Kanya intimately explores the life of an Indian teenager experiencing puberty as her conservative family ignores her physical and intellectual transformation. Although Kanya yields to their demands, she experiences deep inner trauma. Will this lead her to accept tradition or to revolt against the conventional expectations of a woman?
Hi Apoorva thank you for talking to TNC, how are you held up during these very strange times?
Hello! It's a pleasure. I am doing all right, thank you. Although, I must admit I haven't washed my hands so many times in my life, ever. Next time I visit my 86-year-old grandfather in India (who is an astrologer and palm reader), he is not going to like the fact that I may have erased all the lines and mounts in my palms.
Has this time offered you any creative inspiration?
Yes, I believe so. It was quite difficult in the beginning because of the anxiety and uncertainty around the pandemic. Eventually, I managed to get into the groove of watching a lot of movies and getting inspired by them to work on my debut feature script.
Congratulations on having Kanya selected for this year's Raindance Film Festival, what does it mean to you to be part of such an amazing lineup of short films?
It feels surreal. Truly honoured to be a part of Raindance's fantastic lineup of short films. We were pleasantly surprised when we got the news.
This will be your European Premiere, does this add any additional pressure on you?
Adds pressure on us to maintain the streak of getting into other big festivals. We have given our best shot and we are hoping for more festivals to program us. Fingers crossed!
Can you tell me a little bit about Kanya, how did this film come about?
Kanya is loosely inspired by a short story I developed as part of a creative writing and mentorship program with Indian author Anita Nair. The short story was eventually published as part of an anthology series. Three years ago, my DOP, Faraz Alam and I were brainstorming ideas for our graduation film. Faraz had read the story before and suggested we adapt my short story into a film. I was not convinced in the beginning, but he persuaded me to dissect the short story and visualise it. We spent that whole night discussing the film. After an intense couple of years, prepping, shooting, and finishing the film, here we are!
You co-wrote Kanya with Vidhya Iyer, what was the inspiration behind your screenplay?
Kanya was inspired by real events that occurred in my life. I come from a conservative brahmin community (from South India). I remember getting my period for the first time and how everything was suddenly so different in my life. I wanted to try to capture the inner dissonance I felt as an adolescent who was struggling to deal with all this physical as well as psychological transformation. There was a lot of vivid imagery from that period in my head which I wanted to incorporate in the film. My DOP and talked through these images one at a time. Then we pieced it together as a series of images before converting it into a screenplay. Eventually, I invited Vidhya to collaborate with me on the project. Vidhya is a talented screenwriter. She helped me fine-tune the story and give it a better structure.
"once you are on set every minute counts. I think that's the fun part."
As a filmmaker does drawing from your own experiences influence your film projects?
Yes, I have always been inspired by my own life experiences. At the end of the day, who can tell the story of our own lives better than ourselves?
We have lived through them and experienced them ourselves, right? So, nobody else will have a unique perspective we have. As a filmmaker, I also draw a lot of inspiration from the human condition. Our search for gratification, sense of curiosity and our awareness of the inevitability of death are some aspects I am deeply fascinated by.
What would you say has been the most valuable lessons you have taken from making Kanya?
I learnt one of the biggest lessons of my life while making Kanya - Filmmaking is primarily dealing with peoples' egos. And that's most definitely half the battle. Also, this project was a huge lesson in understanding the importance of patience and perseverance.
Do you like to be flexible once a film is shooting or do you prefer to stick to your script as it is?
I usually prefer sticking to the script as much as possible. However, I always keep my mind open to make sure I have the flexibility to accommodate any unforeseen circumstance we might face during our shoot. For instance, with Kanya, we couldn't shoot one entire scene that was in the script because of a small production error. My DOP and I came up with a completely new scene on location 10mins before shooting it. We used whatever little lights we had and made it work. In fact, half of the scene was shot in India and the other half in Prague, 6 months later. The scenes perfectly matched even though we shot it in different continents. You will never know which scene it is until we tell you. Usually, once you are on set every minute counts. I think that's the fun part. Getting creative under pressure especially when you have over 50 people waiting for you to make a move. So, I think being flexible is good.
Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?
Cinema has saved my life (literally and figuratively). I was in Tel Aviv when I decided to be a filmmaker. I was there for a wonderful international filmmaking workshop. However, the Gaza Israel conflict was at its peak. I spent a lot of time cooped up inside a backpacker hostel’s bomb shelter writing scripts, as rockets rained on Tel Aviv (This was July 2014). I remember the adrenaline rush and telling myself - Yep, this is what I am going to do for the rest of my life. In fact, I narrowly escaped arrest in Jordan by simply naming Bollywood and striking a chord with the immigration officer who happened to be a fan of actor Amitabh Bachchan. From threatening to handcuff me for unknowingly entering Jordan through an entry point reserved for Palestinians and diplomats, he was offering me chocolate and chatting away merrily after I told him I was a filmmaker from India. Such has been the profound impact of cinema on my life.
Has your style/approach to your films changed much since your debut short?
Yes, absolutely. I think it has changed significantly after studying at FAMU (my alma-mater) which has a very multicultural environment. I learnt a lot through my collaboration with my colleagues who are from all over the world. I feel incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to work with some of the best emerging talents.
Do you think filmmakers should push the boundaries of the films and stories they want to tell?
Yes. As Kubrick said, every story has already been told and every scene has already been shot. What makes one's story/film different is HOW you tell/express it. I believe that's incredibly unique to every filmmaker's personal experience. The more we delve into ourselves and our past and present experiences, the more unique our film becomes. This is how we can push the boundaries of the films and stories we want to tell.
Is there any tips or advice you would offer a fellow filmmaker?
I am not sure if I have reached a state where I can offer fellow filmmaker tips/advice. But if there is one thing, I learnt during the process of becoming a filmmaker, it is to trust my gut and my emotions while making a film. They always guide you in the right direction.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from Kanya?
I hope people who menstruate can feel proud of who they are and celebrate the strong life force and energy they inherently possess. I also hope it serves as a great audio-visual experience for anyone who is watching Kanya regardless of who they are or where they come from.