Interview: “Real Filmmakers Don’t Get Featured In Bombay Times” Says Shamiana Founder And Theatre Artist Cyrus Dastur

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A well-known name in the theater circuit, Cyrus Dastur is a talented actor and director, well known for his play, When God Said Cheers. He is also the founder of Shamiana, a space for independent short films from across India. Since its inception in 2008, Shamiana has grown to become the name for Indie shorts, and has been keeping Cyrus away from his first love, theatre. We caught up with him post the recent launch of Shamiana in Kerala and the launch of their Cine Cafe in Baroda, Asia’s only dedicated cafe for short films.

Cyrus Dastur and Tom Alter
Cyrus Dastur and Tom Alter

Tell us about your journey in Mumbai, as an actor and director.
It has been a long road but an exciting one nevertheless. My play When God Said Cheers is still running for the last ten years and stars Vikrant Sakhalkar and Auxilia Sequiera besides the inimitable Tom Alter. It’s been amazing working with this team, and I wish the play goes on for many more decades.

The real filmmakers, sadly, are people who never get a chance to come in the Bombay Times.

How has the theatre scene evolved over the past few years in Mumbai?
Oh it has grown by leaps and bounds. I remember when I started doing plays, Mumbai had only three-four limited options for venues. We were the first ones to go out and perform in alternate spaces like pubs and restaurants on a regular basis and today that has caught on in a big way. We did that because we were refused dates by NCPA and Prithvi Theatre and I didn’t allow that to crush my spirit. So, instead of shutting my play, I took it to a cafe. The rest is history and the play is going on for over ten years while other plays that got dates over us at NCPA and Prithvi have long since shut down.

Tell us about how Shamiana 
came about, and the cities it has branched out into.
Shamiana is a revolutionary space for independent short films and has given a voice to many filmmakers across the country. We started in Mumbai in June 2008 and it has now quickly expanded to many cities including Delhi, Calcutta, Ahmedabad, Pune, Guwahati and even in Nagaland and more recently in Kerela. Internationally we’re present in Australia and Hong Kong. We just launched the Shamiana Cine Cafe in Baroda, which is Asia’s only dedicated cafe for short films.

Well after all these years, I’d say if you have a new innovative idea then India isn’t the best place to be in. People are either too glamor struck or too conventional in thinking.

ShamianaPretty Neat! Which city has offered the best response, and what is different/unique about the Mumbai audience?
Every city has given us a thundering response but I’d single out Ahmedabad, Baroda and Bombay as the three cities where Shamiana has attained cult-like status. Having said that, even Delhi and Pune are huge markets for us.

What/when was your first brush with short films, and what is your favorite short film?
I seriously started watching shorts over a decade back when people in India were discovering what shorts were about. They were a space mainly restricted to film schools or film festivals, the aam junta had no real idea. Once I got hooked on, there was no looking back. As for my favorite – too many to name but I’d say of the current lot, Oscar nominated Henry and last year’s winner Curfew are two of my favorites!

You have been a part of the Indie scene for a significant amount of time; What are some challenges you still face?
Well after all these years, I’d say if you have a new innovative idea then India isn’t the best place to be in. People are either too glamour struck or too conventional in thinking. It takes years before a new idea finds acceptance in our great country. I bet a WhatsApp or Twitter would’ve failed miserably had it been invented in India because we just don’t have the mindset or the system to appreciate and accept a new idea.

Any advice to actors and writers and directors?
Sadly most writers and directors don’t have too many ideals to follow and that’s a scary factor. Most patronize and look up to directors who’re either media made or themselves living in a make believe world which new gullible actors and directors think is Oscar worthy. People need to see and know what the real world is doing outside Bollywood today. Unless that happens, very little will change and hence we see the quality of cinema going out every Friday. The real filmmakers are sadly people who never get a chance to come in the Bombay Times!

What projects are you working on these days?
Well quite a few but its Shamiana which takes up 99% of my time.

Since we are a portal that caters exclusively to Mumbai, let’s switch gears, tell us…
Your favorite places to chill in Mumbai?
CCI Club it is for me. Grown up there so all my free time is spent there with friends. Another place would be NCPA since I love theatre.

Favorite restaurants/lounges/bars/clubs?
Churchill and of course Shamiana at the Taj. As for lounges/bars, well I’ve visited pretty much most places in Bombay and all are nice in their own way —any place that plays good live music is on for me!

Places in Mumbai you haven’t been to yet, but are on your must visit list?
Quite a few of late because of my hectic traveling. Am out half the month and miss visiting so lots of new places that my friends keep talking about. That reminds me, so much to catch up on in my own city.

So that’s wrap from Cyrus. If you want to catch up on interesting shorts from all over the country, you know where to go. Check out Shamiana on FaceBook and YouTube.

Post By Amanda Sodhi (10 Posts)

Born and brought up in Washington, DC, Amanda Sodhi moved to Mumbai from Los Angeles to pursue her passion for music and now fronts a pop-rock band called The Chudail & Demons. She is a vocalist-lyricist, VO artist, journalist, award-winning screenwriter & filmmaker and also runs a social media & online PR firm called Artist Handle.

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Amanda Sodhi

Amanda Sodhi
Born and brought up in Washington, DC, Amanda Sodhi moved to Mumbai from Los Angeles to pursue her passion for music and now fronts a pop-rock band called The Chudail & Demons. She is a vocalist-lyricist, VO artist, journalist, award-winning screenwriter & filmmaker and also runs a social media & online PR firm called Artist Handle.
  • cacteye

    A good interview, thanks! Especially commenting on the downsides of our country every one is so proud of but does by no means deserves.