Creating Value in Unprecedented Times: Whistling Woods International Celebrates Cinema in a 3-Day Virtual Knowledge Festival

Mumbai: Creativity can never be contained no matter what, and the 9th edition of Celebrate Cinema bore perfect resonance to this thought. Whistling Woods International (WWI), Asia’s premier film, communication, and creative arts institute hosted one of its most renowned annual events – Celebrate Cinema 2020 over a span of three days. Scheduled between November 26-28, 2020, while keeping the current circumstances in mind, this year’s celebration was entirely held as a digital event. Owing to the unprecedented times, WWI pledged the proceeds raised from the sale of the tickets for Celebrate Cinema 2020 shall be contributed towards the welfare and well-being of COVID-19 warriors.

There was no shortage of enthusiasm and excitement amongst all of those involved, as the three-day celebration of virtual masterclasses, celebrity panel discussions and workshops unfolded. Over the course of these events, participants gained invaluable insights into every facet of the media and entertainment industry.

“Since its inception WWI has endeavoured to offer film and media enthusiast and aspirants a platform to widen their horizons & knowledge from Industry experts. Celebrate Cinema is our way of turning this vision into a reality. I am extremely grateful to all the guests for being part of this year’s event and their invaluable contribution. These three days have enriched everyone who participated, and I would also like to thank the team of students, faculty and staff for putting together such a great virtual event.”, said Meghna GhaiPuri, President, WWI.

The opening segment of the event featured a panel discussion entitled, ‘Campus to Career: #WWIAlumniSpeak’. In a session moderated by Rahul Puri, Head of Academics, WWI, actors AahanaKumra and Shashank Arora, actor-director Divyang Thakkar, editor Nitin Baid, creative producer Maharrsh Shah, and director AratiKadav shared their learnings at WWI and discussed the ways in which their experience helped propel them to the heights of fame and success. Over the course of this riveting discussion, wisdom and humour were shared in equal measure. Each panelists emphasised the importance of having a formal education in film and media, which helped them in their respective career journeys.

The subsequent panel featured a masterclass led by the talented team of ‘Paatal Lok’. In a discussion moderated by Anjum Rajabali, HOD – Screenwriting, WWI School of Filmmaking, the cast and crew members, Sudip Sharma (creator), Jaideep Ahlawat and Ishwak Singh (actors), Prosit Roy (director), and Sagar Haveli (writer) delved into the crucial role of a script in crafting a strong narrative. While Sudip Sharma shared the importance of viewing a situation from every angle in order to craft a compelling story, Jaideep Ahlawat encouraged the aspiring actors by underlining the importance of advanced preparations to essay a character.

The second day of Celebrate Cinema began with a fascinating panel – ‘Celebrate the Grand Narratives of Indian Mythology’ – featuring Subhash Ghai, Founder & Chairman, WWI and award-winning author, Amish Tripathi. The session was moderated by Chaitanya Chinchlikar, VP, WWI. Delving into India’s epic cultural and mythological heritage, the panel discussed how the lessons of the nation’s past rich civilisations can be applied in a modern context. While praising Subhash Ghaias a modern-day philosopher, Amish Tripathi championed the incorporation of Indian culture in modern education systems. He also drew attention to the impact of Western, algorithm-based education on Indian society, a shift away from traditional Indian educational models, which emphasised using both parts of the brain. As he concluded, “Do fun creative things to strain your right brain.”.

Following this, Anjum Rajabali moderated a masterclass with the team of ‘Thappad’, featuring director-writer Anubhav Sinha, actors TaapseePannu and Pavail Gulati, and writer MrunmayeeLagoo. Important societal issues such as gender inequality and domestic violence were discussed, and valuable lessons were learnt about the depiction of these issues in the media and the steps society needs to take to overcome them. They also raised the audience’s awareness of the prevalence of these issues with women of both lower- and upper-class families.

The final day hosted an interesting discussion titled, ‘New Directors on Netflix’, which saw the participation of debut directors Honey Trehan and AnvitaDutt, and Srishti Arya, Director, International Original Film, Netflix India alongside Anjum Rajabali, who moderated the session. Over the course of this session, the audience were given deep insights into how Netflix collaborates with content creators, and its role in promoting new talents. Honey Trehan and AnvitaDutt further shared the stories of their breakthroughs as first-time directors, the struggles they faced, and their ultimate journey from script to Netflix release. Srishti Arya encapsulated Netflix’s approach by stating, “We look for stories that have something to say, something that is rigorous and diverse.”

The excitement and enthusiasm further continued to run high for the final masterclass of the event, held alongside the visionaries behind Emmy award-winning Indian crime drama, ‘Delhi Crime’. This highly anticipated session saw Rahul Puri moderate the discussion with creator-director Richie Mehta, executive producer Kilian Kerwin, and dialogue writer Sanyukhta Chawla Shaikh. The conversation revolved around the making of the series – drafting the script, collecting data to form a story, and maintaining a sense of realism throughout. When the question of originality in cinema arose, Kilian stated that there are plenty of new materials being produced, but the true challenge lies in creating stories that are both original and compelling. Richie Mehta concluded the session by stating, “The next generation of cinema goers will be dependent on screenplays, which are limitless.”

The event also saw a plethora of insightful workshops held in conjunction with WWI’s various schools. These sessions covered several aspects of the media and entertainment sector with workshops on colour correction with DaVinci Resolve, stop motion animation, Adobe Spark Post, writing for podcast, media start-up, acting, fashion styling, among others. Participants had the opportunity to expand their knowledge through these workshops conducted by faculties and members of the respective fields.

WWI once again upheld its tradition of awarding meritorious students with scholarships at the annual festival. This year SaloniSakhardande (BA Filmmaking – Cinematography) & Akash Nayak (Advanced Diploma Filmmaking – Producing) were awarded the Shri Amitabh Bachchan Scholarship 2020 and Sunanda Murali Manohar Scholarship 2020, respectively. Upon announcing the awards, Subhash Ghai shared the following words of wisdom, “A scholarship is not just a reward, but a responsibility on a student to do even better in life and become a thought leader to inspire younger generations.”

Like previous years, Celebrate Cinema 2020 also highlighted the social cause of Organ Donation. Emphasising on the importance of this year’ social cause, WWI celebrated Organ Donation Day on the second day of the annual event, encouraging the participants to pledge to donate organs and be life savers.

As Celebrate Cinema 2020 ended on a high note, the participants parted with expanded horizons and knowledge about the Indian media & entertainment industry.