Documentary Film Making – Being a Flying Elephant!
13 of the Best Photography Blogs You’ll Get Hooked On To
August 1, 2016
A Film Making Masterclass with Mani Ratnam
August 10, 2016

Documentary Film Making – Being a Flying Elephant!

film making seminar

A guest lecture by Indian documentary film maker Madhavi Tangella

“God is the director when it comes to shooting a documentary film,” said Madhavi when she was questioned by a student.

Everyone in the packed classroom was confused and Madhavi promptly pegged in saying that most of the footage acquired by a documentary film maker is decided by God because it’s about capturing a story which is not fully in control of the film maker. This was one of the many pieces of wisdom she shared during a recently concluded guest lecture at Seamedu School of Pro-Expressionism.

Madhavi Tangella, an Indian documentary film maker based in Mumbai, majored in Direction and Screenplay Writing from Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute (SRFTI), Kolkata, in 2009. She also holds a postgraduate Diploma in Social Communications Media from Sophia Polytechnic, Mumbai, and a Master’s degree in English from Mumbai University. Here’s a quick look at her past achievements:

  • In 2006, she was selected for the prestigious Asian Film Academy
  • Recipient of the SARAI Fellowship 2005 (New Delhi)
  • Correspondent at Metropolis – VPRO Netherlands
  • Worked as an associate director on short film projects along with her husband Pankaj Rishi Kumar
  • Assisted Dibakar Banerjee in his Bollywood venture, Love Sex Aur Dhokha
  • Researcher for many major firms like BBC and Facebook – Internet.Org/ Fremantle Productions.


On 27th July 2016, Madhavi’s lecture at the Seamedu campus started off as an informal introduction of every participant student. “What makes you happy?” asked Madhavi to each student to which they all had different answers. She explained how each one of us strives for ultimate happiness in life – particularly in one’s occupation. Soft-spoken and composed with her words, she drifted into the finer aspects of documentary film making (like how to find the right story, how to identify your subject and whether money should be the driving force behind film making or not). She pressed upon how a subject chooses you than you choosing the subject.  “Just be a flying elephant,” said Madhavi, which literally translates to dreaming big and flying around with immense passion.

Citing exemplary short documentaries produced by the likes of internationally acclaimed documentary film maker Bert Hanstra, who has a unique style of making observational films, Madhavi explained the use of music and sound in presenting a film. “It takes a lot of patience and perseverance to capture the right moments which relate to our story… It’s about spontaneity.”

Talking more about documentaries, she upheld the volatile nature of non-fictional films over fictional films where, in fiction, every event is scripted before the shoot, whereas in documentaries, events can’t be scripted. Showing examples from her own films like ‘Dhaga Mil Gaya’ and ‘Chasing Tails’, Madhavi told the students how one could stumble upon a striking story even while filming a different story.

Example: A son goes to visit his ailing mother who’s old, bed-ridden and assumingly about to die and starts filming her supposedly last minutes, when the mother tells him to shoot a film about life as already there are so many films or programs already talking about death!

A striking revelation that the filmmaker would never forget!

The students got a taste of writing a typical documentary pitch through examples. Madhavi informed the students about forums around the world which would look for producing documentary films such as Docedge, an Asian forum for documentary which is an international documentary event attended by some of the most noted documentary makers from across the globe along with foundations and broadcasters to explore co-production opportunities for creative independent filmmakers passionate to produce intriguing stories from real life.

Also she mentioned the PSBT (Public Service Broadcasting Trust), a non-governmental, not-for-profit trust with the mission to create and sustain a credible space for public service broadcasting in India which is independent, participatory, pluralistic and democratic, distanced from commercial imperatives and political pressures and that works to mainstream the Indian documentary and empower independent filmmakers by commissioning and mentoring films from across the country.

The students asked several questions relevant to documentary film making, all of which were answered with utmost professionalism by Madhavi.

The three-hour long lecture was like a crash course in documentary film making! It happens only at Seamedu!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *