Meet Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari, director of ‘Nil Battey Sannata’ (‘Zero Divided by Zero’) and ‘Bareilly Ki Barfi’ (Bareilly’s Candy) — Interview by Mythily Ramachandran

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Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari (2)Director Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari won her way into people’s hearts with her debut Hindi film,’ Nil Battey Sannata,’ (Zero divided by Zero) released last year.
This poignant tale was about Chanda, a domestic helper who works her fingers to the bone to put her daughter, Apu, through school and even harbours dreams of her daughter acquiring a respected government job. But Apu is a reluctant student and presumes that she will follow in her mother’s footsteps. What happens when Chanda decides to join the same class as Apu’s? ‘Nil Battey Sannata’s’ real like performances and its message that education can change one’s life won hands down. The success of the film pushed her into remaking it in Tamil, (another Indian language) with the title, ‘Amma Kannaku.’ (Mom’s calculation)

itwari ‘Bareilly Ki Barfi’Tiwari returned last month with her second Hindi film, ‘Bareilly Ki Barfi’ (Bareilly’s Candy) and proved with this hilarious romantic comedy that she is here to stay.
Contrary to Chanda, Bitti the protagonist here is an upper middle class educated young woman, who despite living in the small town of Bareilly is unlike other traditional young women. She doesn’t mind taking a few pegs and smokes the occasional cigarette and even watches Hollywood films. While her parents, especially her mother is keen on seeing her married, Bitti wants to marry for love and not under societal pressure.

Changing the course of her life is a book that she reads where she identifies with the lead character. And, thus begins her search for its author. A love-triangle, ‘Bareilly ki Barfi’ was an endearing romantic tale once again marked with brilliant performances and crackling humour. Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari talks about her journey into films

‘Nil Battey Sannata’ and ‘Bareilly ki Barfi’ are set in completely different backgrounds. How different was it directing them?

Every time I direct a film it is like taking care of new born baby. I treat them exactly the way I would treat even when I make my tenth film as my first film. Both the films have had their own challenges and experiences. And each has been a totally different experience.

What sparked off the storyline in both films?

‘Nil Battey Sannata’ happened for the sheer urge to tell stories about women on a larger format after working in advertising. Making so many ad films I wanted to tell stories which will reach a wider audience.

‘Bareilly ki Barfi’ happened when I finished ‘Nil Battey Sannata’ and was traveling back home and found a book at the airport which triggered my thought process of making a film remarkably different than NBS but still had the heart of speaking human mind.

Both films are realistic in their making and dialogues. What road-blocks did you encounter?

Shooting on real location comes with its own constraints- people, traffic, timelines. We are actually entering someone space and asking them to leave their house for the time period we are shooting. Imagine someone staying with you for two months! But then shooting in these locations also has a sense of oneness. You get food. As a country we believe in inviting people and sharing and caring. The dialogues need to be completley rehearsed in the dialect of that particular area. And, in our country every 500 kms the dialect changes.

And, the lessons learnt?

The art of oneness- being in time and exploring all options and understanding the emotions of your people whether its the DOP, assistants or the actor. As a director you become everything to them when you are on set. And its important that everyone is one the same page. If the set is happy it shows on screen.

Did you face challenges and discrimination being a woman director?

I am not very fond of being called a woman director. We never catogerise engineers or doctors as woman doctors and engineers. I feel we have reached a space in the film world where there are quiet a few women who are now working behind camera. Previously it was not. But now with the introduction of studios and other school college programms in filmmaking, it has become a course, that youngsters are taking up. I did face challenges in my first film on outdoor location where the line producers who are not part of production feel a little overwhlemed to take orders from a woman. But then as days go by they get used to it. Also I don’t feel we as women need to be aggressive or prove a point to put your point across.

Tell me a little about yourself.

I belong to a family of professors. My mother was a Principal of a school and father a plant pathologist. I studied commerical arts from Sophia Polytechnic in Mumbai and then joined LeoBurnett ( Mumbai ) as a trainee art director to leave after 14 years as Executive creative director heading Mumbai branch.
Having worked on various brands ( international and Indian) and majorly being a part of the programs in sony entertainment television my interest lay in telling stories.

Your husband (Nitesh Tiwari) is the co-writer for both films. Are you both discussing stories, and characters always?

Our relationship is more like friends and any corworkers who share a similar liking. Its like two doctors staying at home. They will discuss all the works but each will go and do their own surgery without interfering in each others work. Yes we do discuss scripts. Films — that’s part of us and our lives.

From ads to feature films, how different are the two mediums?

Advertising teaches you to be objective. Team work and most importantly you are automatically engrained to tell stories with a reasoning and a strong insight which caters to audiences. You are even responsible for your clients money. These learning are for a life time that I have carried even in feature film. The only minus point is that we have only 40 seconds to tell a story. Sometimes even 25/30 seconds. So we have to literally calculate emotions in seconds.

What influenced your film dreams?

I have always been in awe of directors like Sai Paranjape, Hrishikesh Mukerjee and Woody Alen. I can see their movies ‘n’ number of times. I always wanted to tell stories. I waited for the right time to get into films, when I knew I had enough bank balance to sustain the unpredicatbality of feature films. I was starting from scratch which means that until people see my work and believe in it, they are not going to put their money.

What is next?

There is one very exciting film which I am proud to write and direct. But will want the producers to announce it.

What kind of films do you wish to make?

I want to tell all kinds of stories about life. And life is dark too. But I will never say horror or scifi. I dont watch horror films and scifi though I enjoy Spiderman superman I know I wont be able to handle the numerics of vfx etc.

mithilyMythily Ramachandran, a Chennai based Indian journalist, is a regular columnist for Gulf News, a leading UAE daily. When this crazy film buff is not catching up with films, she is snooping around for those little-known stories of human interest, which eventually find a place in the Weekend Review of Gulf News.

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