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Exclusive! Love at 5th Floor director Aditi Banerjee: I felt lost, wanted to give up on the crowdfunded show

The MX Player series stars Dilnaz Irani, Rachna Gupta, Virginia Rodrigues, Vivek Kumar, Vaibhav Deep Chopra and Kafeel Jafri.

Exclusive! Love at 5th Floor director Aditi Banerjee: I felt lost, wanted to give up on the crowdfunded show
Aditi Banerjee, director, Love at 5th Floor
  • Akhila Damodaran

Last Updated: 12.02 PM, Jun 28, 2022

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The award-winning mini-series, Love at 5th Floor is now streaming on MX Player. Directed, written and produced by Aditi Banerjee, the series is a female-centric and multilingual show developed through crowdfunding by over 100 people. The series centres around the lives of three women in Bengaluru. It tells the story of a wife of a cheating husband, a young mother tempted by an online chatroom and an older polyamorous woman exploring the world of love, desire, friendship and separation. The series stars Dilnaz Irani, Rachna Gupta, Virginia Rodrigues, Vivek Kumar, Vaibhav Deep Chopra and Kafeel Jafri. In an interview with OTTplay, filmmaker Aditi Banerjee opened up about the long journey of creating her first web series, crowdfunding the project and what kept her going when she felt like giving up on her dream project. Excerpts:

Your award-winning series is now streaming on MX Player. How do you feel?

It's been a long journey. A lot of effort has gone into this independent project. There are no big stars in the show. COVID-19 too delayed the project. But it all feels rewarding now, at least for the cast and crew and people who crowdfunded the project. We screened it at film festivals but were not sure when and how will we be able to show it in India.

This is your first fictional web series. Could you tell us about your journey, working on the project?

I have been wanting to work with fiction for some time. I felt quite secure financially since I have been working since 12 years. I thought I could take a risk and it would be okay. I felt ready to take that leap. I wanted to do something where I have complete creative freedom. I thought starting with fiction is the best way. I decided to do crowdfunding. Perhaps, this is the first web series to be made with crowdfunding. The idea for the story was inspired by life in an apartment in Bengaluru and how neighbours do not know one another, yet they make stories about each other by seeing who goes and comes into the apartment and how they look etc. I have especially been fascinated by human relationships and stories of women in different stages. 

Love at 5th Floor
Love at 5th Floor

There has been a fair amount of research that has gone into the story. Then I wrote it and the production happened in 15 days. It was done 2.5 years ago and the post-production work was done remotely during the COVID lockdown. It was interesting to see that the cast and crew come together as they believed in the story. The sound designer is a senior artist. I had the crowdfunding campaign planned for a month on Wishberry but I reached my target in 9 days. It was important for an independent filmmaker. I am not a Karan Johar or anyone. The thing is at every point when I wanted to give up or felt lost, the idea of 100 people funding the project kept me going. I felt a sense of ownership.   

Why did you want to give up?

Filmmaking on your own is a lonely process. There is no deadline. You can just chill or lose motivation. I then had peers plan and do script with me. Once the production started, we had to do it. So, I was trying to find ways to feel accountable to people. There were times when I felt like will the series even go somewhere. I am not sure about the rest of the journey. Every stage felt like a challenge. Getting the post-production was an uphill task. I wanted to travel to Mumbai for post-production but couldn't do it due to lockdown. I was in talks with a platform for its release for a long time but it didn't happen. They said yes initially and then changed their minds. I was planning to then upload it on YouTube but my cinematographer was adamant. Now, I feel relieved it's out on MX Player. It feels like closure in some sense. 

What was your target for the crowdfunding campaign?

The target was about Rs 8 to 10 lakh. I took care of the rest of the budget for the project. 


Could you tell us about the casting project? How did all the actors come together?

I put out calls for casting on social media. I had certain actors in mind. A lot of people sent their auditions and it took a while, nearly a month and a half, to get the right people. Once I saw the auditions, I was sure. I had the full script ready and detailed notes about the characters helped. I was sure about Rachna who had just gotten out of the National School of Drama, fresh and young. I wanted to someone who looks young to have a child of her own. We did a lot of rehearsals before the shoot and it helped. The actors contributed what dialogues and pitches would help. So I felt a little relaxed before the shoot. We shot the entire show in Bengaluru. 

The title of the show is quite unique. It was earlier called Happily Ever After and now, Love at 5th floor. Why did you change it? How did you come up with the new title?

It was a practical consideration. While editing, we saw a show with the same name on YouTube. So we brainstormed to come up with another appropriate name. Since the story is happening in an apartment and it's about love, we finalised on Love at 5th floor.

Love at Fifth Floor
Love at Fifth Floor

The series is multilingual, which really brings out the flavour of the story. It gives it authenticity and also, there is no glam or melodrama. It is very subtle, the struggles and issues that the three protagonists face. What were the thought processes you had in your mind for the treatment of the story? Did you always want to make it multilingual?

Yes, I always wanted it to be multilingual. One of the things about being in the city is that none of us speak the same language. I myself speak English, Hindi and Bengali and it depends on who I am speaking to. There's no single language community. I wanted to explore that on the screen, the homogeneity, where the people are coming from, the Indian English and all these nuances. I didn't want to bring that fairly diverse culture upfront like that. I am more interested in inner drama among people. The challenge was to make it engaging. There are no huge plot twists but yet, the audience should feel and be part of the journey. When it comes to the treatment of the story, I wanted different colour schemes for each character, and extreme close-ups and I wanted to follow that.

Love at Fifth Floor
Love at Fifth Floor

There are more women-centric shows and films coming up like She and Four More Shots, which focus on female friendships and sexuality and how women support one another. Do you somewhere think that OTT has contributed to it?

It feels now, OTT is becoming a bit like television, controlled by larger studios but older women are coming back on screen and not in conventional roles of motherly figures. They have well-written characters in shows like Soni, Once Again and Four More Shots, which is on female friendship. There are more women directors now and OTT has given a new lease of life to actors, especially lesser-known actors.

So will you be working more on fictional shows now? What are your future projects?

I want to. I want to be part of something like Modern Love. I am hoping this (Love at 5th Floor) will be a stepping stone for that in the future. I want to enable people to tell their stories. I teach screenplay writing to young Adivasis in Jharkhand. In fact, most crew members on my team were my students. 

The series, Love at 5th Floor was officially selected at Montreal International Film Festival 2020, Toronto Film Channel-2020, Lift Off Global Network- Paris- 2020. It won two awards, Exceptional Merit at Depth of Field International Film Festival and Award of Excellence at WRPN Women's International Film Festival. The show is now available to stream on MX Player.