India’s first virtual reality (VR) film, the short documentary “Right To Pray”, will premiere as part of a batch being showcased at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), North America’s principal platform for movies.
While the film itself is brief, clocking in at just over eight minutes, its director, Mumbai-based Khushboo Ranka, described its arrival at TIFF as “a big deal”. The film, “Right To Pray” will be part of POP VR, a special event at TIFF. “We couldn’t have had a better platform. There’s the excitement of having the film seen by people from all over the world at TIFF, but also to meet others who are experimenting in this medium to brainstorm with them because everything is groundbreaking in VR,” Ranka told Hindustan Times.
The film deals with a phenomenon that appears to be “spontaneous” and “sudden” - that of women seeking entry into the sanctum sanctorum of religious places that have so far been barred to them, as in the case of the Haji Ali dargah in Mumbai.
In this instance, these are women looking to break a 450-year-old tradition (and their success in that effort) at the Trimbakeshwar temple in Maharashtra.
The film makes for an immersive environment, allowing the viewer to virtually enter the same space as the activists and devotees. The episode itself is “not just a religious thing, but a very political, seminal kind of act”, Ranka said in an interview in Toronto.
The film was produced by Memesys Culture Lab helmed by Anand Gandhi, the director of the feature “Ship Of Theseus”, which gained great acclaim when it premiered at TIFF in 2012.
Gandhi said VR was “the natural next step as a medium”, as part of the trajectory of storytellers upgrading their ability to “replicate our environment and record it in accurate ways of complete fidelity”.
While that process of evolution is beginning, as part of the ElseVR division of Memesys, he hopes to release similar documentaries each quarter, beginning with “Right To Pray”.
Well known filmmakers such as Nishtha Jain and Sooni Taraporewala are involved in this experimental venture that Gandhi is certain will be mainstream within the next three years. There are also three fiction works in pre-production.
A standard 14 camera system is used for the filming to go beyond a panoramic vista. Gandhi said the films, which are device and platform agnostic, will be released online and showcased at film festivals.
But making a VR film has its unique logistical challenges since this is a nascent technology. As Ranka said, “You have to take care of a 360 degrees and top and bottom field of view. I had to think on my feet while we were shooting.”
It adds an edge to the experience, “It’s such a new frontier, everything is exciting,” she said. Certainly, now the Indian film industry can rightly say, “VR here.”