With a morning menu of Muffins and Hot Tea and a lack of the usual chitter-chatter, the empty tables of McDonalds offered an uncharacteristic quietude. The presence of the person who sat opposite me seemed to radiate a charming indifference as if dismissing the idea of giving context to surroundings. With wild, unkempt and curly hair forming a halo around his face and piercing black eyes, Tanmay Shah- founder of Friday Fiction Films began his story.
“I was in the 6th standard when I had my first encounter with a computer. It was a problem solving machine and that is what captured my fancy.”
By the time Tanmay passed his 12th standard, this logically derived fancy of his had developed into an ostentatious romance with the world of programming and coding, softwares and applications. But it is significant to mention here that as he delved deeper and deeper into the world of compilers and debuggers, it was impossible to miss the constant under-current of the fact that he still perceived the act of writing code as a means to an end and not an end in itself.
“It was like an elegant process of thought guided by a logical functioning mind. It was the fact that what I was doing could help make tangible solutions to the actual problems faced by the world. I saw myself as an artist trying to express his idea to the world.”
Characterizing himself as a person who finds it an abomination not to pursue every living moment in the pursuit of a passion, Tanmay explains to me how he managed to survive and thrive in the world of engineering which has been marred with stereotype and prejudice.
“I have been to 93 TechFests and won hundreds of competitions all over India. When you do this kind of a thing, of course you can’t expect your attendance to be in double figures. But what you can expect is a sparkling resume with internship offers from Physical Research Laboratory and IIMA Incubation Centre.”
Owing to an eidetic memory and an uncorrupted logical processor as a brain, Tanmay went on to design and write drivers for InfraRed Lunar Observatory at Mount Abu where he worked on the automation of the telescope and cloud-based sensors for small observatory operations. Armed with a comprehensive practical as well as theoretical knowledge of the subject and a strong reference from PRL, he then made it to IIT Bombay where he worked on the optimization of traffic management system that was later implemented in Trivandrum and also the subject of his published research paper.
It was obvious to me that there was a gifted and a passionate individual sitting in front of me but there was a rhythmic cadence in his articulation that made him neither arrogant nor conceited. And just when I had formed a conventional opinion of this unconventional IT Engineer, his story made a 180 degree twist.
“It was while I was working as a research associate at IIT Bombay, I had my first rendezvous with professional Story-Writing and Film Making. I was selected to be the part of a storyboarding process for a gaming application. I knew I was good at writing stories, but I had no Idea how scripts worked. A chance collaboration with a film-maker from Tamil Nadu and successful execution of 4 short-films set things in motion for me and Friday Fiction Films was conceptualized. “
Those piercing black eyes still had the same intensity and his countenance still had the same earnest gaze and it was fascinating to see that this tectonic shift in his career brought forth no unwarranted rhetoric in his manner of expression. The domain sure had changed but his passion had the same serene equilibrium that was so evident in his love for coding.
“It was like your favourite Sundae with an assortment of all the goodies that you love. There was the technological aspect that I could instantly relate with, the psychological aspect that enabled me to understand the impressions that people unknowingly left behind and the communication aspect which helped me make the transition from a conceptual notion to a tangible product. It was such a powerful medium of expression and I was overwhelmed.”
“I never found it difficult to channel a thought and visualize how it should be. I felt like I had a 360 degree camera in my head which could make a profound observation of people’s actions, their behaviour and their voice modulations. I always tried to deduce their thought process and their disposition, sometimes by looking at things as trivial as the color of their watches. It seemed intuitive and I felt more articulate.”
Throughout my conversation, I came across many moments in which Tanmay criticized the curse of inaction. He couldn’t stand not doing things and it was this inherent irritation in his personality that gave rise to the idea of 52 Friday Project. It was 2015 and seeing that he was not really living up to the name of the Friday Fiction Films, he decided to embark on an ambitious journey of discovery and purpose where he planned on making a short film for each week and have 52 of them ready at the end of the year.
“The idea of making zero budget short films exploring the intricate and underlying fabric of our society and a strong notion of creating something tangible that could enunciate and reveal my perspective was so strong that it gave me all the strength I needed. There was no temporary inspiration or fleeting motivation. There was no money involved. It was the simple purpose of doing what I want with the idea of self-exploration that became my determination. It was like a video-game, the more you play, the higher score you get. Period. ”
With duration ranging between 2 to 5 minutes and diverse social issues such as intolerance and anti-ragging to transgender wedding and social media attraction, Tanmay Shah clearly made a loud statement that it doesn’t take excessive resources and truckloads of cash to make films. Using Youtube as his main stream celluloid and 170 different characters for his short films, he managed to keep each film independent and portray it as a separate entity.
As someone who has never had any formal training in photography or film-making, it was incredulous to see him talk about lenses and lights with the same intensity as a professional photographer who has been in that business extensively. As I began to enquire him on the thought process that he employed while making his films, Tanmay talked with an assuring solemnness that promised an enchanting insight of an exquisite mind.
“In the last year I have met more than 1200 people and it was all the knowledge I needed. Understand that I was not getting my story but I was getting my raw material. It was the kind of reactions that they showed, the kind of accessories they wore, the kind of movements they made. After gradually discovering the magic of lights and lenses, I strived to express my story in each and every frame that I used. I didn’t like to waste them.”
“Once I fixated on an idea, every detail that I used in my film was driven by that one central idea. I didn’t believe in compromise and I could never imagine a single person in multiple characters. A man doesn’t borrow pieces of his body. In the same way, I couldn’t borrow components of my short-films. Each had its own integrity and served its own purpose. “
As of now, Tanmay has transformed this entrepreneurial idea of Friday Fiction Films into a full-fledged private limited company, which focuses on providing branding and video solutions to the corporates. Talking about the kind of the projects that he now takes up, he vividly explains how he is brutally honest with his clients about what kind of video or design will be suitable for his brand and sometimes also about why he cannot provide what the client is looking for. With a goofy smile, he divulges in his secret and describes how these client meetings open up a repository of visual information for him.
Sipping the last of his Coke Mcfloat, he pauses a little when I ask him to describe his journey so far and with a kind of retrospective glance begins to answer my question.
“I have always believed that mediocrity fosters because of relativeness. Any kind of work that you do is ultimately a form of self-expression and when it comes to that, I set my own standards and there is no comparison. Throughout my life I have tried to maintain absoluteness in my approach whether it is coding, script writing or film-making. The problem that I see so prevalent in our society is that we are getting comfortable with convention and are not challenging ourselves enough. Everyone has a gift and an ability, but it is your choice whether to harness it or let it rust away.”
And with enough food for thought, we climbed down the chalk-scribbled stairway of McDonalds. The menu had changed and the tables were filling up.