youtube

Webby Award winning filmmaker, Joey Shanks, creates his own bungee gimbal stabilizer.

Music for the Weekend: Full Clip by Gang Starr

As what seems to be a yearly occurrence, I’ve been beset with another tragic loss in my life. My collaborator, dear friend and soul brother Prashant Bhargava, director of the film Patang (The Kite), passed away last week. He died on the streets of New York. He was only 42 years old.

I picked this song because Prashant lived hip-hop. He got his start in the art world as a graffiti artist. He rhymed. He was a breaker and a baller. He was South Side of Chicago incarnate. It all informed his art in every molecule and cell of his being. This song makes me think of him.

I’d known Prashant for almost twelve years, and our relationship was a special one. I helped produce and edit his feature Patang, which Roger Ebert gave four stars to. We shot short films together, we were writing partners, and he guided me through the improvisational rehearsals for 6 Angry Women. He’d described our relationship as my being the Truffaut to his Godard, and it was quite apt. Prashant was an enfant terrible, pushing himself and the medium to the point of breaking. He lived life open and chaotic, and often saw me as the voice of stability and reason. Conversely I’d always look to him when I needed to break free from the shackles of logic, to take me to a place where I just stopped thinking and started feeling. Yin and yang.

I’d written about our relationship on my Facebook page, and I’ll share that with you. I wish all creative relationships could be so fulfilling, so challenging, so fruitful. I will miss him dearly, my jester is gone.  Prashant and his talents were taken away from us too soon.



______________________________________



“I’m just here to fuck with you,” he said with a smile, just after grilling me for the past thirty minutes to the point where I felt like getting into a fist fight with him. That was how Prashant Bhargava and I worked with each other, something we’d done for years now. He always knew how to push me into uncomfortable places, test my boundaries, and pull stuff out of me. Stuff I never knew I even had.

“I’m just here to fuck with you.” If there ever was a statement that encapsulated who Prashant was, it would be this. He was a dangerous artist, someone who pushed everything to the verge of breaking, just to find that one glimmer of primal truth. And unllike the rest of us, he was able to capture it on film. You see it in his work. You felt it in his life.

I remember meeting Prashant for the first time in 2004 at a film festival, his brilliant short “Sangam” had screened before my feature and we met at an after party. I wanted to congratulate him on making such a beautiful piece of art, and he smiled and said he was tired of his movie and that he wanted to talk about my film instead. He started asking me why I made the choices I did in the film. He was poking, prodding, trying to get to the core of my process. Personal questions. Invasive questions. He scared me, angered me, frustrated me. He was making me reveal my mistakes, and I resented him for it. I didn’t like him. I thought he was arrogant.

But his questions were right. He knew where I was faltering and wanted me to accept this. Even before I knew his last name he was trying to make me a better filmmaker. We reconnected in Chicago and I was honest with him that I hated his guts when we first met, and he smiled and said “you aren’t the first.” We began to collaborate and experience life together, making small films and having weekly writing sessions at my home. Our relationship blossomed, and we became true friends, sharing our demons - which we have many - and our successes.

Six years into making “Patang” he called me over and made me edit with him. I returned the favor from long ago, asking him the questions that I knew would make him uncomfortable. We got to shouting and I stopped and smiled at him.

“I’m just here to fuck with you,” I said. He laughed, and made me dinner. We had a great time. I was making “Lilith” at the time and we were really pushing each other on our films. In “Patang” I’d witnessed what I knew all along. Prashant was the real deal. He was next level. I told him when I saw his films I saw the fingerprints of the great Yasujirō Ozu, except within a unique paradigm. Prashant wasn’t just an exemplary indie or South Asian filmmaker, I truly believed that he was destined to become one of the greats of all cinema. I believed in his talent more than I believed in my own, and wanted to see him flourish. I invested my energies, resources and even money to make that happen. He went all over the world with “Patang” and I’m glad audiences were able to experience what was just the beginning of his artistic statement. We both touched Roger Ebert’s feet, who had given the film four stars, and promised Roger we would continue to push ourselves to become better.

Post-“Patang”, Prashant wanted to change gears. He’d watched “Lilith” and told me that I made the anti-Patang, a slow, meditative film shot entirely on a dolly. He told me that he lived in chaos and wanted order, and in order to do that he wanted his camera - and his soul - to be stabilized. He worked hard and fought to get rid of old habits, and with this new skillset he left to make his most beautiful film, Radhe Radhe, his collaboration with Vijay Iyer. Prashant was in his element of creating visual hip-hop and exploring beyond the ether, but also pushing into unfamiliar territories and meanings. The film is surreal, bold, and yet profoundly human as only Prashant is capable of doing. The film was a way to cleanse himself of old demons and start anew, and we began a journey of finding his next project. He’d ask my wife for books to read. He’d question and needle. We went to see Die Antwoord and he said we both need to make films with that kind of batshit energy. He said I needed to make a porno, and after I’d actually written one, he said he was just fucking with me.

On Thursday I locked picture on ’6 Angry Women,’ which Prashant was so instrumental in making happen. Before I made the film he confided in me, that he felt I’d helped him so much and that he had yet to return the favor. I smiled and hugged him, and told him that he’d given me one of the most amazing gifts of all - courage. Courage in my art, courage to push myself. Courage to fuck with people and do it in the name of love, of art. Courage to find the truth. He sat with me throughout the rehearsal process of the film, and guided me through the more difficult parts. We were improvising the screenplay - something he’d done regularly - and he’d ask my actors the questions I was too afraid or shy to ask, and then let me take it from there. His guiding hand is throughout the work, and I am dedicating the film to him.

In our lives we come across so many different kinds of people, people whom we share maybe a few words with, people who we detest, people who we don’t understand. And then there are those few who reach us on an elemental level, who disrupt and change, who transform. And who do it out of love. Prashant was one of those people in my life. He put the effort into me and I put the effort into him, and we are both better men for it. And now he is gone. Perhaps his spirit was too big for the physical world, he has always lived beyond the visual spectrum.

We used to joke that he looked just like Swami Vivekananda. He sort of did. And being from the South Side of Chicago reinforced that notion. As I reflect in tears and sadness, I see the words of Vivekananda within my friend.

“The moment I have realized God sitting in the temple of every human body.
The moment I stand in reverence of every human being and see God in him.
That moment I am free from bondage, everything that binds vanishes,
And I am free.”

God was within Prashant, and he has set us free. Rest in peace my dear friend. I wish my son could have met you. I wish you could impart on Shaan the gift you’d given me, and I shall try my best to live in your example. I will make my boy question, make him curious, tear him down and build him back up. And when he’s questioning the madness of this strange fever-dream called life, I will look him in the eye, smile, and tell him that just like his great uncle Prashant did, we’re here to fuck with it.

I love you, brother. Always and forever. South Side represent.

youtube

I made a little music video for ‘GLaDOS’ Song’! Was a fun one to make. =)

youtube

The trailer for Golden Gate Girls, a documentary about Esther Eng, the first female director to direct Chinese-language films in the United States.