‘I am a storyteller’
Director of Bareilly Ki Barfi, Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari says “film-making and storytelling is also a form of spirituality”
She showed sparks of brilliance in her first film, Nil Battey Sannata (NBS) itself. So it wasn’t surprising when director Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari’s second outing, Bareilly Ki Barfi (BKB) had a lot of expectations riding on it. Even though the film has gone on to become a sleeper hit, not much has changed for Ashwiny. “It’s just that now I sleep a bit more (laughs),” she says, as she talks about her life, career and more.
Did you find the BKB experience any different from NBS?
I treated it like my first film. But of course, when I started work on BKB, I was two films old as I had already finished the Tamil version (of NBS). And with experience, you know what you should be doing but also, you know what you shouldn’t be doing.
Was there any pressure on you to live up to people’s expectations?
As a story and a film, BKB is very close to my heart. They say that with the first film, one gets established but with the second one, you need to prove yourself. Of course, things will keep changing and even if you do 10 films, you should look at any film as your first one. So, I treated BKB like my first film. I will be like this in every film, so, every film will be sweet for me.
Do you feel it’s a great time to be a film-maker?
Not only as a male or a female film-maker, I feel we are in a very good space vis-à-vis being in the world of storytelling because we are a country of young people. Everyone is aspiring to do different kinds of things. Young audiences are willing to take risks. Plus, we have new thinkers, who are taking fearless decisions, producers who want to back it, actors who want to be a part of it, and directors-writers, who want to make such stories. Such an amalgamation will yield beautiful results.
What would you rather be — a storyteller or a film-maker?
I am a storyteller. I don’t like calling myself a film-maker. I feel I am a storyteller because a storyteller tells stories and film-making is my medium. Staying centered is the ultimate motive. Being joyous about what I do and knowing why I do it is important. If I am happy making stories that make people happy then my job as a storyteller is done. Everything else — being known, being part of coffee conversations — all that is a part of the job. Tomorrow if I fail to tell stories, I fail my audience, then none of this matters.
Do you think the power of cinema has grown manifold?
For me, film-making and storytelling is also a form of spirituality and a form of understanding human minds. There is a cause and effect in everything so I feel in my stories, the cause and effect is very important. Today, if I can make a difference in society by the kind of stories I tell, and create a larger audience then it will create a chain reaction and that is very important.
How does it feel to deliver a hit? What’s keeping you busy?
Nothing right now. I am chilling. I’ve finally got time to do my own thing. So, I am suddenly feeling that I should paint and I am going to do that. Then, I am also making ad films and will spend more time – than what I usually do – with my kids. Also, I think I need a break now so I think I am going to travel. I am going to Goa for 10 days to do a yoga course. Plus, I am also writing a book.
Yes, I have finished about five chapters. It’s a life story and philosophical, about a relationship between a father and a son. It’s in a Paulo Coelho kind of space.
Be it Nil Battey Sannata or Bareilly Ki Barfi (BKB), your films are entertaining but also comes with messages. Is it difficult to strike that balance?
Yes, it is. I would lie if I say it is not difficult because there’s a fine thin balance that you’ve to strike. So, one moment, you can be very funny but there can also be a sad moment. In everyone’s life, there are ups and downs. Even if I am saying a real, slice of life story, the audience must take something back. In that sense, what’s most important for me is that whoever comes to watch my film should identify with my characters and their insights.
In BKB too, you touched upon various real-life and progressive thoughts…
I think for me, the most important thing was the progressive relationship between the father and his daughter. I feel that a film is also like a human being and has its own life. Every story I say should be funny and entertain people. But I also need to give people something to go back home with because if I haven’t done that then I have failed as a storyteller and also as a human being. I am not saying this is the only way of storytelling but maybe, this is how I want to say it so I feel there is a connect between me and audiences.
At this stage, how do you see success and failure?
I have seen a lot of failures in life. And I feel that you do need to put in rigorous hard work and have the conviction to do what you need to. I feel a film has to be made from the heart and it must be as pure and real as your life because that shows in your work. For me, BKB isn’t the end and I’m not like, ‘oh, I’ve made a hit film.’ I have to start again from scratch, work as hard and with the same passion and purity in head, and not thinking of success or failures. You should do your bit, kal kisne dekha hai?
Clearly, you cut yourself off from everything after a point, and plus, you stay far away in Chembur. Does that help?
The thing is how do you tell good and different stories? Even when you solve a mathematical calculation like calculus, you stop and think if you have done it correctly. So, as a storyteller and a creative person, you have to take a step back and have a different point of view on things. So, for me going back home, be with my own thoughts and things that I really love, reflecting [on things] puts me a little away from everything else and gives me a different perspective.
Do you ever get overwhelmed with the kind of praise that’s coming your way?
I feel that gratitude is the most important thing which you need to keep moving with. I feel blessed that I have had some really nice people who have always been a part of my life. So, the idea is to just keep doing better work without thinking of what it’s going to be. As they say in Hindi, ‘karm karo, phal ki chinta mat karo.’ Be it producers or audiences, they are coming to me for a reason and I can’t let them down.