Director Abhinav Shiv Tiwari on his film Oass that’s created a buzz in the festival circuit
Filmmaker Abhinav Shiv Tiwari, director of Oass, is back in Mumbai after an emotional rollercoaster ride at the Mumbai, Chennai and Bangalore international film festivals. Oass, one of the finest films to have premiered at the festivals this season, tells us the story of Kiku, a little girl sold at the age of 11 or 12 but never gave up hope. The hard-hitting film on child-trafficking and prostitution had taken five difficult years of research and 23 disturbing days of shoot, the filmmaker admits in an interview.
“I always wanted to tell stories. I had planned to become a wild life filmmaker, but when I applied to the Forest Research Institute, Dehra Dun, I got turned down,” he laughs.
The pressure of education
Always an average student, Abhinav believes that the education system puts too much of pressure on students to replicate everything they had “learnt over a year within a span of a few hours”.
He started out assisting directors in Delhi in the late 1990s. “I used to clean the floors and co-ordinate with the actors, the costumes… Slowly, I took on responsibility and was elevated to first AD when I finally started participating creatively and handling shoots when seniors were not around.” He was assisting Manmohan Singh Manna, a filmmaker who made a lot of documentaries for Doordarshan, when Abhinav thought he was ready. In 2001, he started Celluloid Storytellers with a friend in Delhi, but those were days of struggle. After an argument with a TV channel over a game show for children, he began to get disillusioned.
“I had dropped out of college after the second year. So I promised my mother I would finish college after I had made my first film. I had this conversation with her in the middle of the night. Early morning, I was off to Mumbai. That was 10 years ago — precisely on January 2, 2003, I drove down with my car filled with books and clothes.” And, Mumbai rewarded him with good projects. He did a series of fiction films for Yamuna Action Plan for the Delhi government.
“I was associate director of The Last Monk in 2005. With the same producer, I did a short film as an associate director. Akhnoor, an Indo-Belgian co-production, was a short on the exodus of Kashmiri pandits. I then shot for Corentine’s Quest, a docu-fiction in Ladakh. The moment I finished shooting, I got an offer for doing a short film for the United Nations. I was almost ready with my first screenplay, but the moment I met this girl for the UN film, I realised I had to make that my first film.”
He met a girl who was rescued from brothels at 15. “What was most surprising for me was that despite all the hell she went through for five years in different brothels and finally having options, she chose to stay back and work with the NGO to rescue girls like her. She chose to stay back to make it easier for others to walk out.”
Sukant Panigrahi, production designer of Chak De and Gangajal, was the first to get on board. “I wanted it to be a performance-based film. I concentrated on getting actors from the National School of Drama and made Delhi my base again. I met Yashpal Sharma, Priyanka Bose, Jameel Khan and Subrat Dutta. Yashpal and Priyanka had reservations and required convincing because of the horrific nature of the content.”
The toughest to cast was for the role of Kiku. “I wasn’t comfortable casting a minor. We weren’t finding the right kind until we came across this girl from North East India. Divya Chhetri was camera-friendly but her dialogue delivery seemed awkward. So I asked my writer Aparajit Shukla if we could do anything about her lines and keep it to the minimal. He said we could do it if I was convinced she was the girl.” Divya reached Delhi the very next day with her mother to attend the acting workshop with veteran actor VK Sharma.
“The day we shot the multiple-rape sequence, I was emotionally drained out.” It was also a physically tiring shoot since they were shooting in real locations in the thick of Delhi winter with temperatures dipping to zero. “My cinematographer Viraj Singh shot the film on 5D because space is a constraint when you are shooting in real locations. We shot the film in 23 days, including six days in Nepal.”
A woman’s sensitivity
Abhinav roped in a senior French editor Pascal Chavance to edit his film. “I wanted a European female editor because she would understand the sensitivity of the subject and also bring a European sensibility to the film. I was looking for an editor who would work like a butcher.”
Amrit Pritam, Resul Pookutty’s partner, went back to Delhi to record sounds from the brothels for the ambience noise. The film was shot in sync sound by Anita Kushuaha. Louis Banks agreed to do the music, and British colourist Rob Lang came on board for the grading.
“I wanted to make a film that was honest without any gimmicks. I wanted Oass not to be about the girl, but her approach.”