ART IN MOTION
- A conversation with Toronto-based filmmaker Vishnu Hari and his take on the cuts and edits in the worlds of film and fashion
A degree in Astrophysics, a job at IBM and currently pursuing a masters in Artificial Intelligence at the University of Toronto; these attributes don’t resonate with the word film-maker. However, Vishnu Hari would disagree. “I enjoy cataloguing the human experience,” he says as he takes a sip of his tea. “[This is] the reason why I studied astrophysics as well. There is nothing more human than realising your insignificance within the grander scheme of things. There’s a beauty to it.” As nihilistic as that may sound, Hari is extremely perseverant and determined when it comes to filmmaking and capturing the human essence.
He has come up with several scripts and shot many a film over the past few years. However, the project that found him recognition was his short film, Acceptance; a film, which on the surface speaks about getting accepted into an Ivy League school. As you delve deeper into the film, you realise it’s a tale on being accepted in general; be it amongst your peers, family, society or just learning to accept yourself. The film was screened at several festivals such as the New York film festival, Florence film festival and Texas film festival to name a few. The film, with its 50-minute running time, has even garnered a significant viewership on YouTube.
Hari chats with his friend and co-writer, Ryan Chan, (who lives in New York) almost every night and works relentlessly to come up with original ideas for his scripts. He casts his characters with sensitivity and constructs his films with utmost perfection; from the dialogues and the screenplay, to the clothes that adorn his actors. When asked for the reason as to why he pays so much attention to his character's attire, he says, “It’s the first aspect that gives you a glimpse of the subject’s personality. When I was in high school, in Singapore, I grew up in public housing and was brought up in a middle class family. I wanted to visit nightclubs with my private school friends but I couldn’t afford clothes such as a three-piece suit. I had to figure out what my fashion style was and so, I’d wear bright traditional Indian clothes to differentiate myself from the crowd. So, I too could get photographed and upload pictures onto Facebook since that was and still is, in a way, a form of currency.” Fashion holds a special and personal importance in his life and this translates into his work as well.
“When I create a character I always think of what he or she is wearing. Whether it’s a military dictator or the CEO of a large company, I want to know the cut, the colours and the brands,” he says. Sticking with this ideology, the characters in his film Acceptance, dress in unique styles to communicate their identities to the audience. Sometimes, they dress in a particular way to mask their true identities. “The lead character of the film, Rohan Patel, dresses in a polished manner to hide his insecurities,” says Hari. In this way, we get a deeper look into the personalities and intentions of the characters just from the way they dress and carry themselves.
Although the film is centred on a very human topic, it has been shot in an extremely stylistic manner. Smooth camera movements provide the illusion of almost gliding through the digital landscape that is Singapore. During the day, the characters in their private school setting, dressed in sharp uniforms, only add to this seamless and clean approach to filmmaking. Even as an avid cinemagoer, Vishnu can’t help but notice the fashion in films. “After watching the film Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, I was completely blown away by the costumes and how dapper all the characters looked. Fashion is visual and film is visual. They are both completely intertwined. Fashion is what people wear and films need to be fashionable to succeed.”
It should come as no surprise that one of Hari’s favourite filmmakers is the creative genius Tom Ford. “ He is a filmmaker first and fashion is something that just comes to him. He has the ability to synergize the two worlds and the end product is absolutely stunning.”
Fashion and film are both arts in motion; be it the smooth camera movements or the models gliding across the catwalk. The actors who bring the filmmaker’s vision to life or the seamstresses and models who make the creative director’s dream a reality. They are mediums of expression. Fashion helps you express your identity and the expressions of the characters in films make life more relatable. According to Hari, film and fashion have a symbiotic relationship and going forward, this relationship is only going to increase in strength.