Viraj Chheda, welcome! Thank you for your interest in the Cannes World Film Festival. Your short piece entitled Everythingness &Nothingness is very intriguing and visually imposing. It is definitely worthy of ranking as Best Super Short Film, partly thanks to the Super 8 format. Would you tell us more about your title in your own words?
Post covid some two years ago I decided I wanted to buy my first film camera. After having seen countless old films and falling in love with the film grain texture that a lot of these films had; I figured that a Super 8 camera was perfect for me to begin my journey into analog film. I found the Canon 514XL on ebay and after a bit of research on its features and comparing it to other similar Super 8 cameras I knew it was most suited to how I wanted to start my journey behind the lens. Thereafter I shot everything I could that looked aesthetically appealing to me over the subsequent two years.
India having no Super 8 labs was of course a major drawback in terms of location to using a format like Super 8, however having some friends in Berlin who would visit India from time to time I was able to get my first few rolls processed by having my friends carry it with them and then having the lab in Berlin (Andec Filmtechnik) send me the digital scans of the same. It was a good 6-8 months from when I first started shooting to when I got my first rolls processed. These first few rolls had one part of the first sequence I started editing which was the extreme long shots of the many flamingos that migrate every year to a lake on the outskirts of my city (Mumbai). Thereafter I travelled to many places (Goa, Rajasthan, Vietnam) and I always carried my camera with me taking footage wherever I went until I finally came to Japan where I got the rest of my Super 8 processed on my final few days there at Highland Super 8 Lab.
It was here in Tokyo that I found a store called “Flamingo”. It’s bright neon signages were gorgeous and I believe I shot it on a 500 T film stock to get the bold bright magic of these signs as beautifully as possible. So, after two years I had two extremely contrasting versions of “Flamingos”, one shot during daytime with 50D film stock of real birds flying in the sky and the other, bright neon signs shot on 500T film stock at night. In editing these two contrasting yet in some way the same shots I was reminded of Andre Breton’s writing and the surrealist themes he explored in “Mad Love”.
The concept of everything being everything else (even though to the logical mind such things were pure whimsy) really intrigued me and therefore I decided to make the entire film this whimsical surrealist fun thing. Also, the fact that both these extremely different yet same shots were shot over a year and a half apart made me think of Jean Paul Sartre’s, “Existentialism is a Humanism” and how my perspective of the same though had gone through such a metamorphosis over this time period of a year. Having been a student of logic and mathematics myself in my younger years I feel the younger me would say this is a film about absolutely nothing and yet the surrealist and existentialist in me today would say that this is a film about absolutely everything. Therefore, the title, “Everythingness & Nothingness”.
Lars von Trier said “Basically, I’m afraid of everything in life, except filmmaking.
Would you share your vision as a cinematographer or simply as an individual?
First, I love Lars von Trier. I am in absolute awe at the surrealistic murderous nightmare that he had created in “The House that Jack Built” and the absolutely disturbing psychological twistedness that is “Antichrist”. Even his earlier stuff like the “Element of Crime” is a sepia bad dream unlike any other. I think I can relate to his statement in that way, wherein I quite often feel If I am not creating art whether music or film, I have no purpose. To me it is like breathing. I am terrified of doing a 9-5 job and being too tired to experience art and create art. Sadly post covid this may be becoming my eventual reality. There are not many opportunities for experimental filmmakers or artists in India. At least not many that pay well enough. I am afraid that slowly but surely, I must trade away my soul for comfort.
“Symmetry. Perfection. Make sense of it all. All the complexities. Classify.
Generalize it. Exemplify it.” Then comes the antithetic “Asymmetry. Imperfection.”
And is the idea to “Differentiate yourself from this placid utopia”? How do you explain filmmaking as an art of disruption?
I was greatly inspired by legendary conceptual artist John Baldessari and lot by Jean Luc Goddard for this image and text style that I have used in my film. The way they take an image which by itself holds no deeper meaning and then attach to it a narrative which opens up a world of possibility of what it can be and the previously unperceived depth that can be had in such simplicity has been in many ways incredibly disruptive at least to me as an onlooker. The incredible dialogue that Godard superimposed on just a cup of coffee in “Two or Three things I Know about her” or the way he shows the travel to and from “Alphaville” on a regular highway with just a lot of lights have I feel changed the way I will ever look at lights on a highway or a cup of coffee.
These thoughts are radical and lifechanging and everyday things that we see are not mundane but instead have a world hidden behind them. Of course, not all of these revolutionary perspectives change the world but some of them have made it into the world we see around us and have changed it irreversibly. Consider Barbara Kruger’s “I shop therefore I am”, the simplicity and eloquence of the bold text in red and white colors gave way to the unmistakably iconic style of what is today the “Supreme” brand. Filmmaking is conceptual art and conceptual art is disruption.
You say: ”Let it all wash away. None of it matters.” And, “everything is
connected”. Do you think that standing aloof from everything and/or nothing is a balancing act?
In some ways yes. The lack of acceptance of my art or just art in general by many people that are too busy or too focused on their myopic view of life; and there being many more of such people than the very few artistic souls like myself makes me think that maybe our movement does not matter. Maybe our revelations and rebellions are not as powerful and they are just made of smoke and mirrors. Like Deckard’s character at the end of “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” we look out at the wasteland questioning ourselves and our morality but it is all just irrelevant, things go on and If one of us decides to break away from the cycle someone else is just going to take our place. Life goes on in its morbid cycle whether you choose to be in it or not. Individuality perhaps really has very little value. I remind myself of this as an internal truth to balance myself in the whimsy that is my individual self.
May we ask at what locations you shot this video?
Places I shot at in India: Mumbai, Goa, Alibaug, Alsisar(Rajasthan)
Other Countries: Vietnam, Japan
The last still seems to be Mount Fuji. Or is it perhaps a view of Kilimanjaro. It is maybe immaterial. What is the significance of this view for you though?
I caught a glimpse of Mt. Fuji in Japan whilst travelling from Tokyo to Kyoto and thought it was a fitting end and synced up well with the sound of my synthesizer slowing down to a stop.
Do you have any upcoming cinema projects?
I have another experimental short film I am currently writing and hope to make it by next year.
And finally, what is your vision of post-Covid cinema in a short statement?
To understand my perspective, I’d like to flashback to the pandemic where I spent most of my time watching films. I watched over 200 films in that one year of Covid. Local markets then faced logistical issues with food supplies. I had to many a times travel with my Covid hazmat ensemble (mask gloves and maybe a windbreaker) over 30 – 35 minutes to get otherwise easily available food supplies in what was previously my local area market no more than 5 minutes from my house. There were days where such luxuries were not even permitted unless one had a press pass to travel from one’s local area to other parts of the city for simple requirements.
Food and grocery deliveries were so over stressed that you’d have to wait a day to get a few veggies to make a regular salad. Times were tough…
And yet even though feeding myself in this literal sense was somewhat of an uphill task. I remember watching films like Tampopo and reminiscing what it was like to eat a real bowl of Ramen (at a gourmet restaurant) or watching a gorgeous plate of anime food in a Miyazaki film, thinking, dreaming and surviving on hope. I believe this analogy extends not to just food but to life in general. Cinema and movies are the slice of life magic that were needed for one to vicariously live in times when staying alive was everything but living.
By living, I refer to going out, socializing with colleagues, falling in love, eating food, experiencing art or just even experiencing the frustration of not making it to an important meeting on time because of being caught up in traffic. The human experience is incomplete without one being truly alive. Cinema being an integral part of capturing this delicate poignant fleeting emotion is so integral to the human experience that a world without it is like an ocean that cannot break upon a beach.
That being said things like shooting a film through Covid just like life was quite difficult and, in many cases, a logistical impossibility. I remember trying to put together a team to shoot a music video and for which one of us from the team had to write to the local authorities to get permission to shoot at a privately owned ice factory (something we rarely had to do before unless one was trying to work in a location that was not privately owned). Quite a few people even flat out refused to be a part of the production and the few that did agree had to all be tested every day of the shoot at the expense of the production. The number of films in general not just by me but many local production houses had either come to a standstill or were being done with such little frequency that many creatives faced massive blows to their incomes and savings. I myself had to look for other revenues after having successfully produced music and music videos that I’d sold to labels just a few months before the pandemic. Things were looking bleak.
Cut to two years in the future when the World Health Organization finally declared Covid no longer as a pandemic. Almost all restrictions were lifted. Things resumed as if they had never changed. Numerous films, adverts, music videos started hitting the cinema halls and OTT platforms. We had survived and art was back again… or was it? The label I’d sold music to just months before Covid was now no longer working with experimental artists such as myself and was almost on the verge of shutting down. The agency that I was managed by had to also part ways from our band, because there were no longer opportunities for non-pop non-commercial forms of artistic expression. In some ways, everything was back to normal for what was deemed to always be a commercial success for the masses, however opportunities for unfiltered, truthful and unique artistic expressionists have diminished greatly. Will this post-Covid era ever see a new Godard or a new Dali? Will all chances taken on good art be only linked to commercial successes? Only time will tell.
Viraj Chheda, director, producer and sound designer
Viraj Chheda is an innovative film director, musician, DJ, and multi-talented artist who has made significant contributions to the underground music scene in India as a music and music video creator for his band SIXK and for many prominent individual Indian artists such as Rae Mulla as well as his own solo project under the name of Citizen Kale. Known for his unique filmmaking approach and passion for analog aesthetics, Viraj hopes to gain recognition for his work in Super 8 film.
Although not from a predominantly artistic upbringing, Viraj developed a deep appreciation for the arts much later in his life and became a self-taught musician and filmmaker. His love for music led him to explore various musical instruments, but the enchanting sound of vintage analog synthesizers truly captivated him. Fascinated by the raw and organic textures they produced, Viraj began experimenting with creating his own music compositions.
As his interest in music grew, so did his curiosity for visual storytelling. Eager to immerse himself in filmmaking, Viraj has embarked on his journey by working as an assistant director and/or a line producer on several music video projects (some of which were his own songs). Through these experiences, he honed his skills, gained valuable insights into the industry, and developed a keen eye for capturing the essence of music through visuals.
Driven by a desire to push creative boundaries, Viraj decided to bridge his two passions—film and music—by embracing the art of shooting on Kodak Super 8 film and making music for the same on analog synthesizers. Drawn to the rich textures and nostalgic quality of analog film and analog music, he has found a perfect medium to express his artistic vision through filmmaking. Viraj's decision to adopt the Super 8 film also reflected his inclination towards the craft of traditional filmmaking and his desire to evoke a sense of authenticity and tangible beauty in his work.
For over a year, Viraj has also been running a YouTube channel called Planet Kale with a fellow musician and peer, Dharam Intwala, where he promotes and encourages local musicians and DJs from India and has given them a platform to showcase 60-minute video performances.
Everythingness & Nothingness highlight the ephemeral nature of identity and the interconnectedness of all things. It concludes with a sense of uncertainty, inviting viewers to question their truth and contemplate life's absurdity and surreal nature.
© ITV 2023 Isabelle Rouault-Röhlich