You may have heard about the film Bareilly Ki Barfi. The word of mouth is hardly hyperbole, and the reason – apart from its actors, which includes a sublime, and at times not so subtle but still quite deep performance by Rajkummar Rao and Ayushmann Khurrana – is its director Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari.
Bareilly Ki Barfi is Ashwiny’s third film as director, though, storywise it could be her second. Her first film, Nil Battey Sannata (NBS), received quite a bit of critical acclaim. Enough to impress the 62nd Filmfare Award’s jury where she won Best Debut Director.
Later last year, she remade Nil Battey Sannata in Tamil as Amma Kanakku; she is originally from Kerala, she tells me during our conversation on the phone.
The film – which I confess I have yet to see – is about the sometimes difficult mother-daughter relationship, especially when the daughter is in her rebellious-teenage phase.
“A lot of people told me that they have seen NBS in Pakistan,” she tells me, as we begin our conversation. I suspected video piracy and torrents to be culprits. In this case, though, because the film didn’t officially release in Pakistan, it could be counted as a fluke that resulted in a merry opportunity.
“The film was conceived while (I was) working on a campaign for Kaun Banega Crorepati,” Ashwiny tells.
Owing to the fact that a Tamil remake of the film was made in that same year, does one’s enthusiasm dip down shooting a variation of the same film, I ask. “I wouldn’t say that it’s a lack of enthusiasm, because I am making a movie that I want to make.”
Does the difference in language result in changes, I enquire? “The emotions were universal, so that doesn’t change, but the cultural context, the way its set-up, how the relationship (evolves) or what it means to characters, (that is what adapts),” she shares. “The universality of the theme would work anywhere in the world”, she clarifies, “whether it’s China or anywhere else. That’s the type of story it is. The reaction would be the same.”
Before becoming a director, Ashwiny used to be an Executive at the creative department of an ad-agency. She is married to Nitesh Tiwari, whose directorial résumé includes Chillar Party, Bhoothnath Returns and Dangal. I deliberately didn’t bring up her husband in the conversation; this is, of course, her spotlight.
As we talked, Ashwiny’s voice on the phone dropped every now and then because of the connection. Still, she reminded me of someone I knew. There is that striking familiarity of sorts, even though this was the first time we were speaking.
The feeling resonated when I saw Bareilly, a few days later, where Ashwiny tries a different genre.
The film is “a quirky love story, about a small town girl,” she says, describing her lead actress’s character as “kind of different from the norm. Kind of different from what people tend to expect; one who finally finds the right guy.”
That is putting it mildly. Bitti, the film’s lead, is a girl who is a bit on the wild side. She smokes (sometimes), hails from a vegetarian family, but eats chicken, and gulps down alcohol when no one is looking. Bitti is played by Kriti Sanon, whom we interviewed in MAG when her film Dilwale released, but her schedule this time didn’t have wiggle room to accommodate us.
Apart from Kriti, however, the film also stars Ayushmann and Rajkummar – and one can feel a particular dynamic between the two.
“Right from the very beginning we decided that each character would stand out in their individual way. I did not want one person to stand out, I wanted everyone to stand out,” Ashwiny tells me.
She wants her film and its characters to be unique, diverse and still be relatable. The kind of films Hrishikesh Mukherjee used to make, whose work she loves.
“I always made sure that I didn’t have a predictable way of showing a character,” she elaborates. “I always wanted to make movies that I could relate to. The ones where the audience goes aisa toh humaray saath bhi hosakta hai,” she says. “For me that is very important”.
While discussing her take on filmmaking as a director, Ashwiny tells me, about her willingness to listen to people associated with the film.
“I need to understand what they are going through, and what their nature is,” she says talking about her actors and crew. “So I work around this.”
“When I work on a film it’s a long journey, it’s important that all departments work as a family. I talk a lot and we hold a lot of conversations. What happens on set (or on location) is very different (from what one pre-plans),” she attests, a fact all filmmakers can relate to.
Has she seen Pakistani films or dramas, I ask. “I have watched Zindagi channel,” she says – a source people in India had to make-do with, until it too shared the fate of Pakistani movies… of being banned without logical reason.
Artistes and filmmakers, at least the ones I have interviewed from Bollywood in the past, are above that.
Learning about the recent resurrection of the Pakistani industry, she told me to pass on her regards. “I would like to congratulate artists and filmmakers on the recent new wave of Pakistani cinema, and encourage them to make more and more films,” she expresses.
Ashwiny also sends her love and regards to the Pakistani people, hoping they would see and appreciate her film. •