- From lackluster and flat cinematography to the one-dimensional performances, the 7-minute short film directed by Ritendra Datta leaves you bewildered.
Part of the 2021 San Jose 48-hour Film Project, “Fortune Seller,” a 7-minute short film, directed by Ritendra Datta, revolves around a fortune teller and her clients who come to her for advice. Aided by her assistant, the answers to the fortune teller’s clients’ troubles lie in fortune cookies she hands out to them. The messages in the fortune cookies are surprisingly accurate in their prediction and manifest the very next day, making for very satisfied clients.
On this particular day, client one — a stock trader — asks the fortune teller to “give him hope.” Without saying a word, she summons her assistant and hands over a fortune cookie message: “load up on AMC before 10:03 am.” The next day he does as instructed, and makes a fortune with the AMC stock.
Client two — a very distraught woman — asks the fortune teller to “give her life.” Her fortune cookie reads: “A baby is on the way.” She does a pregnancy test and it’s positive.
It’s then revealed, the system behind these accurate predictions – an engineer by the name of Bob Saunter, who is the mastermind behind the fortune teller operation. Through a time-travel machine, he’s able to get intel on the clients by time-jumping into the future, and customizes their fortune message into an “accurate prediction.” However, Bob and the fortune teller’s fraudulent scheme is short-lived when the assistant winds up mysteriously murdered.
Although the premise set-up is interesting, and some of the motion graphics are good, everything else about “The Fortune Seller” doesn’t work. From the lackluster and flat cinematography to the one-dimensional performances, it leaves you bewildered. The story is told by a narrator who navigates it to the final conclusion. The screenplay is amateur and the direction lacks vision, style and depth. When I looked at the credits to check who wrote the script, I didn’t see a writer’s credit. That pretty much said everything.
There is ambiguity in executing the scenes where Bob Saunter tracks and invades the lives of the clients in the immediate future through his time-travel machine. Moreover, the time-travel machine is actually a VR headset. The editing is clunky as well.
Granted, this was part of the 48-hour film project to make the film within two days, but the filmmakers – knowing the nature of the contest – could have taken time to write a solid script and done thorough pre-production.
I have seen some excellent, well-executed 48-hour short film projects in the past, so it is possible to make a good product if you prepare well and in advance. It’s possible that Datta and his team are first-time filmmakers and writers, and found it challenging to weave in the contest’s required elements into the narrative – a character who is an engineer named Bob Saunter, a fortune cookie prop, and the line “He’s the only one who knows.”
The weakest link in the filmmaker’s idea is the time-travel machine to connect this line and the fortune cookie requirement in the narrative. There are simpler and more effective ways to connect the two elements together. Bob Saunter could be an engineering professor and plays a game with his students using fortune cookie message clues to solve an engineering problem.
Only one student has the fortune cookie message to solve the problem and only one student knows what this message is. Or it could be that Bob Saunter is going through rough times, eats Chinese, gets a fortune cookie, and keeps it in his pocket. He goes to see a psychic who receives a message from the other side that includes the words “he’s the only one who knows.” When he cracks open the cookie later, the message says, “Take guidance from an elder. He’s the only one who knows best.”
The idea to have a fortune-teller predicting futures through fortune cookies was a good one. And no idea is bad, but it’s how you connect all these required elements seamlessly into a narrative that makes for good storytelling, is the creative challenge.
The film stars Cast Diquan Richard, Roshni Datta, Sonal Patel, Monica Dani, Kartic Bhargav, and Havish Ravipati. Along with directing Datta is the cinematographer and editor as well. Bhargav is the assistant director.
The 48 Hour Film Project is described as “a wild and sleepless weekend” in which a filmmaker and a team make a movie – write, shoot, and edit – in just 48 hours. On Friday night, teams draw a genre from a hat. They are then given a character, prop and line to include in their films. On Sunday night, in a wild dash to the drop-off event, the film is turned in – and teams celebrate. The film is then screened at a local theater in front of an audience of filmmakers, friends and families.
I give 1 star for jumping in and making a film.
Sunil Sadarangani is a Mumbai-born, Los Angeles-based multiple award-winning producer and writer, having been a part of international digital film projects for over 15 years. He has produced award-winning short films “In Transit” (Shorts TV and Oscar nomination qualifier), “Blind,” “Nova,” and “With You.” He is the co-founder and Director of Programming of the Ojai Short Film Festival, now in its third season. He is a charter member of the Programmers of Color Collective (POC2) and was on the jury of the 2019 Los Angeles Greek Film Festival and a Senior Assistant Programmer at the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles. He currently volunteers on the assistant programming committee at Outfest, Los Angeles. Sunil is an officially accredited writer covering film and digital media at leading film festivals and industry award events. The California State Senate has recognized him for his ongoing commitment to creativity and innovation in the Los Angeles community. Sadarangani is the co-founder of Omagination Pictures, a production company representing and producing South Asian creators and stories. He has been instrumental in securing IP content as well as forging associations with industry executives and creators for the company.