In Profile: Sachin Pillai

9 October 2014

The best way for a musician to be heard, is to be seen. It’s a widely acknowledged truth that for all the blogs, music sharing platforms and forums that exist online, nothing hits a potential listener quite as hard as a good music video. From Michael Stipe wailing over a collage of symbol heavy, gold tinted imagery in Tarsem’s legendary visual translation of ‘Losing My Religion’ to (the clearly deranged) Chris Cunningham invoking Kubrick by pasting Richard D. James’ alarming visage onto the bodies of little children in ‘Come To Daddy’. Music videos make an impact. They add body and provide interpretation, ideally, acting as a symbiotic accompaniment to sound, rather than a distraction.

It’s still going to take some time for the dormant volcano that is our burgeoning creative scene to fully erupt, but once in a while, we witness a leak slowly (but surely) bubbling out from under the surface. Visual narratives, particularly for music in the last couple of months, have been making the rounds. You’ve probably, by now, seen the black and white stunner that was the video for Sandunes and Nicholson’s single ‘Slybounce’, or more recently, THUMP's cover of Fuzzy Logic’s video for ‘Guerrilla Monsoon’ – the title track of his upcoming EP. He also had a hand in Monica Dogra's solo debut single 'Rise Up and Run', directed by Manoj Jadhav.

It’s hard to imagine that all of these incredibly distinct videos have a common face behind them – that of Mumbai based, “freelance visual enthusiast”, Sachin Pillai. We spoke to the filmmaker about his work, inspiration and his recent venture into the world of the music.

When I asked about his creative process, it was revealed (unsurprisingly) that he doesn’t really have one. “I try to start with a fresh approach every time, trying slightly abstract ways to arrive at a conclusion or concept. A lot of this involves driving around outside the city, post-it notes, masking tape and a lot of pacing up and down my room. So there isn’t really a specific ritualistic process, except for a whole lot of coffee.”

It isn’t a surprise that Sachin’s films are incredibly diverse both stylistically and conceptually – the only constant in his creative process is coffee, after all. His darkly comic, aesthetically rendered black and white interpretation of ‘Slybounce’ by Sandunes was story like, focussing on an increasingly intoxicated protagonist, dreaming of escape. For Monica Dogra’s first single off her solo project titled ‘Rise Up and Run’, Sachin takes on a cinematographers role under Monoj Jadhav's steady guidance and a different approach, emphasising the track’s heavy beats and stark imagery by artfully filming energetic choreographed performances by Dogra, Reshma Gajjar and Nilaya Sabnis - a massive collaborative effort. The filmmaker’s translation of ‘Guerrilla Monsoon’ by Fuzzy Logic is his most organic work so far. The video takes viewers on a journey though the grassy heartlands of Maharashtra, at the peak of the rainy season. It’s beautifully shot and pieced together in a hazy kind of way, using iconographic imagery that anyone who has experienced an Indian monsoon can relate to. These three videos are Sachin’s most recent releases, and stand as testimony to his dynamism and multiplicity.

Sachin’s foray into the music video world is explicable, especially considering that he picks the sounds of “Coltrane, Flying Lotus, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Zakir Hussain and Led Zeppelin” as the soundtracks to his life. “I feel that music videos allow filmmakers a sense of abstraction that isn't always optimal in short films or features. Furthermore, a lot of these musicians are my friends and family and it just makes the whole thing a lot of fun.”

One of his upcoming projects deals with family – he’s currently working on a video for experimental electronic artist Jamblu aka Kartik Pillai – his brother. It’s still in early stages but Sachin hints at using visuals from his stint at the KYTA residency which took place in Kalga, Himachal Pradesh earlier this year. He created a film there called ‘Alpha’ - “I feel the film Alpha that I made at the KYTA residency with 9 other artists is probably my best work yet, not only in terms of what the film is, but also the process of it which was almost subliminal and psycho-analytic. The artists I worked with were probably the most inspiring group of individuals I have ever been with, and collaborating with them was one of the greatest learning experiences of my life.”

Sachin is currently busy in post- production with a three part video series for Mumbai based electro folk artist, Nicholson. “Recently for Sohrab Nicholson’s videos I shot my first romance centric (for lack of a better word) concepts which I did enjoy thoroughly.” His work constantly explores the visual unknown so I ask him what he loves filming most, “That’s a difficult one. My favourite shots range from stars to massive landscapes, to really macro tiny little things like insects and worms or chemicals and things mixing with each other to just about anything during magic light. I wouldn't say I have had a wide enough range of shooting experience yet so I really don’t know. Perhaps gore and explosions will fascinate me in the future.”

As to whether he’ll branch out to longer features or documentaries, Sachin doesn’t really know. “I am now beginning to look at short film scripts and ideas going forward, and am also going to be involved with a few documentaries in the future. Right now, it’s all in concept stage.”

Sachin has also created a production with old friend, Amit Tida - still in its fledgling stages called ‘Praani’. “We don't have a website up or anything but this is something we have finally started after many years of speculation. We are looking mainly at documentaries and short features for the online space and a whole lot of really indulgent work that a lot of us have been fantasising over for a while, with which we are hoping to unite a lot of young and promising talent under a clear and transparent umbrella forming some sort of platform for pure idea-wanking.”

It’s undeniable that Sachin Pillai is a creator to watch out for, but what’s truly unique about his work is the way it presents a bustling urban Indian cultural space. Pillai’s interpretations are devoid of clichés and stray away from the overwrought, exoticised ‘Indian’ imagery that we’re so used to seeing. What he presents, and represents, is a real, contemporary modern condition, normally ignored by mainstream Indian media. To put it simply, his work is a symptom of an evolving, exciting future in contemporary Indian culture.

Words: Diya Gupta



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