Of late, Indian filmmakers are making headlines internationally and for the right reasons. I have always believed that there is absolutely no dearth of creativity in India – getting the right recognition and having avenues open up is the main issue.

Some spectacular masterpieces have been produced that have been critically acclaimed in India and abroad. Unfortunately, a lot of such striking movies and documentaries that come out, win awards at international film festivals and disappear into oblivion without ever coming into the limelight. Many are still unfamiliar to most Indians even though Indian cinema has earned substantial laurels on the international film festival circuit, of which we should be proud.

The 2018 Moscow International Film Festival took place in April. Unknown to most, there was a selection from India, in the Short Film section at the prestigious show. ‘Circus’ had its world premiere on the 21st April in the 40th Moscow International Film Festival and was the only film from India that was part of the main competition including being one of the12 films selected worldwide out of over 2000 submissions that they received this year.

The Moscow International Film Festival is considered an A-list international festival. It was first held way back in 1935. The festival has a long history and tradition of presenting the works of great filmmakers in their heyday such as Sergei Eisenstein and Federico Fellini.

Tariq Vasudeva’s journey with ‘Circus’ started after the tragedy of ‘Nirbhaya’ became an important national moment. He felt angry and helpless about the state of relations between men and women in India. Even today, we are still grappling with an atmosphere of violence against women every single day. The behaviour of men in India has become very threatening and there is no fear of the police or the law. There is chaos on the streets and it has to stop. Added to this, Tariq has always felt strongly about the role of hierarchy and class divisions in India. This fueled his thoughts of using film as a way to tell a story that pushes these issues to the forefront and puts up a scathing mirror to society about the state of disarray that we are all living in today.

As a debutant Director, Tariq does not have any qualms in saying that film is a powerful tool to express the brutal nature of humanity, especially when Bollywood films choose to propagate the same images year after year. India is a country that needs to introspect urgently about how our society functions. Tariq is forceful in saying, “Any form of art has a duty to create introspection and put up a mirror, no matter how difficult it is to look at it. Men are roaming the streets filled with rage against women and nothing is changing. There is just no time left to run away from our problems by watching Cricket and buying tickets to watch misogynistic Bollywood films. The urgency of the situation is immense and my attempt is to use the visual power of cinema to bring this to light.

‘Circus’ is completely self-financed and involves a saving of two years. The 26 minutes ‘long’ duration of the short film created a huge challenge for their low budget - to things being borrowed, to free shoot locations thanks to friends and family, the actors pretty much wore their own clothes and have done all the work for gratis! All of the film’s budget was spent on production equipment and wages for the production crew. It is a miracle indeed that the film was created purely on the grit and determination shown by the small team and the help of friends along the way.

Tariq has been doing theatre since he was a child. He graduated from Denison University in Ohio, USA having done theatre and acting in plays. After graduating from college, he worked as a professional actor in Chicago for two years where he acted in critically acclaimed plays. After moving back to India, he has worked with various well-known theatre directors in Mumbai and New Delhi. He can also be spotted in some popular television commercials.

Tariq is extremely proud of his crew and cast and with good reason.

Harshvir Oberai, well known for his work in music videos and short films is the cinematographer. The brother duo – Suhail and Tushar Prakash, who run Amondo films were executive producer and co-editor. Tariq’s extremely talented brother Sahil Vasudeva, who incidentally is one of the most well-known classical pianists in India has done the sound design. Colourist Sidharth Meer is a leader in the field and has also graded some of the most path breaking films coming out of India. Up and coming film editor and vfx artist, Saptarsi Mondal and colourist Divya Kehr (who now runs her own independent studio in Delhi) have all contributed immensely. The location sound was taken care of by Devender Singh and Abhishek Sekhri was in-charge of the sound mix and mastering.

Tariq’s two choices for the lead roles in the film are Yuki Ellias and Debtosh Darjee. Yuki Ellias is one of the most well known Theatre actors in India, known widely for her brilliant use of physical comedy and movement. However, she is seen in an impactful dramatic performance in Circus. Debtosh Darjee also comes from the world of Theatre but this is his first lead role in a very powerful performance. The other supporting roles are played by Raghav Bhalla, Piyush Prakash, Sohaila Kapur and Mohan Madgulkar.

Circus is a story of two individuals. A woman who is angry about the discrimination that women face at the workplace in a corporate setting, and another man employed as a domestic helper in a wealthy house who is struggling to figure out the purpose of his life. Tariq has put up a mirror to society and the impact it has on the psyche of these two individuals.

In Tariq’s words, “I have also tried to capture how disconnected the elite youth are in India from the urgent problems we face. There is a long party sequence in the film that is juxtaposed with the dark chain of events in the rest of the film. To me, this is a metaphor for how our society functions. People seem ambivalent – they are partying while the nation faces an emergency of raging violence against women and a huge class divide.”

The other films in competition at the Moscow International Film Festival had very big budgets and production values. Circus definitely stood out because of the raw treatment in the film. Everyone felt that the passion to tell the story came across very strongly and the film left the audience moved and thoughtful. There was a big cloud of silence when the film ended and a lot of debate and discussion took place during the Q & A session with Tariq. There is also no musical score/background music in this film – and only a couple of sequences in the film have specific sound design. Most of the film is shot in natural light and with natural sounds. The reason Tariq wanted to do this was to ensure that they captured the stark reality of life as it exists, without infusing it with any stylized lighting or music.

At the moment there are no plans to release this film online or on any other platform. Tariq feels that they will have a better idea of the distribution of the film later in the year. Tariq has dedicated this film to a very close friend that he lost three years ago, who always encouraged him to push boundaries, to be fearless and go beyond what he thinks he is capable of doing.