‘Racism has interested me from my college days’ A scene from Lucky, which made as much an impression as the original short film of the same name
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ignore the script and open out scenes with as much
improvisation as possible. I wanted scenes to feel energized
and real and so set them up with big headers and long tails,
always keeping an eye on what I wanted. The shooting style
matched this. It was all hand held — often walking, sometimes running and invariably falling. My cameraman and
designer set up a sense of chaos and looseness that was
exhilarating at times.
Once wrapped, we edited for close to six months, mostly
because we had no assistants or other support. It was just
the editor and I doing a final cut in my house as my two
boys played in the next room. Slow and painstaking, but we
both got to know the rushes very well. The last creative
stages were done in South Africa with a meticulous sound
team who were Foley artists one day and mixers the next.
You are in so much in love with writing and directing
films. Why didn’t you go into films directly?
I grew up in a middle-class family in England; my father
was a general practitioner and my mother, a homemaker. I
was the middle of three boys. My older brother is a doctor.
There was family pressure for me to be a doctor. I did not
know anything about making films. Though I have been
making video films from my high school years, and I was
obsessed with Star Wars, I just did not have any idea how
to raise money to make films. I did not come from a creative, artistic family like many filmmakers do. And when I
was preparing for medical school, my father became very
ill. And my own problems did not seem big or important.
But I kept learning about films. During my high school, I
had an opportunity to study in America and the program
was linked with MIT. I got to see plenty of American classics at MIT, including the movies by Orson Welles.
I made my first short film with my own little money, but
$1,000 was a big amount for me. Soon I was making films
that were going to small film festivals like the Edinburgh
Fringe Film Festival. Among the early films I made,
Somewhere Else, dealt with race and identity.
But I was also getting interested in medicine and psychi-
atry was going to be my calling. Psychiatry has empathy for
the human condition and a belief in describing and chang-
ing it, which overlaps heavily with film. And that is why I
am still practicing psychiatry.
I have been very lucky to work, either as a writer or a filmmaker with many talented artists of Indian origin in
America, India and the UK. For instance, the Indian
retelling of one of the episodes in Chaucer’s Tales that I
wrote starred Om Puri, Nitin Ganatra and Indira Verma. It
was called Sea Captain’s Tale. That was a BBC production
The next year, I wrote another TV production, Indian
Dream, which went on to win BBC’s Dennis Potter Award.
This was basically an Ealing comedy about an asylum seeker, but more about the romance of England as seen by an
Indian man. Surender loses his passport and is arrested by
British customs as an illegal immigrant. Afraid he will be
sent to a detention center, he takes flight ending up in the
picturesque village of Sedgton. He discovers that the local
amateur dramatic society is missing a Puck for its production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. So, he pretends to be
the local doctor’s cousin, auditions for the part and gets it
Soon I was also directing my own scripts. In 2006, I was
nominated for a BAFTA for Lucky, which was also short-listed for an Oscar in 2007. In 2009, I completed my first
feature film Mad, Sad And Bad, which premiered at the
British Gala, Edinburgh Film Festival and was released in
cinemas that year. This was a foray into contemporary lives
in mixed race couples and was as much about sex and love
as it was about race. It was a key learning curve for me as a
director and helped me prepare for the challenges of a bigger, more emotional film like Lucky.
What do you expect the audiences in South Africa and the
audiences worldwide take from Lucky?
I hope they will find it moving and thought provoking,
but I really don’t know. A filmmaker makes a film that
inspires him/herself first and then thinks about the audience. If you don’t do that, then you will always be lost to
some idea of some abstract audience who, invariably, will
be more intelligent and cleverer than anything you can