Checked on your long-distance friend during the lockdown? Or that acquaintance from work who you rarely spoke to? Reached out to your building’s guard who could not work during the pandemic? Ordered extra milk for the colony stray dogs?
The coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent lockdown have truly been the most trying phase of the millennium till now. ‘We are in this together,’ we were told at the onset of this pandemic and it's rather beautiful how so many of us have been going through all this with small acts of kindness and community service.
Paying a gentle ode to this collective experience is a short film, called Hangout, which is a journey in itself. Starring Anisa Butt aka Alia as an empathetic do-gooder and Arjan Singh Aujla aka Romi as a burnt-out musician, this is a film that is sure to touch your soul.
Directed by Kabeer Khurana and co-produced by Simran Lakhanpal, Rohan Parikh, and Ramneek Sawhney, the film is set against the backdrop of migrant labourer exodus in India. It follows the story of Alia, deeply troubled by the crisis and striving to help these labourers and her happy-go-lucky colleague Romi, constantly seeking musical inspiration. Truly moved by the enthralling movie, we recently reached out to the creative minds behind it, and here are the extracts from our conversation:
It was over a casual chat between Simran and Ramneek that the idea of Hangout found its fruition. After that everything transpired at a commendable speed. By the next day Kabeer Khurana, the director was on board. As Simran explains, “So I think we got the ball rolling pretty fast. I had a chat with Ramneek, the next day was a call with Rohan and Kabeer and then within 72 hours Kabeer had his script, cast, and everything ready.”
Speaking about the inception of Hangout, Ramneek shares, “I did a lot of volunteer work in London so we sort of came together as a community where we stayed and we started running food banks. Obviously we picked up the migration issue because the film was pretty much made for the Indian audience and we wanted a little love story with it for it to feel like a film and not a documentary. Getting all that together was very important. To have a message and still have a story. It is difficult to sort of put it all together in 12 minutes.” And yet the entire film comes together almost magically.
Just 11:48 minutes long, Hangout is an extremely relatable watch perhaps owing to the fact that the film’s timeline is based on the nationwide lockdown and was shot at the exact same time. In fact, the production work was carried on during the peek lockdown. As Simran shared “We were under complete lockdown and Kabeer had to really minimise contact. The crew was always in their PPE suits and we had sanitisers all around.”
That said, Kabeer was actually in for a rather fresh experience and literally directed the entire film remotely from his Mumbai home. Similarly, both Ramneek and Simran also worked remotely from London and Delhi respectively. The filmmakers give special credits to Srijan Sinha for working on the post-production and bringing the entire film together. "A huge part of the credit goes to Srijan for making it all happen so smoothly," says Kabeer.
Most surprisingly, even the actors had never met each other, something you’d never be able to guess given their crackling chemistry. Kabeer explains, “Technology-enabled us to do things that weren’t possible 4-5 years ago. To get that chemistry right, even if they were shooting on two different days, they were essentially made to respond to each other over the Zoom call."
The crew also had to put in extra efforts to get the lights right given that they couldn’t procure elaborate equipment owing to the lockdown restrictions. “Sunlight and sundowns, we knew the magic hours and optimised them through reflectors and mirrors,” Kabeer explains.
“Hangout is a personal journey of conflict between thought and action, an opening towards living your dreams and reaching out during lockdown. But more importantly, it’s about finding yourself,” share the producers. The film explores the delicate albeit intensely emotional nuances of our varying reactions to the lockdown.
That said, the filmmakers do have their unique understandings of the overall messaging of Hangout. For Kabeer, the film is all about a “gentle kindling of hearts who are worlds apart and yet together.” For Rameek, it encompasses "how relationships formed in adversity have incredible strength.” And for Simran, it is a reminder “to take a break and don't get wrapped up in the day to day lives, look around and count your blessings.”
The film very subtly encompasses the message of how art inspires life and vice versa. Kabeer explains, “My personal philosophy is art imitates life. And every film must capture the cultural milieu, the social milieu, and the kind of times that we live in. And in that sense, every film is very personal and every film is very political. I think that is the whole point of cinema: to touch, to move, and to inspire. That can only happen when the film is relatable and that happens if it's true to life.”
Further elaborating on how that element comes to life, Simran explains, “We all get so wrapped up in our day to day lives that we actually forget to look around us and I think Kabeer has captured that beautifully in this film. The need was to stop, take a look around ourselves and see that these migrant workers really needed some support and that has been duly conveyed by the means of a romantic story.”
Rest assured, the pandemic has certainly changed our lives and cinema both. Ramneek believes a huge change is underway and Hangout is a celebration of exactly that.
From the special bond shared by the production team to how it translates on the screen, this is indeed a film about human connection and an absolute must-watch RN. The film is now streaming on Disney+ Hotstar and garnering rave reviews.
Featured Image: Instagram