This SXSW Award-Winner Proves You Should Write What You Know

'Moshari'Credit: Nuhash Humayun
This filmmaker's success is proof that a unique perspective is often the most valuable asset.

One bit of advice we often give is to write about places, people, and experiences that are unique to you. Plenty of stories are set in familiar cities or with familiar stock characters. Those stories can be great, but often, audiences and readers want to be shaken out of mainstream ideas. So what's unique about your life? What is special about your perspective, and how can you tell a story in a way no one else can?

Nuhash Humayun's horror short Moshari won the Grand Jury Award in the SXSW Midnight Shorts program at this year's festival. The short is a creepy new take on the vampire genre and is set in an apocalyptic Bangladesh—and it is both scary and unique.

We chatted with Humayun via email about the making of the short, and what's next.

Behind the scenes of 'Moshari'Credit: Nuhash Humayun

No Film School: What was the inspiration for Moshari?

Humayun: When the world is ending, and all "major" cities [are] obliterated… what’s happening in Dhaka, Bangladesh? What if a small town in Bangladesh has the solution to survive? That was the initial seed for Moshari. We’re so used to seeing global calamities playing out in London or New York in big Hollywood blockbusters, so flipping the script and zeroing in on Bangladesh was a really fun idea to explore.

Growing up in Bangladesh, I always wondered—what’s our story?

What is a moshari? Moshari is a traditional South Asian mosquito net, made to keep bloodsucking vermins away at night.

Anyone who grew up in South Asia will be familiar with going to sleep at night under mosquito nets. You felt safe under them, but it was also very creepy. The light would get "trapped" in the net and you couldn’t see what was on the other side as you slept. Perhaps the moshari wasn’t just protecting you from mosquitoes… but something else, lurking in the dark. I wanted to explore this very specific childhood fear of mine and turn it into something that could hopefully creep a lot of audiences out.

Behind the scenes of 'Moshari'Credit: Nuhash Humayun

NFS: What were the biggest challenges of making this short?

Humayun: There were so many challenges in making Moshari—it was terrifying yet exciting.

We made Moshari on an indie budget with partial crowdfunding, so we had to be extremely resourceful in creating an immersive, post-apocalyptic world. It had to feel "lived in" and have its own internal logic.

For instance, we had to be extremely specific about how many establishing shots we needed. Every piece of wardrobe and prop had to feel like it belonged in this end-of-the-world Bangladeshi wasteland.

The location was a huge challenge because we couldn’t afford to build elaborate sets or buy fancy props.

We found an abandoned Coca-Cola factory that was weeks away from demolition and practically begged them to let us shoot there. There was still a lot of art direction necessary to give the space life (or… death) but to have this run-down, extremely creepy factory as the base really helped.

There were technical challenges of how to shoot the moshari itself. There are shots where the camera seemingly goes through it which used some pretty nifty practical effects. It’s amazing how creative you can get through sheer determination.

'Moshari'Credit: Nuhash Humayun
NFS: What did the post-production process look like for you?

Humayun: A lot of VFX houses turned us down because we couldn’t afford them, so I had to edit the film myself and also do all the compositing on After Effects. Pretty much taught myself 3D motion tracking. So it was a mix of practical effects, creature make-up along with CG.

I come from an advertising background and have also shot some horror-comedy music videos which gave me an insight on the effects work involved—and also a sense of scale. But—I am also a writer first. I was in the Sundance Screenwriting Intensive 2022. First Bangladeshi ever to be in the Sundance Feature Film Program. I tell stories. So I can’t emphasize this enough: the biggest priority was characters.

I’ve never done full-on horror before Moshari but I’ve done a lot of drama and comedy. So I knew I had to have excellent performances, believable characters. You have to root for them, be afraid for them. Because when the character drama works, you are willing to forgive some of the other stuff.

Behind the scenes of 'Moshari'Credit: Nuhash Humayun
NFS: What techniques did you use to build tension and scare your audiences?

Humayun: I believe tension is built in post. It's the editing—getting the pacing exactly right, holding back when necessary and showing restraint… and then going all out when you need to.

It's in the music—we used local Bengali instruments to make the score, which Dameer Khan worked really hard on. We made sure not to use anything from a typical horror movie sound library and reinvented the wheel a bit, and it paid off. Also, the sound design is crucial. I met Sng Ye Min during the Busan Asian Film Academy and he was our sound engineer for the film. He’s based in Singapore and he’s the only teammate in Moshari who isn't Bangladeshi.

Getting our sound done abroad definitely put a dent in our budget as it costs way more than what typical Bangladeshi productions allocate for sound—but it was a vital decision. Sound is everything, especially in horror.

By the way, when I say tension is built in post—that only works if you have the building blocks already. Again it comes down to performances that track across scenes. Every POV, every close-up, has to add to whatever the character is feeling in that moment.

'Moshari'Credit: Nuhash Humayun
NFS: Any plans for expanding this world into a full-length feature?

Humayun: After we won the jury award at SXSW, there’s been a lot of buzz around a feature version. It's pretty cool to have some companies that I'm a huge fan of reach out to discuss our film—talking about Moshari like it's some sort of Marvel superhero IP. It’s humbling, and we love that our little South Asian horror film connects with so many people.

For the feature, we are trying to crack a story that’s not just bigger than the short… but smaller too.

All our constraints ended up being strengths, in that we created a very intimate family drama set in an apocalyptic world. So we would want to retain that personal touch in the feature adaptation.

Something that definitely helped—we sent out screeners of the film to some media companies and production houses we love (including No Film School) after we got into SXSW.

Admittedly, we didn’t get a lot of follow-ups… until we won the Jury Award at SXSW! So in the long term, the extra bit of reaching out from us really paid off.

NFS: Anything else you'd like to add?

Humayun: This is a little speech I gave after the Moshari premiere at SXSW. Would love for you to watch it and feel the energy in the room.

Yes, the apocalyptic setting of the film may remind people of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the climate crisis was what really drove us to tell this story. Bangladesh is at the forefront of the climate crisis. Our people are the most affected yet least culpable.     

Nuhash Humayun is a Bangladesh-based writer/director with a love for infusing genre with South Asian identity. His credits include the anthology SINCERELY YOURS, DHAKA (Busan World Premiere, acquired by Netflix), and the short film MOSHARI (SXSW World Premiere, Jury Prize Winner: Midnight Shorts).

Nuhash is the first Bangladeshi fellow of the Sundance Feature Film Development Track, an alumni of the Sundance Screenwriting Intensive 2022. 

His upcoming film MOVING BANGLADESH has received support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Film Independent, Locarno Open Doors & Cannes Marche du Film.

Follow him on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

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