Saturday, April 30, 2011

Speaking frames

Shy. That's Onir. Throughout the promotion campaign of his new movie “I Am” at Costa Coffee, Onir smiled politely, answered questions graciously, but preferred to let Sanjay Suri and Juhi Chawla take over.

When I approached him for an interview, Onir agreed. I understood it would take some coaxing to get him to talk about himself. We sat at a far corner, away from the madding crowd of cameras, mikes and bright lights. As the conversation progressed, Onir revealed himself little by little: sensitive, yet strong; fiery, yet soft spoken and talented, yet humble.

We start by talking about how he raised funds for “I Am” through Facebook. “It was Sanjay's idea. We thought, why not raise funds independently? We started a group on Facebook. Many people came forward. Some volunteered as production assistants while others contributed financially to the film.”

Onir prefers funding his films rather than depend on producers. “I want to be completely responsible for my films. Marketing and distribution is always an issue. There's no support system for independent cinema.”

But he seems uncomfortable during flashy film promotions. At this, Onir laughs and says: “I am learning this part. I prefer working behind the camera.” “I Am”, like Onir's other films, sensitively portrays stories of people who are different, often secluded by circumstances or choices. He contends that sensitivity is lacking in today's world.

“The questions a director faces from the media has nothing to do with the film. Some people said ‘My Brother Nikhil' is a controversial film. I don't agree with that. Morality is a Victorian concept. Ancient Indian culture celebrated love. I tell a story with love. We concentrate on the wrong issues. Instead of punishing couples kissing in public, violence and civic lawlessness should be dealt with first.”

Independent films find an encouraging screening at film festivals, but of course to a very small audience. Onir agrees.

“I had recently attended the Kerala Film Festival. The whole of Kochi — where the Film festival was held — was celebrating. An auto driver told me enthusiastically about the films that were being screened. It was fantastic. Schools there screen world cinema every week. We need to take a cue from that.” The almost forgotten history of the Kashmiri Pandits, finds expression in one of the four stories in “I Am”.

“The politics of silence scares me. It is dangerous. No procession has come out in support of the Kashmiri Pandit issue. I don't believe in freedom that divides. The only voice I have is my films. I address issues that matter to me.”

Onir is inspired by Bengali filmmakers such as Ritwik Ghatak and Satyajit Ray. “Ghatak's ‘Meghe Dhaka Taara' is one of my favourites. I remember crying inconsolably while watching the film. I think I have subconsciously imbibed the sensitive way in which he depicts refugee stories.”

Onir confesses that his world revolves around making films, but he has no material comforts of his own. “Honestly, I have no house, no car and zero bank balance.”

“So what keeps you going?” I ask, afraid of being too intrusive. Onir smiles widely. “I have great friends who have stood by me throughout. And good cinema keeps me going. My happiness is enhanced further when my films are well received. A fashion designer from Hyderabad changed his name after watching ‘I Am'. It had liberated him from a lifelong inner conflict.”


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