The Starving Artist: In Conversation with Maverick Solo Filmmaker Rahul Datta
The secret to living a creative life, Rahul Datta explains, is not to involve yourself in a creative pursuit, but rather to observe the world around you.
“You have 5 senses,” he says, “every time you experience something new with them, you inherently are being creative. The more new experiences you have, the more creative you are. The more repetitive your life becomes, the more you become a machine.”
To the maverick solo filmmaker and executive creative director of Starving Artist Films, this statement is one that has defined his life. Hailing from the Beverly Hills of India, Chandigarh, Rahul explains that his true goal as a young man was to earn money, plain and simple.
“I lived in a pompous, Punjabi city where everyone flashes their big gaddis, and that’s what I grew up around- I just wanted to make money. I didn’t know how, and I wasn’t very good at studies.”
This pursuit of wealth drew Rahul first to Engineering, a career that both raked in the bucks and was a very popular choice for the quintessentially Indian society within which he lived. Though deemed by a high school aptitude assessment to be a creative individual, destined for a career in the Arts (a sentence, he explains, that nearly killed his mother in the chair in which she sat), Rahul completed his Non-Medical training, only to reject the offers for further education he had so rightfully earned. From there, Rahul sailed with the merchant navy for a span of six years, working on an oil tanker, where his story truly begins.
°The Starving Artist
The story of the Starving Artist began one day when Rahul was working on the oil tanker. A pump-man came onto the bridge to get some papers signed. Dressed in a standard-issue jumpsuit, with the arms tied around his waist, the man approached Rahul wearing a T-shirt which read “Starving Artist”, words that would stick with Rahul for the many years to come.
“I remember him walking on the bridge, oil all over his hands and his face, and his T-shirt said starving artist, which I thought was really funny.” Rahul reminisces, “The image stuck in my head.”
As a creative individual, Rahul explains, being sated is the true death of innovation. The curiosity that drives one to experience life on every front, and to channel those experiences in a medium of expression, that hunger is what Rahul explains is the true driving force behind his work.
“It’s a metaphor for not being satiated,” Rahul explains, “Don’t be happy, don’t be in the same place and be fine with it. You get stuck in places in life, where you feel like you can’t move, you can’t work and you can’t be productive, but you have to keep going, everything is a learning process. As long as you don’t give up, as long as you don’t find a comfortable spot and just sit in it- that’s the death of it.”
With no film school training (An educational background Rahul deems a Cancer for creativity) Rahul began his journey with film taking pictures, and shooting life around him only about eight years ago. Working as the Content Director for the IPL’s Kings 11 Punjab, and the Mumbai Indians on his six months off-duty, Rahul’s knack for storytelling took him to the Caribbean Premier League, and then to the Australian Premier League, before he made the conscious decision to not return to the navy.
A firm believer in the age-old adage, “The best camera is the one that is there when you need it,” Rahul’s films are the product of a creative mindset and innovative hustle. There may exist no truer testament to this belief than the Starving Artists’ Phone Films, which Rahul describes as a product of convenience. Stitched together, stolen fragments of recorded conversations, aided by music and visuals to convey a thought, a feeling, or simply paint a picture of a moment in time, Rahul’s Phone Films are at par with any of his other creations in terms of their creative expression, aesthetic and utter creative spirit.
“Instagram works because you can click a picture on your phone and upload it instantly, get 15 likes, and the dopamine release in your brain happens.” Rahul explains, “I wanted to create a process of making films which is as easy as that.”
°The Creative Flow
As we talk over the phone, Rahul recounts an occasion upon which a friend and yoga practitioner urged him to try his hand at meditation.
“My immediate reaction was that this was impossible,” Rahul says, “I am restless and cannot sit still for a moment. To not talk, or do anything? I told her I just couldn’t do it, and it was out of the question.”
As his friend elaborated on the meditative state however, Rahul soon began drawing parallels between her experiences and his. “I realised that when I get into my art, it’s almost a meditative state- I zone out.” Rahul explains. Emerging refreshed, renewed and reawakened from his creative pursuits, whether sketching on paper or shooting on film, Rahul explains that this creative flow state resembles that of conscious meditation in more ways than one.
“How you make sense of life is not an absolute science,” Rahul says, “it’s a bit of faith, it’s a bit of science, a bit of religion, a bit of psychology, a bit of philosophy- between all these parallels of knowledge, we have taken some things from everywhere, and made sense of our existence.”
As our conversation draws to a close, Rahul elaborates on the nature of knowledge, and the creativity it breeds, and is capable of destroying. “Infobesity is like obesity, it’s a problem,” Rahul explains, “you have information with the false sense that you have gathered that information, and that you have a right over it. Real knowledge comes from investing yourself in things.”
“You are as good as the information you have, and that’s a very dangerous place to be in, because the knowledge that comes in handy is the knowledge that is within yourself, not on Google, and the knowledge you have within yourself takes time and investment.”
As we part ways, Rahul leaves us with a powerful thought on art, and the human condition.
“I think everything in this world bleeds down to human-to-human interaction, if there was ever a tool that could communicate everything inside in my head, exactly as I thought it, into your head, that technology would be pathbreaking- and that technology exists- it’s called good communication.” He says, “Art is about communication, it’s about letting other people know what is on your mind, and them appreciating it, or not appreciating it. Putting out your work makes you an artist in its truest sense. If you can connect with likeminded people who are looking for your art, you become a better artist.”