Spontaneity in our travel plans is something we all aspire for. But when it comes to our careers, we don’t like uncertainty. We like to have our moves planned in advance. Graduate, work for two years. Find a good Masters course.
If a good opportunity comes knocking on our door, we fret about how it might steer us off the pre-planned course.
But taking chances and just going with the flow has worked out well for Afrah Shafiq, a 29-year-old filmmaker and artist.
One person, many many roles
“I didn’t venture out to be an artist. It’s something that accidentally happened,” she told us when we spoke to her about her most recent project ‘Sultana’s Reality’.
It’s difficult to describe ‘Sultana’s Reality’ in a few lines but for simplicity, Afrah calls it a ‘multimedia web story’. We got a chance to view it for the first time at an arts festival in Bengaluru. We sat there for more than an hour, mesmerised by the music, the vibrancy of the images, and the animated archive pictures.
The work looks at the history of women’s education- how women were first denied it and later given only enough to make them ‘civilised’.
It opened up a whole new chapter of history for us and we were eager to talk to the artist to find out how one person could have played the roles of a researcher, an illustrator, an editor, a sound designer, a filmmaker, and an animator.
After a long conversation with Afrah, tracing her journey since college, we understood that this project was actually a summary of all the different roles she has tried so far.
Look out for the happy accidents!
Afrah completed her Bachelor of Arts from Christ University in Bengaluru before going on to Symbiosis Institute of Media and Communication (SIMC) in Pune to pursue her Master’s. She wanted to become a documentary filmmaker and she picked up technical skills like editing, camera, light, sound, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe After Effects, and more in college.
As a student, she interned with the award-winning documentary filmmaker Paromita Vohra on a film and continued to work with her even when she was back in college. In fact, Afrah got an opportunity to work with Vohra later as an assistant director on the experimental TV show ‘Connected Hum Tum’ and as creative producer on ‘Agents of Ishq’, a multimedia project about sexuality.
After SIMC, Afrah went on to work with another acclaimed documentary filmmaker, Madhusree Dutta, on a project for the legal and cultural centre Majlis which turned out to be a happy accident.
Afrah recounted, “I landed up working on a project that approaches research and documentary as art because that is what she was making at the time. This became a happy accident for me because it opened out a completely different range of experiences. I was doing research behind installations for an interdisciplinary art show called ‘Cinema City’”.
Madhusree never had a boring or straightforward way of telling a story, which Afrah says taught her to tell stories creatively.
Career Decisions 101: Okay, does this sound like fun?
While she was there, she dabbled with production, assisting other artists with design. After this stint, she became a freelancer working with different artists.
“I would work on production and research for visual art and documentary films. I worked with a bunch of artists who needed help with research on any particular subject. Foreign artists and film crews also needed help finding characters for their stories and lining up shoots,” Afrah said.
She also got to work as a post-production assistant, improving her skill in video editing and designing.
“I never thought ‘Now I am going to be an artist’. I would just say okay, does this sound like fun? Does it look like I will learn something from this project? That’s the kind of loose logic I went by,” she told us.
Recently, Afrah even took on the role of managing the Dharamshala International Film Festival (DIFF) which took her into a whole new area of event production and management.
‘Am I spreading myself too thin?’
But does ‘going with the flow’ have its occasional downsides?
“Sometimes, I wonder if I am spreading myself too thin. I have a little experience in so many different things that, sometimes, I wonder if I should have taken one thing and gone deep. But these are only momentary questions. In the end, everything that you do adds to how you see the world and how you are able to express yourself as a creative person,” Afrah said.
After our conversation with Afrah, we breathed a little easier and worried a little less about what path we might go down. Let’s take on every role as an opportunity to learn and not fret about where it might lead us.
You can (and really should) check out Afrah’s project ‘Sultana’s Reality’ here.
Afrah will be presenting the work as an installation in an upcoming show at Gallery Guild in Alibaug on the 19th of May, as part of a group show curated by Archana Hande called “I am Sutradhar”. Do check it out, if you are around!