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Interview Malayalam

I wrote because I wanted to make my film, says Christo Tomy, winner of Cinestaan India's Storytellers Contest

The 31-year-old screenwriter and National award-winning filmmaker from Kochi spoke about his contest-winning script, The Funeral, which is based on a personal family experience from 2005.

Christo Tomy receives the cheque for Rs25 lakh from Cinestaan's Rohit Khattar and jury members Juhi Chaturvedi, Anjum Rajabali and Aamir Khan

Sonal Pandya

Christo Tomy won the first edition of the Cinestaan India's Storytellers Contest in the presence of jury members Aamir Khan, Anjum Rajabali and Juhi Chaturvedi.

The filmmaker turned screenwriter won Rs25 lakh, the first prize, for his screenplay titled The Funeral. He beat out more than 3,600 submissions for the first edition of the contest.

Christo Tomy spoke with Cinestaan.com minutes after his big win. "It feels great," said the filmmaker, looking dazed but happy. "For me, it's about getting this film made. I am looking forward to making the film. I am sure this will give me the right kind of platform, because I was trying to get to producers even before, but they said this was an unusual idea so people might not be willing to risk it. Now I hope [I can]".

Aamir Khan announces Christo Tomy as winner of the first Cinestaan India’s Storytellers Contest

Christo arrived in Mumbai today from Goa where he was at the Film Bazaar on the sidelines of the International Film Festival of India, pitching his script to people over the past four days.

"I was so bad at [pitching] when I started last year," he stated. "I was so nervous also. At the screenwriter's lab, they asked us to pitch after every session. Now, I'm okay with this five-minute pitch. At least, I'm better at it."

Christo first heard of the Cinestaan India's Storytellers Contest when he was part of the NFDC (National Film Development Corporation) Screenwriter's Lab last year.

Christo Tomy, 31, winner of the first Cinestaan India's Storytellers Contest

"We had a group of friends, all screenwriters, writing our screenplays. Someone suggested it and I saw it on the website and on Facebook," he said, not expecting he would get this far.

The screenplay is based on a real-life incident in his own family, the funeral of his grandfather, which took place during incessant rains and floods where family members were stranded indoors for eight days!

"It is something that happened in my family in 2005. It's from personal experience," the young writer said.

Christo is a graduate of the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute (SRFTI) in Kolkata. 

"I was doing short films and I passed out in November 2015," he said. "After passing out, I assisted Adoor Gopalakrishnan for Pinneyum (2016). Then for the NFDC Screenwriter's Lab, I started writing the synopsis and submitted it. I didn't get through in the first round.

"My screenplay was non-linear [before]. I wrote it for around one year with around five drafts and realized it was not working. Then I started [again] from page one and got through to NFDC [the second time].

"I was developing [the script] last year till September and then we pitched it at the Film Bazaar and everybody liked it. The structure was there, but I still had to flesh out the characters, write the scenes and all that, so I was doing that this year. By September-October, I had a pretty good draft. But I know I have to still work on things, change a [few] dialogues and all that. But I'm happy about the draft."

He has also won two National film awards, one for Best Direction in the non-feature section for Kamuki (Sweetheart) at the 63rd National Film Awards and another for Best Debut Film of a director in the non-feature section for Kanyaka (Virgin) at the 61st.

"I'm basically a filmmaker, a director actually, " he said. "I wrote because I wanted to make my film. My films have won National awards for best direction in 2016 and best debut film in 2015. I have written only for myself, the films that I make. Because I have to make them, it's a therapetic process for me."

But Christo admitted the long, lonely process of writing was tough to get through. "Sitting around in a room and writing for two years, it's a very difficult thing," the winner said. "The first time you are writing it, you don't know a lot of things, how it is done. Even though I am from the film institute, nobody has taught me [screenwriting]. You don't know how to write a screenplay."

He did have help thanks to the NFDC Screenwriting Lab where he went to Lonavala every month over a period of six months and got feedback from mentors like Yann Apperry from France and Urmi Juvekar from India.

"The feedback helped a lot," Christo said. "Urmi was my personal mentor so she like really grilled me [on my script] so I thought I have to write it in such a way that the reader would be able to see the film.

"I've read a lot of screenwriting books to see the story. I have a collection of them at home now. I just take a film that I love and read five, six pages at a time and come back, why is that so interesting and mine so boring, and so forth.

"Even the language we write, [say] the doorknob opens. Just that sentence. Normally, we don't write like that. So, how to write in beats and like a short story, but your audience sees it, but they read it without realizing it. So these are all the things I got through reading the screenplay books," he said.