The new film Bombairiya, another venture into content based cinema, is making some waves much before it release. Already touted as a fabelesque ode to the city of Mumbai, filled with comedy, the film has an extremely talented cast including Radhika Apte, Akshay Oberoi, Siddhanth Kapoor, Ravi Kishan and Shilpa Shukla. Produced by Beautiful Bay Entertainment and Kreo Films of Dubai together, the project has at its helm debutante director Pia Sukanya and will release next year. A Journalist Reveals got an exclusive interview with the director Pia and this is the result of our tête-à-tête:
Where were you born? And what was your childhood all about?
My childhood was all about watching Raj Kapoor and Guru Dutt films on television wherever I was in the world, be it Cambridge University where I happened to be born, or Delhi where I went to a Hindi medium school from which quite a few actresses have emerged – Sardar Patel Vidyalaya. By the time I was ten I had developed three different accents – British, Indian, and lastly American since my parents moved me to New York at the age of 8, since they took up jobs at the UN. America basically took this shy Indian girl and turned her into a feisty New York teenager, but before I could settle into that avatar, we all moved to Italy where I finished my schooling. After Italy, I came full circle, and got into Cambridge University to study Social Anthropology. I also acted in a number of plays and musicals and played the leading role of Maria in West Side Story opposite Eddie Redmayne, who won an Oscar for Best Actor for The Theory of Everything earlier this year.
Have you been trained in movie-making?
A Social Anthropology degree gave me a good foundation for movie-making as it involves the study of life and human behaviour. Added to that I have done a few courses at the Raindance Film School in London, where people like Guy Ritchie have picked up their craft, which gave me the confidence to go for it. I’d recommend those courses to anyone keen on developing their craft whether experienced or a debutant. These plus the fact that I have acted quite a bit and am married to a screenwriter with whom I co-write our screenplays, gives me access to all the disciplines involved in making a movie.
Have you assisted someone before this debut of yours?
I have worked as an Assistant Director a couple of times and I’ve also cast another film which helped me prepare to helm my own film. Other than that, I read and read and read and watched and watched and watched everything I could and developed my instinct and my take on the world. I knew my producer husband would surround me with wonderfully capable technicians whom I could lean on as I focused on what I wanted to say and what story I wanted to tell by learning to trust my gut instinct.
What did your parents say when you decided to take up movies as your career?
My parents were a bit bewildered at first. At the time I decided I wanted to direct, I was also being offered a position in an international girl-band. I had two decades of singing behind me, but almost no movie-making experience as yet. So when I chose movies over singing, I think they were initially scared for me. It has taken five years from that point to actually get on a film set and call ‘cut’. But my parents are incredible people. I know everyone says that but mine really are. They give me rock solid support. In fact, when I was applying to Cambridge for Anthropology, my mother asked me, “Wait, are you sure you don’t want to go to drama school instead?” I said, “No. I want to study social sciences. I want to learn about humanity first. Then let’s see if I have something to say.”
You have acted in this movie. Tell us more about it.
Shooting a movie on locations in Mumbai is tougher than anyone can imagine. During our first schedule we were hit with various problems like the threat of strike action and due to that, we lost the actress I had cast as she could not give us new dates. I had no intention of being in the film myself but couldn’t find a replacement in time. It was one of the hardest things – to direct and act at the same time. Thankfully it was a small part that took only two days!
You have acted in this movie. But still I would like to ask this question. Why direction? Why not acting debut first?
I like acting but I think I am better at directing. I mean if you can be the one with the overall vision for the script, the camera and the actors and you can say something you want to about life and an incredible city, then I figure you’d want to direct more than anything else. I love working with actors and in Bombairiya we have some of the very best young talents around. I love holding on to all the details of the world you’re creating, how costume, art and production design can help make it come alive, it is for me an extreme form of joy.
Tell us more about your debut movie Bombairiya. What made you take up this subject and why this name?
When a friend of ours told us the tale of how she had her phone snatched and how she spent the day trying to persuade the thief to give it back, I knew we were onto something exciting that could only be set in the city of Mumbai. What made it magical was the fact that the thief started picking up her calls including one from her father and suddenly got wrapped up in her personal life. From those real life incidents, we developed Bombairiya, an ode to this mad city and the kinds of strangers that collide and connect in it over 24 hours. They start off as enemies (bairiya) and end up being dragged into a larger story where they need to stick together and become a team. The film has all the elements we associate with the city – films, the police, politics and the underworld. But I think the way we’ve shot it and captured the city is really fresh and I’m hopeful the film will amuse people in a surprising, fast-paced, funny and whimsical way.
When is this movie releasing?
We shoot the last few days in December which is cool as there is a Christmas element in the story. Then with editing, music and post-production, it should be ready by end March and could release by April or May 2016 depending on the distributor’s plans. We are in talks with a number of potential partners and I am hopeful we will finalize one that sees Bombairiya in the same space as Delhi Belly or Vicky Donor and can get us a good number of screens. I love films that entertain and have set out to amuse myself totally with this film so I hope it is given the chance to reach as large an audience as possible on maybe 1000 screens – I think I’d be happy with that!
Have you begun working on any new project?
I am working on a film about two people who meet through music and create songs together. They are both in other relationships. I am torn between acting in it and directing it. As a director, I will consider projects that I have not necessarily written myself. Then there are several international projects that my husband Michael (Ward) is involved with as a writer and producer so maybe I will get involved in one of those as he has told me he values my frank opinion!
What do you do when not directing a movie?
I watch movies non-stop, I try to keep fit through exercise and I do riyaaz because I also love to sing. I enjoy casting for other movies and feel there is a great need for someone to fill in the gap between understanding the director’s requirements and the script and unlocking an actor’s potential. My other plans include writing a novel someday. I am currently into African literature and basically love discovering other points of view. Someone once said that understanding different points of view does not dilute or take away from my own understanding but simply enriches it. I agree with that and will let my curiosity about ‘the other’ continue to inform me about myself.