Aditi Banerjee has completed more than ten years as a filmmaker. In all these years, she faced several challenges and hurdles but her resolve to tell stories honestly without seeking support from a big studio remained strong. ‘Love At Fifth Floor’, a mini-series that is currently streaming on MX Player, has been an important milestone in her journey as an independent filmmaker.
Before streaming on the popular OTT platform, the mini-series made rounds of several prestigious film festivals all across the globe. Featuring Dilnaz Irani, Rachna Gupta, Virginia Rodrigues, Vivek Kumar, Vaibhav Deep Chopra and Kafeel Jafri in principal roles, ‘Love At Fifth Floor’ has been screened at Montreal International Film Festival 2020, Toronto Film Channel 2020, Lift Off Global Network Paris 2020.
In this interview, Aditi talks about her eventful journey as an independent filmmaker, the process of crowdfunding ‘Love At Fifth Floor’, thoughts on the digital boom and more.
You were intrigued by the kind of lives people living in apartments in big cities lead. That led you towards writing ‘Love At Fifth Floor’. Can you elaborate on the writing process?
I was not inspired by any particular event but this idea of every apartment having a story of its own. In big cities, most people live in apartments and don’t even know who their neighbour is. Despite living so close to someone, you don’t know what goes behind closed doors. This thought inspired me to write this series. I also spoke to a lot of people living in high-rise buildings in cities while doing my research for the show.
The series has been crowdfunded by more than a hundred people. What made you take this route?
I wanted to make a series that could be shot independently. I didn’t want it to be driven by the idea of a producer or a financer. ‘Love At Fifth Floor’ is an extension of my sensibilities as a filmmaker. I created a crowdfunding campaign on Wishberry. Fortunately, I had already got the cast and crew members in place. They helped me tremendously by becoming the mouthpieces for the crowdfunding campaign. It was heartening to see strangers putting in a lot of money for this project. ‘Love At Fifth Floor’ belongs to each and every individual who was a part of this campaign.
Was arranging funds through this process easy?
Nothing in the process of making this show has been easy. However, I always say that if you truly believe in something, things will work out for you. People see through your intentions. However, you do need a solid base. My crew members were a part of the project even before we started raising funds for it. I also had my script ready. All this made everyone believe that I was serious about putting this project together. In an independent process, you don’t have the luxury of people doing multiple things for you. You have to be prepared to take up several responsibilities yourself.
How did MX Player come on board as the streaming partner for the show?
It took us a while to find a distribution platform for the series. There were many challenges. Firstly, it’s a mini-series. Most streaming platforms are interested in full-fledged or longer shows. Platforms have their own mandate which keeps changing every month. Most of the pitching work happened when the Covid-19 situation was at its peak. During these times, platforms were not sure about the kind of content they should take up. Also, most of them keep looking for shows or films featuring stars. My show didn’t have a huge budget or a big star. MX Player has a huge audience base. I feel grateful for the fact that ‘Love At Fifth Floor’ is streaming on it.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced as an independent filmmaker in all these years?
I was fortunate to get the opportunity to work with several organizations during these years. ‘Love At Fifth Floor’, in a lot of ways, has been my first big independent project. I think the hardest but most important thing for an independent filmmaker is to keep moving. You will face a lot of problems but you should never give up. After every project, you feel exhausted but you must find the strength to pick yourself up and walk again.
Do you think the rise of OTT platforms has helped independent filmmakers?
A lot of good things have happened because of the arrival of OTT platforms. We are getting to see a lot of realistic content. Stories about and featuring older women are being told. Having said that, I feel the golden period of OTT platforms is now over. Now, streaming platforms are behaving quite similarly to the way the film and television industry functions. They seem to be chasing stars instead of good content.
What is that one piece of advice you would give to an aspiring filmmaker who wishes to work independently?
Independent filmmakers should make good use of technology and use it as a tool to tell stories. If you are not getting any support, make a short film and put it up on YouTube. You can’t call yourself a filmmaker unless you have put some work out there.
What are you doing next?
I am writing a few things. I like to move between fiction and documentary. Right now, I plan to do a lot of work in the fiction space.