Bhushan and Avinash are inseparable young football enthusiasts belonging to different social classes in a Gujarat village. What happens to their friendship when a pair of football shoes goes missing and a blame game ensues? In Drishyam Films’ latest short Rammat Gammat (My Best Friend’s Shoes), director Ajitpal Singh tackles this tangle with ease and warmth.

Starring Shivam Math, Yash Patel and Swati Das, the 18-minute Gujarati-language film has travelled to various festivals, including the prestigious 64th International Short Film Festival Oberhausen, where it received a special mention. Rammat Gammat, which film has been co-written by Singh and Yogi Singha, is also travelling to the Palm Springs International Film Festival and the Stony Brook Film Festival.

Rammat Gammat was originally inspired by celebrated writer Munshi Premchand’s short story Bade Bhai Sahab (1910). But the tale took a different route once Singh added his own life experiences to it. The result was an exploration of the bond between two boys through the prism of social hierarchies and prejudices.

“In the first draft, it was Avinash Patel, the richer boy, who is the main character,” Singh said. “But I connected to Bhushan Math better.”

Singh explained that the story took him back to his growing years in Gujarat. “By birth I am a Sikh. We shifted to Kalol in Gujarat in 1985 at the peak of anti-Sikh sentiment in the country,” he said. “It was around the time Indira Gandhi was killed. I was discriminated against for being a Sikh.” The former Indian prime minister was killed by her Sikh bodyguards on October 31, 1984, sparking communal riots across the country.

The film will tour the festival circuit for another five to six months and will later be released on Drishyam Films’ YouTube channel, Singh said. But the makers are also open to collaborating with other online streaming platforms.

Rammat Gammat (2018).

Rammat Gammat is filled with shots of scenic locations in the hills of Gujarat. But that state wasn’t Singh first choice. “We actually wanted to shoot the film in Jharkand, West Bengal or Goa, which have a vibrant football culture,” he explained. “But the budget did not allow us to shoot there. A friend of mine suggested Wilson Hills in Gujarat. To my surprise, I found a football culture there, where tribal kids were playing the game. It was a fluke.”

Except Swati Das (Hindi Medium, Bombay Talkies), all the actors in the film are newcomers, the filmmaker said. “What happens in Mumbai is that most of the filmmakers want cute children and want them to recite adult dialogue as a child,” he explained. “But we were very clear that we do not want that kind of forced acting. We also wanted children who could play football very well.”

After making several short films, including Phir Kyon Aaj? (2003) and Mr & Mrs Singh (2013), Singh is now working on a screenplay for his feature film debut. But he believes that the short format gives him more creative room. “The amount of money involved in a feature film is so big that even before you start rolling, you think about the recovery plan,” Singh said. “That takes away a lot of freedom. Short films are free from commercial and creative constraints. In Rammat Gammat, we had no fear of failure and that was the biggest freedom.”

Ajitpal Singh.