With his directorial debut, Hotel Albatross being one of the most talked about items on TV this past Eid, Nuhash Humayun brings out Paperfrogs, a coming-of-age story with a personal touch. The short film will be screened at the Dhaka Lit Fest this year. Paperfrogs is a film born out of moments the young director felt compelled to encapsulate, and one that everyone involved had made into a genuine experience, both for themselves as well as the audience.
With unfeigned originality, Paperfrogs is a film Bangladesh hasn’t ever seen, but it’s a story we all have felt. The winner of Best Debut Film Award of this year’s Daily Star’s Celebrating Life not only shows promise, but is a film that will definitely stay with you.
What did you have in mind when you began this project?
When I was writing the first draft, a big part of it was getting feedback, and not just from other writers and filmmakers. The biggest part was my nieces. They were helping me with the script.
I wanted Shajbati’s character to be an authentic portrayal of young people, what a young Bengali girl would be like. That was a large part of the film.
Paperfrogs deals with loss, depression, and finding your path when you are young. Young people experience a lot of genuine things. In Bangladesh, we don’t always see that in the media. We have a lot of things in the media that portrays young people as hip and cool and there is a lot of fun marketing around what it means to be young. But there’s another angle we don’t normally see.
This film is a stark contrast to Hotel Albatross. Can you expand on how Paperfrogs is different from the Eid special you have done?
Paperfrogs has a unique position in my body of work, because, while Hotel Albatross was a big budget thing, with a star-studded cast, Paperfrogs was shot entirely in my living room, so it was a lot more intimate.
The producers and executive producers are my best friends. What makes it special, I think, is that it’s very much our story without any interventions. Without anyone else telling us what to do, it’s one of the most Nuhash things that I’ve made.
How did Paperfrogs materialise?
There are ideas in my head that I can never get rid of, that stay with me for years and years. The only way I can get rid of these ideas is by making a film out of them. And Paperfrogs is one of those things.
Once I wrote the first draft, everyone who read it said, “You need to make this, and let me help you.” It snowballed into something much bigger, just because so many people connected with the story. And I never thought that by the time we made it, we had Barkat Hossain Polash, who is a phenomenal cinematographer, and we had a really good executive producer.
What do you think makes Paperfrogs worth the watch?
I think we should hold ourselves to higher standards. A lot of times in Bangladesh we watch something and say, “This is not bad for a Bengali film.” I’m very self-critical in that I want to make something that goes beyond the other stuff out there.
With anything I make that is what’s important to me, to make sure that I don’t underestimate my audience’s intelligence or taste. Right now, anyone in Bangladesh has access to Netflix and anything else that’s coming out. We take in everything, so there’s no excuse to make a bad film.
With Paperfrogs, I definitely think that if a coming-of-age story is your kind of film, then the film will stay with you. There’s some personal stuff in there that can genuinely connect with people.
You’ve said that the production process has been more personal than most other projects. Can you elaborate a bit more on that?
When I was writing Paperfrogs I didn’t know it at the time, but I was really suffering from depression. I didn’t put a label on it, but it was a loss of hope, a stagnancy. Even shooting it was a way to get out of that. It was therapeutic.
For every filmmaker, there are big and small projects, but there’s one thing that you start with, for that to get you off the ground, it has to be your family and your friends who help you. Paperfrogs was that for me in a lot of ways. Even though there were a professional crew and cast members too, it was a nice combination. Like, we had a film crew, but my mother cooked for everyone.
There are things which really stay with me about the production, like when I see the cast come together. They see that there is something really powerful in the story, and no matter how hard we’re working, that is something we want to get across.
At the end of the day, Paperfrogs is a short film. I want people to watch it and enjoy it. I don’t think it’s just about depression. I want to inspire people to make more creative works, because it’s proof that you can make something cool on a low budget.
What do you think are the challenges young directors face in our film industry?
I think the hardest point is not finding your way, but once you already have, once you’re on your own set, and you’re surrounded by all these people who are better and more experienced than you are. The hardest thing in that moment is keeping your calm and still be you.
Everyone’s going to try to give you advice and tell you what you should do, but you came here with a vision. You had an idea that you were running around Bangladesh trying to get made, but you need to still be that same kid.
Be almost naïve in that idea and say “No, this is exactly what I have to make.” I think that is the hardest part -- to be on the set and still be yourself, retaining your voice.
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