The Global Search for Education: Director Mohit Modi Wants to Educate Youth on Hygiene
This month on the Planet Classroom Network, audiences can screen The Autograph, written and directed by Mohit Modi.
This is the story of Shaunak, a young teen who loves to sing. He's a big fan of a reality show singing sensation called Animesh whom he yearns to meet. One day his dream comes true. While riding in an elevator, he bumps into his idol who signs his autograph on the palm of Shaunak's hand. To avoid losing the autograph, his lucky charm, Shaunak stops washing his hands. This leads to a number of challenges and family issues.
Mohit Modi says the aim of his film was to educate kids about the importance of hygiene and what happens if one ignores it.
The Global Search for Education is pleased to welcome Director Mohit Modi.
What was your inspiration for Shaunak's story? Did you have a personal experience associated with an obsessed fan yourself?
Growing up, I have seen kids being obsessed with actors, wrestlers, sportsmen, etc. They would collect their merchandise and dress like them or even change their hair to match theirs. Being in Mumbai, which is home to Bollywood, it is not unusual for one to come across their favourite celebrity. This is where the conflict of the story originated for me. I tried to imagine what would happen if basic hygiene came in between an obsessed fan and his favourite celebrity.
Do you think kids benefit from being treated and spoken to like adults who can make their own choices? Is there a point where autonomy becomes too much to handle?
This, perhaps, is a question for parents, and parenting is one of the toughest jobs in the world. I am not one myself, but from being around kids, I feel that they need to be given the space to make their own decisions and mistakes, and learn from them. But parental guidance and nurturing are beneficial for kids too, and maybe required. But to find a balance is extremely hard, I'm sure.
The elevator scene where Shaunak comes face to face with his idol feels so real in terms of how a young person would react in that setting. How were you able to capture such childlike emotion without losing authenticity?
I wanted to create a scenario where Shaunak chanced upon his idol in a slightly private setting and hence the elevator worked well. We also had a workshop with the actors before we started shooting to make sure that everyone was comfortable with each other. But what really worked is the fact that Vedanth, who plays Shaunak, is a very intuitive actor. We worked through a scenario imagining one of Vedanth's favourite celebrities and helped him get the essence of the scene.
Did you believe from the get-go that your story was relatable to kids all over the world? Was this something you actively kept in mind or was it a fortunate accident that The Autograph is indeed a universal tale?
To be honest, while writing the story, I could not have imagined that The Autograph would be relatable to kids everywhere. I think what worked are some common themes of being star-struck and feeling attached to a persona. The aim of the film was to educate kids about the importance of hygiene and what happens if one ignores it.
What lessons did you learn from writing and directing this film, and how do you believe your storytelling style has changed as a result?
One major challenge that I anticipated when I took on this project was directing children. It was something I did not have enough experience with. But as I started working with them, I felt at ease. I realized that kids understand the underlying feeling of a scene better than adults sometimes. They are uninhibited, and if the shooting conditions are right and if they are comfortable, then they can deliver some brilliant acting. Until this film, I had mostly worked with a very small team. I would edit and do the sound design myself. With The Autograph, however, I got to work with a much larger team than I was used to. I was lucky to associate with some talented people who came with more experience than me, some of whom I ended up collaborating with for additional projects.
Don't Miss The Autograph, written and directed by Mohit Modi, now screening on the Planet Classroom Network.