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Behind the scenes of U.Va. student filmmaker Varun Chharia's life and production

The student filmmaker is tackling his first feature film

<p>As a fourth-year Continuing and Professional Studies student at the University, Chharia has ignited his excitement for film production and shows no signs of stopping on his journey.</p>

As a fourth-year Continuing and Professional Studies student at the University, Chharia has ignited his excitement for film production and shows no signs of stopping on his journey.

Many people have a calling — whether it is baking or calligraphy or four years of medical school, a concrete passion can define a person’s experience for much of their life. For Varun Chharia, this calling was filmmaking. As a fourth-year Continuing and Professional Studies student at the University, Chharia has ignited his excitement for film production and shows no signs of stopping on his journey.

“I was always watching movies on Saturday nights, just kind of in my room,” Chharia said. “I remember one time, I was watching a bunch of video essays, thinking ‘How did they make this movie?’ I would go on Wikipedia and find all of the production information. I was trying to understand why they were being made, and why I felt a certain feeling.”

Even as a child, Chharia felt himself being drawn to both the writing process and the visual enchantment of filmmaking. His drive translated into experimentation with shows and stories that he had close ties to. 

“One of my favorite things when I was younger was this show called ‘Static Shock,’” Chharia said. “It was a show about an African American superhero [who] had static powers. It was cool because it was based on a comic. I would read the comics, and I would write my own scripts based off of the comics, trying to make a movie out of it.”

Chharia’s enthusiasm only grew as he moved into his life as a University student. By working with many knowledgeable professors, Chharia continued learning as much as he could about the world of film. 

In particular, Chharia noted a class with Kevin Everson through the arts department.

“With his type of class, he’s very flexible and he wants you to have the creative freedom to make your own stuff,” Chharia said. “I also did an independent study with Doug Grishom in the drama department … [who] gave me the opportunity to create a 30-40 minute short film. I wrote a script in a semester and then [filmed] it right after the semester ended. Getting feedback from him was very helpful.”

The University gave Chharia some of the tools he needed to grow, but these were just building blocks. Chharia also worked on perfecting his craft outside the classroom through clubs and interactions with other students. 

“I was in Hot Kids Comedy, and that [involved] sketch writing,” Chharia said. “Sketch writing is very similar to TV writing because you’re collaborating with people … pitching jokes to one another. The Filmmakers Society at U.Va. was very helpful for learning about filmmaking. Being around other students who want to make films and trying to find your own voice … was a great opportunity.”

Chharia’s desire to excel and create allowed him to find all kinds of skill-enhancing experiences. According to Chharia, LabShorts at the University, workshops at Lighthouse Studios and even acting classes were some other amazing ways to improve a filmmaker’s approach to their work. 

Combined with knowledge from the University and various opportunities for hands-on learning, Chharia was ready for his next step — a feature film. 

“I’ve been working on [my own feature film] since May 2020,” Chharia said. “I was going to make it in L.A., but I decided to do it in Charlottesville because Charlottesville is like home to me. It’s something that I’ve been working on for a long time. I always knew my fourth year was going to be making this feature.”

To Chharia, the feature is a monumental project that he is dedicating the bulk of his time to. Tied to his own heritage, Chharia’s feature will tackle topics such as mental health within the South Asian and Indian American communities, and his main goal with the film is to be there for those in need. 

“To me, it goes back to trying to help somebody, and if it helps that one person, I know it was all worth it,” Chharia said. “I took, I think, 18 credits in the summer, all on zoom, and 21 in the fall, just to get done in a year so I could focus on this feature.”

Aside from his feature, Chharia has also been incredibly busy this summer directing two short films. One of these projects revolves around an LGBTQ+ sci-fi romance, with the main man falling in love with a male robot. 

“The reason I was drawn to [the film] was because I was thinking a lot about how we don’t really see, in the sci-fi genre, LGBTQ+ [stories],” Chharia said. “They haven’t really been talked much about.”

Chharia states that his current plans mostly revolve around getting his short films through the editing process and sending them to film festivals, where they can be evaluated and broadcasted to wider audiences. Once they’re done, the films will be posted online, most likely on his Vimeo and YouTube, both channels under the name Varun Chharia. 

“Our goal is to get [the short films] up really soon,” Chharia said. 

For Chharia, filmmaking has a purpose, a drive and a reason. It may be making the audience laugh out loud, helping them navigate their understanding of greater societal issues or just moving them in any capacity. In advising other aspiring filmmakers with similar ideals, Chharia encourages determination and a positive mindset.

“Keep pushing through it,” Chharia said. “You’re going to struggle, you’re going to have conflicts, but that’s part of the business, that’s part of filmmaking. You’re going to have challenges, and once you overcome them, you’ll feel so much better that you didn’t give up.”

As for Chharia’s own favorite movie, he has a few in mind, but one speaks louder than the rest.

“The Dark Knight,” Chharia said. “It’s one of my favorite ones.”