Rihaan Patel: Direct, Action

Posted on January 20, 2015

Rihaan Patel is on a search for truth through filmmaking.

Everything was going fine until I saw a film titled Koi Mil Gaya during my school years in India. It was film about a search for an alien in outer space. This film influenced me in such a way that I decided to study science at school. My family warned me that my marks were not appropriate for science but all I was interested in was searching for an alien in outer space. This is how my story started.

I had a specific interest in alien and space biology but these were not the subjects I was supposed to learn. In my class, people were studying for marks instead of studying to learn something they could apply to life. I was not good at memorising things but I was always interested in stories. I remembered the story of Albert Einstein and his principle of relativity without effort, simply because I was interested in his life. I didn’t know that I was really a student of the arts.

Despite my family’s warnings, my marks were good enough to pass. Again, film influenced my life. At school, I had watched another movie titled Salaam Namaste. This story takes place in Melbourne, Australia, and it inspired me to go to Melbourne to live life as it was portrayed in the film. I was hoping to study there, so I started to prepare for IELTS (the International English Language Testing System), which would be the next step to getting a degree. During my IELTS course, a fellow student told me I should become a model. At that time modelling was not an occupation I was familiar with, so the student explained to me that people who look handsome could walk on ramps promoting products, and ultimately, become famous. I went home and looked at my face in the mirror, and I thought: they’re right. I do have the potential to be a model.

So, along with my IELTS preparation, I started to train to become a model in a city where hardly any modeling classes were available. In modeling class, I was given a few acting lessons, a few modeling lessons and lots of management lessons. I was about to complete my course when I got a student visa! My visa agent advised me to apply to study Air Conditioning and Refrigerator Engineering, because it was on the high-demand list to eventually help convert my student visa to Permanent Residency.

From a financial point of view, I’m from a middle-class Indian family. We took a loan to pay my tuition fees in Melbourne and I was supposed to find a part-time job, under the conditions of my visa, to cover my living expenses. But after four months of trying I didn’t have any work — I studied full-time so couldn’t be employed. Eventually, I got a job in a city hotel as a housekeeper, where I learned how to clean bedrooms, bathrooms, and toilets, but the job was not paying me a healthy amount. If I had to pay $2 for a coffee, I had to think about the position of my family back in India versus my position in Melbourne.

I had an unfulfilled desire to be an actor, which, at this point, came alive. I realised that, instead of modeling, I should give acting a try. I registered myself with a casting service and learned few acting tricks from a casting director. I got a few job offers, but to accept them I had to be white. One day, I got casting call for a daily soap soon to start on Channel 31 (a community television channel). I decided to go for it, but for that I had to give up my housekeeping job.

From then on, I studied from Monday to Friday and acted on Saturday and Sunday. I didn’t have a paying job. I realised that asking for money from back home every month was not a good idea, so instead I decided to change my diet. I decided to just eat rice. Two cups of rice in the evening was my full day’s diet. No breakfast. Nothing. Just the two cups of rice, and tea with powdered milk in the morning.

On one side, I was acting with a community channel and learning film production. On the other side, I was starving to death. Just when things looked really bad, I got a job offer from an AC refrigerator company as a trainee. That guy used to pay me $10 per day for part-time or $15 for full-time, and if I did lots of work, then $20 per day. Weekly I was able to earn $40. I finally had some fuel in my body but I was already sick, and sometimes I would feel dizzy.

One day in the shower, I was suddenly unable to see anything. Darkness took over my eyes. When I opened them a few minutes later, I was lying on the floor and the shower was running. Somehow, I prepared myself to go bed and rested for a while. I called home and described the situation and they asked me to come back to India immediately. Three days later, I was home, and I never returned Melbourne.

I got enough life experience, however, in those 8 months. I used to be a funny and outgoing guy, but I beame very calm and serious. I had seen the darkness of life very closely. My other relatives used to make fun of me for withdrawing from Melbourne. I lost my reputation. I came home with neither a degree, nor money. All I had was an experience, the value of which was yet to be realised.

My family advised me to stay and study in India itself. One day, I saw a small ad in the newspaper announcing that a filmmaking workshop was soon to take place in the city. I thought it would be a great opportunity to meet filmmakers and get acting work with them. But during the first two days we completed an introduction to filmmaking, and I was hooked.

We had to make a multi-shot film of around 3 minutes. Mine was screened in front of the class, and complimented as the best-edited film. It gave me confidence that acting was not the only thing for me
— I could direct films too. I flexed my muscles and decided to direct all my effort towards filmmaking. I had already wasted lot of time in my life. Now I felt I had to take everything seriously and just focus. At the end
of the workshop, we were given an assignment to make a 15-minute short film. I wrote a science fiction story, but didn’t know how to make it — I needed technical knowledge to create the complex scenes I’d written. So, I took an Advanced Diploma in 3D animation and visual effects. Again, I took this course very seriously and learnt everything. It was then that I felt like I could do anything in the world.

As a first attempt, I made a short film on child labor. It was selected by PBS THIRTEEN New York and screened during prime time on Saturday night. My journey started. The first film I made was titled Dust of Orphan. The second was The Burial of Daughters. After that I made few more short films and won a few more awards. I kept sending my short films to festivals, and one after another I got official selection or awards for each. Local media started covering my films.

I started doing commercial projects but I always felt that my filmmaking had some higher purpose in life. When I looked back at history, I realised that I cared most about social issues and I was drawn to films about them. Naturally I met people who were dedicated to social causes. I decided to use filmmaking as a tool to address social issues and inspire people to act, and to make these issues and causes the backbone of my films. I wanted to make filmmaking meaningful.

“What men value in this world is not rights but privileges,” said American writer H. L. Mencken. People said to me, who cares about social issues when we have enough of our own problems in life? Sometimes these people were unable to think beyond profit and loss. But on another side, I saw people who had their own life problems and financial limitations doing incredible social work. This duality of life dazzled me. I thought, how is it possible? After learning about these people more, I realised they had a strong belief in serving humanity with whatever little they had, through whatever acts they could, wherever they were. These are people who do not just care about personal gains — they think beyond that. Their work is motivated by love and compassion.

As a filmmaker, I study the impact of storytelling. Stories are basically emotionally charged ideas with an embodied belief system that can change anybody’s behavior. There is one great example in the history of Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi, who believed in non-violence, was inspired by a play called Satyavadi Raja Harishchandra. After watching this play he decided to stick with the truth. He bought India independence without advocating violence and hatred. Today, Mahatma Gandhi stands as a symbol of non-violence. The United Nations celebrate Non-Violence day on the 2nd October, Gandhi’s birthdate.

After learning all this, I came to know that yes, it is possible to help and encourage people to value human rights by telling them meaningful stories. Films are a strong, persuasive medium of storytelling. They basically use two senses, sight and hearing, to stimulate emotions. I have mastered all aspects of filmmaking from writing screenplays to the final rendering of the film. I’ve even learned about visual effects that make creating impossible scenes possible within few hours. If I’m going to use these skills to make a film, then why not to give it a meaningful message?

If it is humorous, it has to be a meaningful humour so people can apply its messages to their life, and ultimately help society and humanity. Entertainment just for the sake of entertainment is like a fire in a matchbox — temporary. What I want to do is to inform and educate people in an entertaining manner.

Nowadays, I make my films on the real-world heroes who are bringing change to society. I share these films on the internet so people everywhere can be inspired to act on what they believe in.

I want my films to be universal. I want anybody in the world to be able to relate to them. I want to be remembered as a filmmaker and storyteller who gave people meaningful films. They should fill society with hope for a better world: a world without war, without hate, without injustice.

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