“Deviyan Wahanse” is the new short film by Zeeshan Akram Jabeer. It’s a story about Anton, our protagonist; his life, his livelihood, and if you are to look a little bit deeper, about faith.
Not all too fond of labels, we cornered Zeeshan into categorising himself for ease of our readership. He reluctantly shared that he is a software engineering graduate working on small tech-based start-ups as well as productions for documentaries, TV commercials, and advertorial content. “They’re both worlds apart and it’s always a task explaining to someone what I do, but juggling roles keeps the creative wheels that make Hannah Montana or Bruce Wayne, turning,” he said.
He shared that he got into filmmaking through his first full time job, for which he produced online content, and everything just skyrocketed after that. Within two years, he was able to premiere fashion films consecutively for two years at Colombo Fashion Week (CFW), direct TV commercials, and produce two documentary shows for Fashion TV, all within a span of a few years.
Interestingly enough, he said that he shot this particular project, Deviyan Wahanse, before all of that took off. We delved a little deeper into the short film, spoke of his thinking behind creating a novel piece of art, and posed the unavoidable question of how the pandemic has affected his process as a creative.
Please tell us a little bit about your most recent project, the short film titled Deviyan Wahanse.
Simply put, the short film tells the story of Anton, a tailor from Colombo 12, of his life and his livelihood. But in a deeper sense, Deviyan Wahanse covers perspective and most importantly, faith. I believe that filmmakers, from the beginning of time, have been responsible in moulding perspective, and authenticity for me is vital in everything I produce.
It wasn’t initially called Deviyan Wahanse; it went through many title changes – a Tailor’s Tale, Tailor Chops, and even Hem for the Weekend – none of which really felt authentic, and finally, I picked Deviyan Wahanse and instinctively felt this was it.
The film will be subtitled in both Tamil and English for a wider audience.
The vision behind Deviyan Wahanse is not just to tell the audience a story about Anton but for them to attain a sense of self-awareness, to see that everyone – your parents, your neighbours, the kadé uncle, your school teacher – has their story that we’re oblivious to seeing. Also, acknowledging the fact that these stories are worth listening to, that they’re raw, real, and relatable.
What was your particular inspiration behind this project, and how was it conceptualised?
There was no conceptualisation process whatsoever. Growing up in Saudi Arabia and spending most of my life there taught me to appreciate Sri Lanka in all its glory. Stories about Sri Lanka were embedded in the back of my mind like the promised land of culture and history.
In an age where we mindlessly indulge in shallowly scripted content with miscellaneous agendas, I wanted to tell a story so authentic that it opens your eyes to all the stories around you. In a world where you’re given respect based on what line of work you do, you strive to find jobs you don’t like, to make money just to impress people you don’t know, only to ultimately drown in unhappiness. I hope that whoever can relate to that from the audience would take Anton’s nugget of wisdom to create a change in their lives.
Describe your process to us. What was it like to create this short film?
I had a phase where I carried my camera and wandered around recording everything I found interesting; it was guerrilla filmmaking at its finest. On one of these rounds, I came across Anton’s shop, and the ambiance just captured my attention. I spent around 30 minutes with him. It’s when I spoke to him that the seeds of this film got planted in my brain – that’s when I decided that I wanted to change the perception of how people see and validate stories.
After shooting this film, it was shelved for two years because I was busy with advertising and commercial work, and when I did want to edit it, I couldn’t find the right angle to make a two-minute short and immersive experience that would make you feel like you’re teleported to Anton’s workshop.
Luckily, Deviyan Wahanse was filmed well prior to the pandemic, but no doubt you’ve felt its effects in your work. How has the pandemic situation affected you as a filmmaker?
I generally keep to myself. As I enjoy spending time alone, the pandemic didn’t really feel world-shattering. It did obviously put a halt to all my commercial productions.
I’m grateful for it as the pandemic really put a lot of things into perspective for me. It really did make me realise that this is all we’ve got, which transported me to the mindset that I had two years ago. I reviewed the footage again and like magic, it all made sense. And just like that, Deviyan Wahanse was edited.
I believe that everything has to take its course in time; you can’t look at things with a linear perspective. Patience, faith, and persistence in the process are key. I really do owe it to Anton for the life lesson. It’s not just a short film to me; it’s an experience, something I can share with everyone.
I will be releasing the short film on YouTube soon, but you can follow me on Instagram @zeeshanakramjabeer for teasers and behind-the-scenes content.