled The Knocker, but also pulled off a solo performance and operated the camera. “Initially, I was holding the camera with one hand and walking around the room as I did not want any static shots. But it’s heavy and difficult to keep out of the frame. So, then, I fixed it on a stand, put a dummy in front of it, ran across and ensured that the shot was not out of focus, then ran back to shove the dummy aside and take its position,” he explains.
If handling the camera alone while acting and directing was not hard enough, Ananth also had to ensure that the maid and his mother’s nurse did not walk into the room inadvertently and spoil his shot. He wrapped up the film over three days, shooting for a few hours during the day, afternoon and night. “I finished it in a total of six hours. Since I had already edited it on paper, the set division was perfect and I did not shoot anything extra,” he says proudly.
To give it a noir effect, it was shot in black-and-white with Parivesh Singh coming up with an ominous sounding background score and Bharat Dabolkar giving ‘voice’ to the doctor. Then Ashvin D Gidwani with whom Ananth has done some plays, came on board as co-producer and put The Knocker on the festival circuit.
It has been selected for the prestigious Toronto Lift-Off Film Festival 2021 and has just received Jury Special Mention at TATVA 2021, a festival of shorts.
Will he make more such films? “Only if the script demands it or if I am pushed into a corner by the much-dreaded third wave,” he avers.
And was he disturbed by any knocks? “No, but when I showed it to some friends, they couldn’t believe I shot the film myself, insisting that I had to have had a camera with an automatic zoom because in two-three shots, the camera zooms in for a close-up. But I have a manual focus, so who was in the room with me operating the camera and zooming in?” he asks.