INDIANS TO WATCH OUT FOR IN TORONTO
INTERNATIONAL FILM FEST (SEPT 6-16)
“I wasn’t too sure yet of my ability as a director since I had just begun my learning, but it was important to make the film for my healing,” says the 35-year-old, who enrolled for a screenwriting and film direction course at the San Francisco Film Society, California, after an electrical engineering professor complimented his writing.
The short film, Lost and Found (2014), didn’t come out exactly as he had expected. “But there was a joy in making the journey from conceiving an idea to expressing it artistically using a craft that stayed with me,” says Ayr, who is soon moving back permanently to India.
Actually, he never recovered his stolen cycle, but he did find his voice. His second short, Quest for a Different Outcome, won the Best Film award at the San Jose International Short Film Festival in 2015. And this year his debut Hindi feature Soni was the only Indian film to have been selected for the prestigious 75th Venice International Film Festival (August 29 to September 8) in the Orizzonti Competition category.
Centring on the rising number of crimes against women in Delhi, the movie, which won the Prasad DI Award for the Best Film in Film Bazaar Recommendations section at the NFDC Film Bazaar 2017 and the Facebook Award for Best Workin-Progress Project, explores how the city’s policewomen react to the rising tide of brutal sexual violence. “I am sure the thought crosses their minds that even they, despite their position of power, are susceptible to the same atrocities, both on and off duty,” he says. “This tussle of emotions was worth exploring. Moreover, the vantage point of the police, I thought, afforded a broader view of the situation on the ground.”
Ayr spent a month interviewing and observing Delhi Police personnel of different ranks across the capital. They honoured his request gracefully, he says. “[Yet] I could not help but notice the very sensitive dynamics of the officers’ relationship with their peers and superiors, and how hierarchy dictates it all. Though I took creative liberties in writing my characters, I was amazed how much I was drawing from this knowledge during the course of my second draft. It not only brought to the page elements of realism and accuracy around police protocol, but profoundly transformed the story.”
He explains his choice of debutants Geetika Vidya Ohlyan and Saloni Batra for the lead roles by saying that “the words ‘newcomer’ and ‘established’ hold no meaning for me”—only the actor’s ability to capture the essence of the character.
An admirer of Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi’s blending of fact and fiction to get at a larger truth, Ayr says he hopes he never falls into the trap of formulaic stories. “This idea (of genres) has come to represent the Hollywood factory of filmmaking, which I am fiercely critical of. My duty is to express my take on life, our societal weaknesses and the human experience. That’s where my loyalty lies,” he said.
“My duty is to express my take on life, societal weaknesses and human experience”
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A still from Soni