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Placebo

.
Abhay Kumar / 2014

With an acceptance rate of just 0.1%, India’s most prestigious medical school is much more competitive than any Ivy League university. But for these students, getting in is the easy part. Questionable administrative policies, isolation, hazing and intense academic pressure all too often ends up in tragedy. The film is a year-long exploration of life inside campus.
The result? A truly surreal portrait that taps directly into a state of mind. In this case, it’s a state of collective madness—a spell that is only broken when another student succumbs to the academic pressure and does the unthinkable…


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Running Time: 96 min.
Subject(s): Asian Studies, Education, Health, Science, Society, Youth
Language(s): English, Hindi
Subtitles: English
Director(s):
Producer(s): Abhay Kumar, Archana Phadke
Cinematographer: Abhay Kumar
Editor(s): Abhay Kumar, Archana see all »
Production Company: Storyteller Ink.

Press

  • Filmmaker Abhay Kumar’s documentary film “Placebo” received an overwhelming response during its premiere at the fourth Dharamshala International Film Festival here.
    The film, which takes a dig at the loopholes in India’s education system and delves into the day-to-day routine of four young aspiring doctors at a reputed premier institute, was screened here at the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts, McLeodganj, on Saturday.
    “Placebo” has received various international honours at film festivals like International Documentary Festival of Amsterdam 2014, Cleveland International Film Festival 2015, Brooklyn Film Festival 2015 and New York Indian Film Festival 2015.
    In “Placebo”, Kumar goes on to a journey to talk about the self-inflicted violence on the campus of an medical institute and embeds himself in the dorms of the medical institute to take a closer look at patterns of student violence.
    While four students agree to be followed by the camera for a year as part of this observational experiment Kumar later starts infiltrating this complex mindscape of restless youth and soaring ambition.
    “There is no secret solution to the problem of competition. There are a lot of us, so there has to be competitive minds. The key here is about these things which we are not talking about,” Kumar, who was available during the screening, said.
    “The more I have travelled across the world with this film, I have realised that back here, we do not even have the basic vocabulary to even address to ourselves in our heads that we might be the best,” he added.
    Kumar also said that he does not have personal grudge about education system in India but the reason behind making the documentary was to have a “conversation start-up”.
    “These are very uncomfortable moments and it’s a very personal film that I’ve gone through myself. This churning that we all go through when we are young and trying to find out what we want to do is placebo which is given to us that if you will get into an institution that can give you success,” he said.
    Kumar feels that the suicide numbers are rising “exponentially” in India.
    “India has the highest suicide rate in the age group of 15-29 in the world. And this is when 65 percent of our population is below the age of 35. We are young country but there is some problem which is not being spoken about,” he said.
    Talking about releasing “Placebo” in India, he added: “It took us a long time to get in the film to India, like almost a year and a half travelling around the world.
    “But the institute, where we shot the film, still does not know that this film exists. It’s been kind of a legal nightmare for us trying to figure out and that’s why we have had secret screenings of this film and the character in it has not been exposed much before. After watching it, what people think about this will determine the future.”
    DIFF, the four-day independent film festival which started on Thursday, will next screen films like Ruchika Oberoi’s “Island City”, Gurvinder Singh’s “Chauthi Koot” and Neeraj Ghaywan’s “Masaan” on its last day.
    Standing Ovation for "Placebo"

Festival & Awards

  • IDFA - First Apperance Competition - 2014
  • HotDocs, Toronto
  • EBS International Documentary Festival
    Special Jury Award
  • Cleveland International Film Festival - 2015
  • Brooklyn Film Festival - 2015
  • New York Indian Film Festival - 2015

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  • Filmmaker Abhay Kumar talks about his new documentary Placebo

    When he heard about one of his friends being affected by an act of violence at one of India’s premier academic institutions, Abhay Kumar was both angry and curious to know more. Kumar wanted to investigate.
    Landing up at the college, he began talking to students he met there. And soon, he was struck by an idea for his next film. He initiated what he calls a social experiment — surviving incognito inside a top institute’s campus and filming four students through the year to find out about their lives.The footage he managed over 448 days work is now in the next stage of production. The 27-year-old filmmaker, waiting for funding to complete the film, is in fact looking at the crowdfunding route to get some money in. “Rs 500 each from 2000 people is all we need to finish production,” he says.
    Testing the hypothesis
    How did his adventure start? Equipped with a handycam, a DSLR, an iPhone and an iPad, Kumar closely followed the lives of four students from the institute for over a year to decode their lives. “Don’t mistake this for a reality show, or a video diary. The cameras didn’t follow the students around all the time. They spoke to the camera when there was an event that needed to be discussed. There are a lot of very personal interactions, a lot of conversations,” says Kumar. He reveals that he had little to do with choosing his subjects. “I spoke to several students, but four of them naturally gravitated towards the project. I felt they would open up to the camera. It also helped that all four, who had no connection to one another, had very different outlooks to life. They all came from different backgrounds and were fighting different conflicts,” says the filmmaker.Although he got the students’ permission to shoot, Kumar will not reveal their identities in the film. “My primary duty as a filmmaker is to protect the interest of my subjects who placed their trust in me, opened up to me,” he states, claiming his findings could easily make tabloid headlines.
    As far as the institute is concerned, Kumar remained completely undercover. This was the only way he could prevent a knee-jerk reaction from the authorities. “Even though my intention isn’t to do an expose, it was inevitable that the authorities would put an end to my film if they found out,” he says.
    Yet, Kumar realised early on that his presence would affect the natural cause-and-effect process. “I started to lose myself in the environment (at the institute) I was to independently observe. I realised that the introduction of an exterior element in an ecosystem alters its natural state,” he says. As a result, Kumar’s personal journey is indelibly tied to the film.
    “Come to think of it, I didn’t even go to the institute with the intention of making a documentary film. But when I got there, ideas came to me. I switched on my handycam and just started shooting,” says Delhi-based Kumar.
    Of footage and a lack of funds
    At the end of the year-long shoot, he is now left with several hours of footage that he must work his way through. “A number of revelations have been made by the students. My film editing and film making work begins only now,” he laughs.
    For the entire year and a half that he was on the road, Kumar had managed to fund himself. But now, he needs financial help. He and his associate director Archana Phadke have decided to make this into a hybrid film with a whole bunch of animations and to achieve this and go to the next stage of production, Kumar says he requires about Rs 30 lakh more.
    To recover their production costs, Kumar, Phadke and their music composer Shane Mendonca, relied on earlier awards they won for their creative work at international festivals such as Busan. “We never needed to look elsewhere for funding. But now that we do, I think the crowdfunding model works best. The profit-loss margin is very little. In a country like India, surely we can get 2000 people to contribute Rs 500 each,” he says.

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