Three and a half layers of stories that touches your heart

By Smita Sarkar

Smita Sarkar

A film that’s taken four days to be written, three and a half short stories shot over the same number of days and presented without a single edit – sounds like an impossible project to pull off?

Not for Director Dar Gai, whose first feature Teen Aur Aadha (Three and a half) – an experimental project left the audience stupefied, in a good way, with many (like me) trying to figure what just happened, even after the film ended.

Starring Zoya Hussain, Jim Sarbh and Suhasini Mulay among lead actors, the film is produced by the famed Anurag Kashyap. Teen Aur Aadha made its London premiere at the Bagri London Indian Film Festival 2018 with a screening at the prestigious BFI on the 24th June.

Although a late night show, Dar indulged in nearly an hour of Q&A, patiently explaining the several aspects and layers of the unconventional film.

“This film was a result of over-confidence, naivety and stupidity… it was a total nightmare,” she reflected.

The 120 minutes film has been shot in exactly three long shots. It is a story about a house, which in the last 50 years has been a school, a brothel and a beautiful home of a 70-year-old couple. The last half shot is about recreation of the building. The three and a half stories are about people in the space at different times, trapped in more or less similar circumstances.

A still from the film ‘Teen Aur Aadha’ starring Zoya Hussain, Jim Sarbh and Suhasini Mulay

Every aspect of the film was unique and extremely well executed. For Dar, a Creative writing professor at India’s leading private film school, Whistling Woods in Mumbai; the scripting was an extraordinary undertaking.

“For me it was important to create the script from the beginning on four different layers,” responded Dar to an audience question on the easy-flowing, subtle, yet powerful narrative.

“Maybe it’s a story of one boy when he is 12 years old, 27 and finally 70 years old. Or all the stories are happening at the same time in parallel universes, so that’s why a lot of dialogues are being repetitive through all three and half takes.”

The story is based on a house and its inhabitants across three different eras, in the last 50 years. The house was divided between a school and an apartment, which housed a boy, struggling to cope with the pressure of the pre-pubescent school life and his paralytic grandfather. 20 years later, the house becomes a brothel, where a young concubine is dealing with her first client. 30 years later, the house is home to an elderly couple who are reminiscing their lives.

The poster of the film ‘Teen Aur Adha’

The thread through these multi-layered themed short stories is the need for love, want for an escape, life and death and hidden stories left for audience interpretation because all the characters in the film are trapped.

What made Dar choose this narrative in the first place?

“From the very beginning, the idea was to create the feeling of time and space because the walls are telling the stories and the walls do not close their eyes, they do not sleep or blink even if it’s boring or awkward.”

“They may look out of the window into another building but there will never be any jump in time. To recreate this feeling of stretched time I did not edit. I didn’t want to explore the speeding of time in this project,” said Gai.

This was probably not the only reason why Dar conceptualised a one-shot feature. With a shoe-string budget, she realised that this was probably the best way to shoot a feature film. It may seem like a super-simple film – shot in three and a half days with no edits and very little scope for post-production, but this project was full of challenges.

“We shoot for three and a half days, but the one-take idea was much more difficult to execute than we planned,” laughed Dar.

Ukrainian filmmaker Dar Gai, director of ‘Three and a Half’

The film has been shot in a single take on hand-held film cameras. “We had rehearsed, but the cameraman came on the day of the shoot. We had around eight hours to shoot the entire film. We couldn’t afford more than 2-3 takes for the entire film. The most number of takes was for the second short film – 4, in total.”

The camera work was the toughest, with a hand-held having to be carried for nearly 45 minutes, while an average hand-held shot in movies is not usually over eight minutes.

The film was received well at the London Indian Film Festival, Europe’s largest Asian film festival, running for the ninth consecutive year. The film has received critical acclaim in other film festivals too, but its commercial success if yet to be fathomed by Bollywood box office.