Since graduating from Chapman last year with an MFA in documentary film, Rishabh Thakker is already making a name for himself with his thesis documentary film Birds Without Wings, which was selected as a finalist for the Student Academy Awards in 2020. The film was shot in India and follows the story of two adults who grew up in the slums of Delhi who strive to give new wings to the kids bound by the shackles of poverty, drugs, and society. We had the opportunity to hear from Rishabh about the making of this film and his path to becoming a documentary filmmaker:
What motivated you to come to Chapman and pursue a degree in documentary film?
After my engineering, I was looking for film schools, and as I didn’t have a film background, I had to create a portfolio. My town didn’t have a huge film scene, and I desperately wanted to make a film. With limited resources and just a friend to help out, I knew that a Documentary was the only way to go. With two cameras and a boom mic, my friend and I started working on our first Documentary. It started a bit chaotic, but we loved meeting new people, learning their stories, and the uncertainty of what would happen next. It was going to be just a two-week project but ended up becoming a two and a half year project. In that process, I just fell in love with Documentaries. So, I looked at Documentary Film schools, and Chapman was the obvious answer.
What was the inspiration behind your thesis film? Why did you want to tell this story?
I love to tell stories of triumph, and with Voice of Slum’s founder Dev and Chandni, they were using their own experience to help others like them. NGO’s are usually started by people who don’t understand the population they are serving. Here both the founders had triumphed over the issues they were trying to solve. They were also trying to empower the kids by taking their feedback and asking them for solutions. The people they were trying to help considered them not outsiders. So, I felt that it was a story that more people should know so they could support the cause and get inspired to help more people around them.
What was the process of making this Documentary like?
It was a wonderful experience except for all the paperwork. I loved spending time at the NGO with the founder’s Dev and Chandni, and the kids. They were so welcoming, and from day one, we connected well. Dev and Chandni took us to different kids’ houses to show us from inside what they were fighting and what their impact was. My whole team was super innovative and creative, so discussing ideas with them and getting their feedback also helped me think about the film in a larger sense. We also taught kids how to use a pocket camera, which gave us a unique insight into their lives. The post was a long process; we had to play around with 8-10 different structures before picking one. In production, due to a limited budget, we used eight other cameras, so the colorist had to work all night for two to three weeks to make everything seamless. But it was a unique project, and I learned a lot along the way from the team, the founders, and the kids.
How does it feel to be a finalist for the student academy awards?
I was super happy as I had no idea it would even get shortlisted. I think it surely helps to know that your storytelling works and that people saw the film and thought it was necessary. But I feel a bigger compliment was when people come to me and say that they cried after watching the movie and want to know about the kids and Voice of Slum in more detail. I guess that makes me confident that I did my work of telling their stories.
How has your time at Dodge has benefitted you as a documentary filmmaker? What have you been up to since graduation?
It gave me a platform to learn not just from teachers but from my peers too. In-class discussions and seeing my classmate’s film develop was more inspiring than my movie. I think that gave me more vigor to work on my project. I am currently trying to develop another Documentary project. I want to explore Indian Villages and the way of life there. I am also trying to produce a Podcast that will look at the real faces and stories behind news articles. I want to try and work with different mediums to tell stories.