Toronto International Film Festival 2020
Short Cuts
Vincent Toi

Aniksha

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Aniksha is a young woman from the Indo-Mauritian diaspora. After her arranged marriage, she finds a job at a call centre, a booming industry in Mauritius.

Hi Vincent thank you for talking to TNC, how are you held up during these very strange times?

I think it is a time of transition for many people, I am looking at things with an optimistic lens towards what will come next.

Has this time offered you any new creative inspiration?

What this time has offered is something that is crucial, it is time itself. You get so wrapped up in the day to day and you do not have the time to really step back and see what is ahead. Right now I have time to enjoy working from home and to develop new projects.

Your latest short film Aniksha is part of TIFF Short Cuts, how does it feel to have your film a part of such an amazing lineup of short films?

I am of course honoured and happy to have my premiere at TIFF. This is a festival that welcomed my previous film, The Crying Conch, and it was such a treat to meet with the Tiff programmers Jason Anderson and Lisa Haller in 2017. It is a special year to have a film at TIFF, all filmmakers look forward to the festival circuit and especially short film filmmakers since it is the one place where you get to see an audience reaction. This year it will not be possible to do so, but I am looking forward to the festival online.

Can you tell me a little bit about Aniksha, what was the inspiration behind this film?

Aniksha, the main protagonist of the film, is of the generation that has one foot resting in tradition and the other one stepping towards a global world. Mauritius has been undergoing constant change since the European colonial countries have started giving back their colonies after World War II, and a global economy has been introduced instead.

This island of just under 1.2 million people has been experiencing the direct consequence of these changes. Having acquired independence in 1968 after the long rule of Dutch, French and British colonies, Mauritius has benefited from an unexpected economic growth due to a series of decisions from the new independent political system. A political system which was at that time a positive force in the development of the island.

Aniksha embodies a new generation of Mauritian youth who has benefited from this economic growth. What was once considered a postcolonial Third World country during the time of Aniksha’s parents, has now become one of the most developed countries in Africa.

Although the economic system has embraced globalisation, Mauritians are still embracing the axioms of a religious and conservative society. What might seem parochial has protected and helped the diverse ethnic and religious groups that compose the Mauritian ethnographic landscape, to live in a relative harmony during the centuries of colonisation.

Aniksha’s conflict is found in a desire to go beyond this tamed colonised mindset. To do so she will have to break the rules that regulate her world in order to be able to see what lies beyond this frontier. This desire exists in many young Mauritians as it is the first step to overcome a colonised mind. This phenomenon leads to a massive brain drain as anyone who can leave the island and see beyond the physical frontier, will take the opportunity thus creating an important Mauritian global diaspora in which I am part of. Aniksha did not have the chance to leave the island and tackles seeing beyond these frontiers in her new job at the call centre.

On an island where family...a fast paced metropolitan lifestyle is often at odds with its mores.

The film also explores the idea of working in a call centre. Aniksha has two new beginnings: first, a wedding rooted in tradition with her Mauritian husband, Kevin, and second, her new job at a call centre. The call centres are part of the BPO “Business Process Outsourcing” development plan, a booming economic sector on the island. The call centres are from French multinational companies and offer a variety of services to its French clients.

Her new job allows Aniksha and many young people graduating from secondary schooling to work in an office space with air conditioning and computer screens instead of working in the labour-intensive sugarcane industry, textile factories or in a high-end tourist resort.

For Aniksha, the call centre work grants her more financial freedom and increased social networking. The desire for a stable social status goes beyond work as this is a chance for young Mauritians who stay in Mauritius to belong to a class of workers that distances itself from the blue-collar label and allows them to get closer to the so-called white-collar status. In addition, the call centres advertise the promise of bonding and working in a fun environment where opportunities are plenty and the atmosphere playful.

On the other hand, what the call centre creates is an infantilization of its workforce. For many of their employees, this is their first foray into a work environment and symbolizes a major step into adulthood. This gives foreign employers the chance to apply abusive rules that will go unchallenged. Here, I refer to rules such as the prohibition of speaking Mauritius’ national language “Creole” on office grounds or by hiring French supervisors instead of qualified Mauritian locals. The call centres are also changing the social fabric as employees are asked to work late shifts to compensate for the different time zones where they operate. On an island where family, religion and traditions have an important place, a fast paced metropolitan lifestyle is often at odds with its mores.

The call centres are not looking to develop their businesses in the long term. As long as the labour wages can be kept low, the companies consciously enter the market with a sweatshop mentality. They leave no opportunities for their employees to grow skills, thus perpetuating a post-colonial legacy. Call centres may be considered non-glamorous work in the West, but for Aniksha and many of her colleagues, this is the only way to get a job that will allow her to open up to the world and have different ways of understanding and expressing who she is.

What was the most challenging part of making this film for you?

The film had many challenges attached to it. The one major hurdle that the production had to overcome was to establish a workflow with technicians who had little experience working in this type of film production structure. Mauritius has a burgeoning film industry, but the head of departments are often foreigners who are given the responsibility to lead teams. As a Canadian/Mauritian myself I made sure that in our production we had parity and inclusive leadership. These choices produced an enriched work environment, but sometimes created obstacles since some of the team members were doing these tasks for the first time.

The other challenges pertained to the intricate storytelling. The film had an ambitious vision, taking place in a remote foreign island where most people would speak only creole and with each scene we would have approximately twenty extras. We flew to Mauritius with a team of six Canadians to start the production of Aniksha. Over there we collaborated with about twenty Mauritian technicians and over fifteen to thirty actors and extras. We also filmed on multiple locations, which varied from a Tamil temple, a hotel rooftop, a call centre, the small and remote village of Chemin Grenier and sugar cane fields all over the island. The highly-skilled Canadian team worked and collaborated with the local crew and cast. We created an environment that overcame any language and cultural barriers and created an international film team that spans from Canada, France to Mauritius.

Once a film is complete are you able to let it live its own life or are you always thinking 'I could/should have done this differently?

I would like to answer this question by saying, yes, I do let the film live on its own. But sometimes it is difficult not to think of what could be better. This is why I try to avoid rewatching the film once it is out so that I avoid this mindset.

Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?

It all stems from the act of storytelling and its power of transformation. As a filmmaker you have the power to create mythos with the art of filmmaking, it is a very powerful invention and as a famous marvel character once said, “with great power comes great responsibility”.

How much has your style and the approach to your films changed since your debut film?

I don’t know if I have a style, but I definitely have ideas and concepts that revolve around my filmmaking. I also try to approach each film with a fresh new eye as if it is the first time I am making a film.

"I would hope people will see the complex lived realities of the Mauritian youth, stuck in between traditions and a modern life." 

Is there any advice you would offer anyone about to start film school?

Go to class but don’t do what they say, unless you recognize your teacher as a master, then challenge him.

What would you say has been the most valuable lesson you've taken away from making Aniksha?

One of the biggest challenges which led to the most valuable lesson was to create the environment for two teams from two different cultures and countries to work together and to have each and everyone feel part of the creative process. I learned to trust in the process and trust that things will fall into place regardless of the obstacles in the way.

I have the crew and cast to thank and specially Guilaume Collin who took a lot on his shoulder. I also have Neeshi Beeharry to thank. Neeshi is a talented artist/actress in Mauritius, Aniksha would be the first time for her to play such a complex role and she embodied the Mauritian youth perfectly. Her counterparts Laurent Lucas and Kris Mootien were also able to bring the best in her play.

And finally, what do you hope people will take away from this film?

I would hope people will see the complex lived realities of the Mauritian youth, stuck in between traditions and a modern life. A place beyond the portrayal of a touristic destination, a reality that echoes in many other countries subjected to post-colonial ideals and globalized economy.

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