In a free-wheeling chat with A. Radhakrishnan, she talks about her creative journey.
What does acting mean to you? Is acting inborn or taught?
For me acting is an interpretation of a given or assigned character. Some inborn qualities enhance acting, and there are some skills which you have to learn after getting into this field.
Do you prefer a particular genre of films? Is there something called Dalit films?
Not specifically. As I have worked in both fiction and non-fiction genres, I enjoy both. The narrative fictions, which presents sociocultural and psychological issues impress me more.
This term ‘Dalit films’ is used by us on the basis of content from Dalit issues like victimisation by caste discrimination and often ignored by mainstream. I think we create such divisions for our convenience, because a film, being strong and effective means of communication, can be a voice for any community.
A few words on your films as an actress?
I liked playing my characters in Marathi short fiction films. ‘Pistulya’, was my first experience of filmmaking as a student, and how a good film can be made. Then there is ‘Postmortem’, ‘Sahal’ and ‘Akrant’ and also Marathi feature films like ‘Khwada’, ‘Masuta’, and a Hindi feature film ‘Kastoori’.
I actually lived the life of my characters, spending a lot of time with real characters at real locations as part of my research, which helped me interpret various roles.
How would you assess your getting into different roles as an actress, director, producer and writer?
My previous work brings me new opportunities whether it is acting, direction or writing. I think it’s my commitment and multi-tasking approach which people like most and opportunities emerge.
I was Chief Assistant Director for Khwada, Writer and Director of Skill Development, Animation Film for Dept. of Social Justice and Special Assistance, Govt. of Maharashtra; and Asst. Director for Not For Sale, Marathi Short Fiction and RIP (Rest In Pollution), a short fiction.
I was an independent writer and director for short documentaries Chasing Dreams, Roots of Elan, Across the Soil, Prashnachinha (Question mark),
and Investing Life.
Do awards mean anything to you? What awards have you received thus far?
Of course, awards mean a lot. It is a proof that you have done something meaningful, appreciable and worthwhile. It is a green signal telling you are on the right track and egging you on to go ahead.
I won the Best Actress Award for Masuta, at the Dada Saheb Phalke Film and Television Camera Awards, 2019.
My debut short documentary Chasing Dreams won Best documentary Award at the Pratibimb National Film festival; Jury’s Special Mention Award at the Women’s International film festival, Goa, and Festival Special Mention at the Dada Saheb Phalke International film festival, Delhi.
My micro documentary Prashnachinha /Question Mark won ‘Yes, I am the Change Award’ in 2018. My debut documentary ‘Investing Life’ has been officially selected for the Indian Panorama, at the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) GOA, 2021. It also won the Silver Award in ‘Unforgettable films’ category, at the 2020 Spotlight Documentary Awards, Atlanta, Georgia, United States.
Do you have your own production company? What are your future plans?
Yes, I have my own production company called XED Start Productions.
I just want to be busy with whatever gives me eternal joy and satisfaction. For the present, I would like to keep under wraps my future projects.
As an independent film maker, how do you source funds?
I prefer a very simple method for sourcing fund for my films. I pitch my subject and explain the treatment that I wish to give to the film. That’s all. If the producers like it, they approve it.
Tell us about your debut non-fiction film ‘Chasing Dreams’ as story writer and director. What inspired it? What were your expectations?
‘Chasing Dreams’ was an assignment of BARTI (Babasaheb Ambedkar Research and Training Institute), Pune. I was supposed to make a report and documentation of it.
It tells the extraordinary stories of three strong Indian girls, from the downtrodden class from different regions in Maharashtra who are international players. It focuses on their extreme struggle to survive in adversity and the crucial role of BARTI in their journey.
Their interesting success stories of championship in different fields of sport and how they become the real ambassadors of women empowerment in Indian mainstream society influenced me to visualise in it a good documentary.
When we watched the final cut of the film, it seemed really inspiring. So I decided to send it to film festivals and let the audience watch it. I had no expectations from it. But the feedback was very good, especially the appreciation from parents. It won many awards too. It was all unexpected for me.
Briefly tell me also about your short documentary film ‘Question Mark’.
It is about a school named ‘Question Mark’, run by Matin Bhosale, from the Phase Pardhi community. He gathered the children of his community from all over India, who had no shelter and some of them were criminals or beggars. Matin, I thought was a change maker for it is really hard to teach such children.
What was ‘Investing Life’ all about?
Social issues in rural and urban areas always make me ponder. I discovered that that one can use film as an effective medium to express our thoughts and convey a social message to the masses.
This documentary was about three unique people living their life in a local way but working in a universal manner, far away from publicity and so called fame, silently working for social causes, investing their life without expecting any returns, leading to betterment of mankind and ecosystem. The satisfaction derived gave them the happiest feelings. They believed everyone could do it.
A personal visit unfolded to me many unseen and unsaid, extraordinary stories and incidences in their life. This debut non-feature long documentary is about survival of species including humans in unfavourable situations i.e. social boycott, road accidents and man-animal conflict. It discusses about habitat destruction and species extinction due to human interference. The film questions our way of living.
What is your documentary style?
I do not bind myself to any particular style. I like free and innovative ways of storytelling. I like to use impressionism in my films because we live in a world with different species, characters, environment, habitat, colours, light, etc. I explore the process of representation and significance in narrative film discourse. I want the audience to feel and experience them through my film. When it comes to narration, I prefer first person narration.
Is a message essential for a documentary?
A film itself is a message as it communicates with the viewer. It is an expression of thoughts and ideas. So while making fiction or non-fiction, as a film maker you cannot every time stick to a particular message. But yes, I believe there should be some thought behind making a film.
Do you think nonfiction conveys a message better than fiction ?
I think it is the treatment of how you present content that is important. It depends on what message you want to convey. Sometime it heals the mind and at times it takes you into deep sorrowful thought.
Does the world of films work like the real world?
If you are talking in context of profit and loss, the film industry is the same as any other industry. But its functioning is different from others. It demands more sacrifices from a person wanting to survive in this field. It seems glamorous for the audience outside, but it is hard work. It’s very hard to survive depending only on films. Other earning options are a must.
What kind of research do you do, and how much time do you spend researching a subject before beginning a film?
It depends on the topics I conduct research for. When I made my debut non-feature Investing Life, I worked on it for almost four years collecting data.
Though an unending process, I had to stop somewhere and shoot. Research develops the informative, visual content and references in film, which we can use for treatment of the film.
Do you think film festivals boost films?
Obviously it does. It increases the reach and audience. You get to meet so many interesting people too.
Does writing and directing energize or exhaust you?
Direction energises me. Sometimes writing exhausts me.
What was an early experience where you learned that language and film had power?
I still remember that in 2002 I was watching the news about the Academy Awards. Halle Berry was the first black to win the best actress award. A thought generated in my mind that ‘nothing is impossible’. Then onwards, when I face anything which seems difficult, I say to myself, “Yes, you can do.” I learned that language and cinema have power.
Do you read reviews? How do you deal with bad reviews?
Yes, I do read reviews sometimes. But frankly speaking I don’t let it bother me because reviews are personal opinions of a person. If it is good, I am happy. If it is bad, should I be afraid of criticism?. One has to respect different opinions. Keeping that in mind I continue my work.
What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?
Speed. I cannot work too fast or in a hurry. I take my own sweet time. Sometimes this is too long for others.
What is your view on morality? What does goodness mean?
It is very difficult to define morality. If I say something is good for me, it may be bad for others. I just want to say that we should not exploit others. One should not use someone and hurt or harm them in the process. We should accept the right to existence of every living being. And try to help others in need.
If you weren’t in films and documentaries what would you do for work?
I would be a full-time Professor as I love teaching. It is such a learning process.