Interview by Andreea Boyer // Edited by Chris Charles of Idol Features
Satya Prakash Choudhary is an Australian citizen of Indian origin. He has a multidisciplinary background that combines dental surgery, clinical psychology, and classical studies. The Last Koan is Satya’s debut feature film. Satya has also done the sound design and music for the film.
Andreea Boyer: What can you tell us about yourself?
Dr. Choudhary: After establishing a successful dental practice that is now running very well, I expanded my horizons. I bridged over to behavioral sciences and clinical psychology while in Australia and later started the Mind Care Clinic and Institute of Behavioral Sciences.
Andreea Boyer: What is your other work besides films?
Dr. Choudhary: My current interests include mental health, mind-body medicine, human potential, spirituality, art, and filmmaking.
Andreea Boyer: What inspired you to become a filmmaker?
Dr. Choudhary: From childhood, I was never content with just getting top grades at school and used to enroll in extracurricular activities like painting, music, writing, and theater. Seeking creative endeavors alongside academics, I wrote, directed, and acted in plays throughout schooldays and won many prizes. The same mindset continued into adulthood as well.
Despite a productive career as a clinician, there has always been a discontent within that drives me to inquire and explore. My artwork is part of the same spirit of inquiry and exploration. I managed to fulfill my creative needs by attending various courses at places such as the AFTRS (Australian Film Television Radio School), Central St. Martins, London, and University of Cambridge Institute of Continuing Education during the weekends and summers. My personal quest for self-expression has taken me from writing, painting and composing music to finally culminating in filmmaking.
For me, filmmaking is the ocean that all rivers merge into, whether you are a writer, painter, composer, photographer, dancer, or an actor. Personally, I feel that it is the most satisfying medium as it enables me to express myself through multiple art forms simultaneously. The powerful interplay of word, image, and sound opens new possibilities. Ingmar Bergman, Stanley Kubrick, and David Lynch are some of my favorite filmmakers whose films inspired me to explore the medium.
Andreea Boyer: When did you start your career as a filmmaker and has filmmaking always been your main focus?
Dr. Choudhary: As part of the many things we did between 2001-2004, an Australian investor asked if I would be interested in composing music that could be used for the promotional campaign of a classical Indian knowledge system based product that I had designed. I ended up producing about 18 musical compositions. Later, I shot two narrative based music videos on an Arri film camera in 2003 after doing a course at the AFTRS.
Between 2002 and 2015, I had written ten full-length scripts/stories alongside my regular work in the clinic. When you love something you find time for it no matter what! I decided to go ahead and self produce my first feature film in 2016. Once I decided to make the film, I attended a few film and TV shoots in Hyderabad in addition to courses in digital cinematography at Sydney and an intensive course on color grading at Brisbane. This was all part of my preparation before the final plunge.
Andreea Boyer: What can you tell us about the cast and story from your movie The Last Koan?
Dr. Choudhary: A writer who has unresolved issues with his dead mother and a woman who has intermixed the identities of her husband and his best friend, explore the meaning of life, death, love, and forgiveness. Combining elements and characters from Indian folktale, the film narrates a postmodern Vikram-Betal tale inviting multiple interpretations. A road is just not a road!
Some parts of the script are quite stylized, especially the artist’s track. There is a tempo and rhythm built into the scenes and dialogues of the characters of the Artist, Death, and Love. This track has a mythological dimension and poetic style to it and needed careful supervision to make sure it goes with how I wanted to edit those scenes.
My cast is predominantly a mix of talent from film, TV, and theater backgrounds. Few are untrained actors. Chandrasekhar, who played the role of Betal in the film, is a trained actor from FTI, Pune, India’s premier film institute. Sahidur, who played the lead role of the writer, is also a trained actor from National School of Drama, the country’s foremost theater training institution. Jitender, who played the role of the artist, has a theater background. Most of the other actors are busy in TV. Some are working in films too.
Andreea Boyer: Where did you film The Last Koan and how was your experience during filming in nature?
Dr. Choudhary: Predominantly we shot in remote areas in Darjeeling district and a few other areas around. It was entirely shot in Bengal. During the recce, the very first night that I slept in one of the trekker’s huts in Srikhola, I knew it was not going to be an easy shoot. The thundering sound of the river made the cold seem worse in the silence of the night. There were no heaters or even proper power supply there after sunset. Yet I fell in love with the place so much that I told my DOP that I would like to shoot two important scenes in that very place. The bridge and river amidst the mountains looked like a perfect natural setting for not only the last scene but also for the most important sequence centering around the statue of Kali. With some artwork we could easily use the existing place to achieve the look and feel I wanted.
Quite often we were at 3,000 to 7,000 feet above sea level in the mountains except for a few scenes like the opening seaside scene. It posed the challenge of carting a crew, lighting, cameras, and crane up. There were times when we were shooting in the mountains in the nights. Whenever it was late night we would sing songs on the way back to the hotel partly to entertain ourselves and partly to ensure that the driver did not fall asleep on the tortuous mountain roads. Despite the challenges involved in filming outdoors in the mountains, it was gratifying at the end of the day.
Andreea Boyer: What can you tell us about your other creative works?
Dr. Choudhary: Predominantly my subjects/themes are generally drawn from the inner world of mythology and the unconscious. However, my themes are also influenced by the everyday external world. Owing to my multidisciplinary background, I have a multilayered approach to the human condition, a perspective that examines the human condition from various levels of existence including the psychological, existential, and at times even the mystical. Of late, I prefer to combine the figurative, the surreal, and the abstract in my paintings.
So far, I have done around sixty musical compositions, fifteen songs and dozens of paintings and poems. I have at least ten feature length scripts as well as the rough musical tracks ready. My writing, music and imagery all come from the same space and co-evolve over time. In fact I painted five paintings on canvas for this film too. The painting on “Existential Angst” is my favorite painting that I did for this movie.
Andreea Boyer: What is your advice to young independent filmmakers on how they can work on their goals?
Dr. Choudhary: I can share some insights from my own journey. Filmmakers have to learn how to deal with not only artistic expression but also with people and resources. Having a team that one can rely on is very crucial. While it is good to have a talented team, it is even more important that you choose those who believe in you and can complement your strengths and weaknesses. Working relationships are not necessarily about bonhomie. They are about a shared journey and are forged over a period of time. I have teamed up with the same music programmer/keyboard artist for all my works since 2002. Nurturing such working relationships can foster mutual loyalty apart from making work effortless, efficient, and enjoyable.
It is important to have a long-term plan and strategies. Have clearly defined goals. Break them down and create actions steps that will lead you closer to your goals. The small things that you do on a daily basis go a long way. I am often asked how I find the time to do so many things alongside. As the adage goes; “if you want something done, ask a busy person to do it.” My best team members are actually the busiest ones. In fact, my most reliable assistant in post had a regular day job. It is only by commitment and prioritizing that one will be able to work towards goals. Our daily habits and outlook have a great impact in the long run. If you are really serious about filmmaking, make it a priority. Don’t wait for things to settle down. Do whatever you need to, to get ahead. It is not an easy path. Prioritize, perspire and persevere.
Thank you, Dr. Choudhary. We wish you continued success.