Some organizations do not need an intro. The name of itself becomes a standard towards everyone. Amitabh's once small media production organization, Half Stop Down, had made that mark and step by step, him and everyone associated with it, is dreaming of turning it into an institution. This dream is now more than two decades old. Filmmaker Amitabh Reza Chowdhury and his team of dreamers recently sat down with Dhaka Tribune's Syeda Rumpa Farzana Zaman and talked about these dreams. His team-mates including producer Mahjabin Reza, line producer Assaduzzaman Sokal, directorial assistant Tumpa, assistant director Shakil, production manager Mohon, scriptwriter Naseef Amin, casting director Sumon and a group of interns who are young university students joined the chat.
Birth of Half Stop Down
Half Stop Down started its journey with just a single desk back in 2001. It began with two staff members - “Aynabaji” director Amitabh Reza Chowdhury and Ranjan Rabbani along with a computer, a small office at Kalabagan and a heart full of dreams.
Their first assistant was Kislu and Tarek. They even had a production back then titled “Hawa Ghor.” Amitabh laughed and said, “If anyone asks for it I can't show it to them. Who knows where it is now.” Their first commercial production was an advert for Begum mosquito coil. Back then Sara Zaker called him and gave him some big social production projects. Amitabh said that those projects financially helped him a lot. As his budget failed in the previous project, he had to lend money from his father for the payment of his assistants young Tarek and Kislu who came all the way from Chittagong to work behind the camera. Back then they were trying to make a name for their company through their work and still doing the same. According to the director, an organization means that it is always a long way to go. The organization received its professional formation when the office was moved from Kalabagan to Panthapath. Later on they got the deal to make a five episode TV drama “Baji Kudduser Kaj” which inspired and pushed them more as an organization. One by one Mahjabin Reza, Assaduzzaman Sokal, Robin, Mahadi, Abid Mallick and a lot of others joined the team. Then they started TV commercials. Their jingles and visuals awed the audience. Names like Bipul and Subrina Irine were also added to the team as time went by. The current team is also filled with young blood. Over all Half Stop Down is an address not just of his but all these talented and creative young minds and Amitabh thinks that is the achievement of all these years.
When commercials help financially but breaks mentally
As a TVC director, Amitabh Reza's success has no count. One after another marvellous television commercials gave him the reputation as a director he holds currently but he is not satisfied with that. He explained that both TVC and narrative fictions are forms of storytelling but commercials are a very small canvas to work on. He admits that though adverts took his organisation ahead financially but it broke him mentally as a director. He smiled and also added that he had to make that decision for the betterment of his organisation but at the same time it was a “dark chapter” of his life. Maybe that is the reason why he and his organisation had to wait ten years for what they actually wanted to do.
Filmmaking for youngsters and having the mentality to learn
“There is nothing to learn in filmmaking, there is a camera at home, will do a bit edit and that'll turn into a film - it will be hard for people to work at Half Stop Down with these sorts of mentality. Amitabh added that the doors of Half Stop Down are always open for youngsters and he is trying to make Half Stop Down into an institute. But the question is whether the youngsters knock on that door. There is also scope to think about the content not just making. He also explained that the roles and duties of a filmmaker and a content developer are completely different. According to him if one person tries to be all then it becomes difficult. He mentioned how in recent times screenplays aren't cinematic like the ones Syed Shamsul Haque used to write.
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Team Half Stop Down started off with just a single desk, a small office, two staffs and a heart full of dreams back in 2001 and two decades later they are still turning their dreams into reality Saikat Bhadra/Dhaka Tribune
How the artists are selected
Amitabh informed his projects are done very systemically even the process of who will act in which characters. During “Aynabaji” Shatabdi Wadud, Manoj Kumar and Mosharrof Karim were also in the list along with Chanchal Chowdhury. Another artist was selected in the role of Partha Barua. After the screen tests Partha Barua became the journalist and Chanchal became Ayna. A mother of a female actor requested to lengthen the screen time of the female lead right then Amitabh and his team chose Nabila as the female lead for the film. According to him Nabila's height was exactly according to the script. Not just film, casting for his recent web series “Dhaka Metro” was also done like this. A story that revolves with roaming around on streets and its character of Neville Ferdous Hasan was written keeping him in mind and he decided he will work with him or else he won't. Choosing Aupee Karim in another role was also decided in the same way. This is a dream project for the director and he wanted to work with his close people who he can reach whenever he wanted. Aupee was his childhood friend and couldn't think of anyone except her for this role. All the other casts for the project are also being chosen after many test and trials.
About “Rickshaw Girl”
They did not even start shooting “Aynabaji” back then. A household gathering was arranged with the “Rickshaw Girl” team and decided to make this film based on the 2007 best selling novel by Mitali Perkins which has the same title. Anam started to work on its script back in 2015. Then shuffling around many hands and seven drafts later the final screenplay was completed by Bangladeshi-American writer Sharbari Z. Ahmed who is also one of the writers of US television show “Quantico.” Naseef, the script writer sitting beside Amitabh said that now the Rickshaw has got its shape, it has its wheels and bells and will start running in a few days though the passengers are yet to be decided, meaning that the cast for the project is yet to be selected.
And the web series “Dhaka Metro”
The project Half Stop Down is currently busy with is definitely “Dhaka Metro.” Amitabh and his team tried to do a lot of things with this story written almost 12 years ago. Tumpa smiled and said this script was once a TV drama, once a tele film and sometimes even a film. Amitabh then said about five years ago they went to a producer to pitch the story and he told him to make a sweet romantic story of it. Hearing that, he closed the script and almost ran away from there. But finally the road trip based story which describes more stories about the people who live on both sides of our roads will be produced. The director and his team went all the way to Dinajpur to shoot this. Casting director Sumon mentioned that they have found an actor in the role of Shabana who will be one of the major attractions of the web series. Amitabh also mentioned that web series are a completely new horizon in media and “Dhaka Metro” can be streamed online from this year's Bengali New Year.
Dreams, possibilities and journey of Amitabh and his team
Amitabh and his team are creating one project after another, getting appreciation from their fans. Their dreams are turning into reality. So how is Half Stop Down conjuring their strength to sail ahead seamlessly? According to Mahjabin Reza this organisation is like a child of theirs. They just don’t work there, they train. She added that amateur members do not have to wait until a shooting. They start learning before even a project starts. She also explained how the director gives them space to think and tell them to think about a film or commercial's storytelling themselves and integrate them into the workflow. She also said how consistency is very important for a company that maintained a reputation for this long.
Amitabh added to her that without consistency success might be possible for the time being but to stand out with time everything has to be sketched out according to plan. He explained everyone here does not do everything whereas everyone is given a specific outline of what they will do. According to him it is the beauty of an organization. He also said that one can’t find a short cut to turn into a race horse. “Encouraging them to build more hunger for more good work, encouraging them to study more as there is no substitute for it; and if someone is interested to work anyone can come by at any time. Not only that, we are starting a one year long training program soon,” said Amitabh Reza Chowdhury.