NAT 210714 Virtual Short Film-10-1627105421847
The actors are from six different nationalities. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: When the entire world is using the benefits of virtual platforms amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, a group of people of determination living in the UAE and India have shown that they are not lagging behind, by acting in a short film with an ‘all-determined cast’ and produced using virtual platforms.

Alba Rose Quadros, 29, an Indian expat in Dubai, made Hello Hello, a 35-minute short film featuring people facing physical and mental challenges as part of her initiative ‘Determined and Dramatic’.

Hailing from Mumbai, Quadros is a qualified special educator who has been working as a drama educator for ten years. A ‘drama catalyst’ at The Hive, a performing arts school in Dubai, Quadros formed ‘Determined and Dramatic’ to make performance arts — drama in particular — more accessible to people of determination.

When she moved to Dubai in 2018, Quadros said, she was “blown away by how inclusive the UAE is in respect to infrastructure and job opportunities” for people of determination. “I then started to explore the community theatre scene in Dubai and found that not many people of determination had the opportunity to explore that avenue. That is when I decided to find ways to bridge that gap,” she told Gulf News.

NAT 210714 Virtual Short Film-1627105419681
Alba Rose Quadros and some of the UAE-based actors at the screening of 'Hello Hello' during The Hive Drama Fest 2021. Image Credit: Supplied

Qaudros said film as a medium is a lot easier to work around, as compared to live performances in the present COVID-19 situation. “Also, since I’m working with people who live outside UAE, a film using virtual platforms seemed like a fun, realistic, achievable goal for both me and my actors.” Her first film ‘Quarantined for what feels like a lifetime’ also a had star cast comprising people of determination. It premiered at The Junction in August 2020 and was soon after released on YouTube.

“It was a vignette-styled film that touched on the recent experiences of living in COVID times. It was well-received and the response it got helped me believe I was on the right track,” said Quadros.

How ‘Hello Hello’ was born

A single mother, Quadros said her wish to do a second project had to wait for sometime as she got occupied with her four-year-old son, who was living with his grandma after she left India, relocating to the UAE.

“But I couldn’t ignore the urge of wanting to do something new and so, in January 2021, I decided to write a script that would allow virtual rehearsals.”

NAT 210714 Virtual Short Film-8-1627105425559
Actors during a screening of 'Hello Hello'. Image Credit: Supplied

Thus, Hello Hello was born. “It is about telephonic conversations. So at any point, a frame could do with just one actor. This gave me the liberty of working with the actors who don’t necessarily live in Dubai.” Hello Hello comprises a series of short films about conversation and connections, especially during the pandemic.

“Living in the pandemic times has helped people realise the importance of simple conversations. The film touches on that. It’s a very simple script. I decided to keep it that way as I feel simplicity is natural and easier to relate to. I had a cast reading before I divided the roles, I had all my actors read parts of the scripts and that helped me understand which role would best suit each actor.”

I think, most importantly, an experience like this helps in boosting confidence. Seeing yourself on screen in this manner can be such a confidence booster.

- Alba Rose Quadros, Indian expat based in Dubai, maker of the short film 'Hello Hello'

Belonging to six different nationalities, the actors are Nilesh Roongta, James Casaki, Rebecca Hatcher, Usaid Shaikh, Meraal Ali, Brendyn Monsorate, Navin K. Kalra, Shobhika Kalra, Rohithparithi Ramakrishnan, Ahmed imtiaz, Bihag Srinivas, Omar Sharif Al Shami, Varun Raina, Navya Karapath, Sujith Koshy Varghese, Dinal Ekanayake, Unnathi Suranaa, and Shrishti Malahotra.

Zoom rehearsals

“I put out an audition call and I signed on the first 20 who showed interest in being a part of the project. My only criteria was basic reading skills. I had decided that I wouldn’t turn away any individual who wanted to act in my film. We had weekly rehearsals on Zoom, where I directed the script, marking how it could be said and blocking simple movements and gestures the actors could explore.”

NAT 210714 Virtual Short Film-9-1627105427380
Working with 18 actors virtually can be exhausting, Quadros said while explaining the challenges she faced. Image Credit: Supplied

Working with 18 actors virtually can be exhausting, Quadros soon realised. “I can at any point work only with two actors virtually. This means that weekly, I had to schedule about six-eight hours of my time, since I’m also doing a full-time job from where I earn my bread and butter and I’m a single mum. It was difficult to manage time,” she said, while explaining the challenges she faced. However, she said she till enjoyed filming the project.

“I drove down to Abu Dhabi with my son to film my actors who live there. It was such an exciting experience. I feel that drama, as an art form, can invoke a much better response if practiced in person. But virtually, it gave the opportunity of working with actors who lived outside the UAE. Rehearsals could be scheduled in more flexible hours of the day. Actors would rehearse from the comfort of their home, with the help of their parents.”

Confidence booster

Quadros said the performances of her special actors were “absolutely stunning”.

“I think each and every actor has done such a brilliant job. I think, most importantly, an experience like this helps in boosting confidence. Seeing yourself on screen in this manner can be such a confidence booster.”

Navin Kalra, 65, who is confined to a wheel chair after his leg had to be amputated in 1995 following an accident, acted in the short film along with his daughter Shobhika, 30, who is also wheelchair-bound due to a degenerative disease.

“I am sure this film helped boost the self-esteem of all the participants especially after they saw the appreciation after the screening. Now, everyone is sharing it on social media. That is helping them explore new realms in life,” said the father of two who is a finance manager with Eduscan Institute that deals with students of determination.

NAT 210714 Virtual Short Film-6-1627105423634
Quadros said the performances of her special actors were 'absolutely stunning'. Image Credit: Supplied

His psychologist wife Dr Alka Kalra, who founded the institute, said that many special actors were initially not confident about their expressive skills. “But, when they were given such a platform, they were able to communicate and present themselves well. I saw the excitement of Navin and Shobhika and how happy they felt when they shared the YouTube link with others.”

Another actor, Brendyn Monsorate, 22, said he felt extremely happy to do the role of an employee at his favourite fast food chain. “I would like to thank Alba ma’am for making me an actor. I felt very different in front of such a big audience. ‘Determined and Dramatic’ really made feel that I am an actor,” he said.

Community support

Since it was a self-produced project, Quadros could not afford a professional videographer and editor and had initially decided to do both by herself as she had done for her first film. “But taking the advice of a friend, I found the courage to drop a message on a Facebook group, seeking help for the project. That is when I met Vishnu Mahalingan Ananthanarayanan and Liz-Ann D’Souza, film school pass outs, who offered to help with the filming and editing of the film — something I’ll always be grateful for,” Quadros said.

Read more

Now available on YouTube, the film was first screened as part of The Hive Drama Fest 2021, a theatre festival that showcased 17 full-length plays starring approximately 200 children.

Quadros’ son Rafe did the introduction to her film on the day of the screening. Ten UAE-based actors were present at the screening and enjoyed being cheered on by the audience for their special performances on-screen.

Quadros said she wished to make more projects with people of determination and would love to explore having a ‘determined crew’ that helps with post-production and even writing of a script. “As these are self-produced projects, I find it hard sometimes to manage the expenses,” Quadros said, seeking interest from producers who would like to invest in social initiatives of this kind.