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This once-shy assistant director from Arunachal Pradesh wants to work with Sanjay Leela Bhansali one day

From a self-confessed reticent student, this School of Journalism and Mass Communication alumna has evolved into a confident communicator and talented filmmaker



She grew up in a small state in North East India where filmmaking is still at a nascent stage. During her course at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the Apeejay Stya University, Kipa Ayu realised she had a proclivity for screen-writing. Encouraged by her teachers and her Dean, the once reticent girl has evolved into a confident communicator who has forayed the North East film industry as assistant director. In an interview, she talks about screen-writing, her favourite filmmakers and how she would love to work with renowned filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali one day. Edited excerpts:

Did you always want to be in the field of filmmaking when you were young?

Not really, after my class 12, I wasn’t sure of what I wanted to do. My parents wanted me to pursue a career in the government and appear for the Civil Services exam. But I didn’t want to do it at that time. I didn’t want to emulate what my other friends were pursuing either: Subjects like Honours courses in History or Geography. I used to do a lot of writing during school. Also, I wanted to break away from the convention and do something different: So I chose to pursue a Bachelors in Journalism and Mass Communication.

Tell us about your experience at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Apeejay Stya University?

Since I wanted to pursue journalism, I Googled this institute in Haryana with good ratings called the Apeejay Stya University. I went there and met the staff and took an instant liking for them. So, I decided to study there. When I joined the School of Journalism and Mass Communication (SJMC), I wasn’t sure whether I would go on to make films one day. I was a voracious reader and also liked watching watching documentaries on Discovery. Journalism college was my first introduction to the world of news. Although news was interesting, I was a student with average communication skills. I had a tough time during panel discussions, debates, reporting classes or even communicating with my teachers. I was the only student from the North-East in my class. I never liked being at the centre of attention in a group of people. I guess my calling was getting behind the camera and not in front of it. So, I never considered being a television anchor unlike many of my classmates.  And when the subject of film studies was introduced, I came into my own. From a very young age, I liked the idea of creating something. Writing is something I enjoy. Writing for cinema is communicating your vision to the audience and so is direction.

How did the teachers in journalism school help you find your calling?

Yes, here I must mention Sabiha Farhat Ma’am, who taught us us film studies. I loved what she taught us about the history of films, French New Wave cinema and watching the movies that she recommended. Later we were introduced to screen-writing. Although I was shy in the class till then, once I wrote a script, the teacher told me she really liked what I’d written. From then on, I began getting appreciated for the projects I was completing. College was much more than classroom lectures.  Sabiha Ma’am really encouraged me and told me that I could go into films if I wanted. Apart from her, Swapnil Sir and Avijit Sir gave me great recommendations for cinema and took us to film festivals which was really exciting. Also, our Dean, Sanjay Ahirwal Sir, really encouraged me and said: “It’s okay if you don’t want to do news. If you want to pursue films, go ahead and do it.” This was a confidence-booster for me and now I am the second assistant director for my second feature film. With time, and the encouragement of the faculty, my confidence levels grew. I must say my teachers helped me a lot in this regard.

Please tell us about your foray into the North-East film industry?

The shooting for my second film called Sangi-Gai will finish in November. It is a film in the local language of my home state Arunachal Pradesh, directed by Nyago Ete. It is the first big budget movie being shot here. The story has some elements of sci-fi in it and traverses two different historical eras: the 19th century and the 21st century. Films are a new phenomenon in Arunachal Pradesh. This is the first film with a proper department for everything from writing, to lighting. This is something new for films in my home state.  For my internship, I had reached out to a number of filmmakers to assist them. That is how I got this assignment.

Now that you are making a career in cinema, who are the filmmakers that you find impressive?

Internationally I like this South Korean filmmaker called Park Chan Wook. His films usually have a lot of dark humour. I have watched one of his films called The Handmaiden and enjoyed it immensely. The story of the film is about a woman who is hired as a handmaiden to a Japanese heiress, but she is involved in a devious plot. It is a story with a lot of deception, twists and turns. Since I like films that surprise the audience, it was a lot of fun watching The Handmaiden . Closer home I love watching the films of Sanjay Leela Bhansali. I like the way he presents historicals and the grand scale on which he mounts his films and of course the resplendent, colourful costumes. He portrays Indian culture in a beautiful manner. Given a chance, I would like to assist Mr Bhansali one day.

What are your long-term career plans?

Although I am assisting a director at present, I am not sure whether I will want to be a director or a film writer. Screen-writing is something that excites me. One thing I am sure of is that I am not a person who enjoys being in front of the camera. Which is why I didn’t choose to be a television anchor or a TV journalist. I would certainly continue to enjoy staying behind the camera and conveying my vision to the audience whether it is through my writing or film direction.

Aasheesh Sharma is a seasoned journalist with an experience of more than 25 years spread over newspapers, news agencies, magazines and television. He has worked in leadership positions in media groups such as Hindustan Times, India Today, Times of India, NDTV, UNI and IANS. He is a published author and his essay on the longest train journey in India was included in an anthology of writings on the railways, brought out by Rupa Publications. As the Editor of Apeejay Newsroom, he is responsible for coverage of the latest news and developments in the Apeejay institutions. He can be reached at [email protected]. He tweets @Aasheesh74