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On a lonely, long road


London based actor, writer and director, Ashvin Kumar's short film, `Road to Ladakh' is packed with an interesting story, vibrant visuals and soothing music. A tete-e-tete with the director.

THIS IS neither the title of a National Geographic programme nor a sequel to the Ram Gopal Varma production, `Road'. And just in case you think this is a documentary, it is not that either. It's a short film — 50 minutes to be precise and it has a tale to tell. In the bleak, wild and stormy landscape of Ladakh. Pretty much in line with what the director, writer and editor of the film wants to tell his audience. A story of two people in search of that `something elusive' that makes for a complete whole. It's also an encounter — of people who come from divergent backgrounds and are thrown together by chance.

With Irrfan Khan (of the The Warrior fame) and Koel Purie (Everybody Says I'm Fine), who are the ones in the main frames, the film is like a picture postcard — vibrant visuals (Markus Huersch) and some haunting strains of the guitar (Susmit Sen), but not much to debate on. You can even call it an indulgence though going by what the cast and crew have been through, shooting in the sometimes inhospitable terrain of Ladakh, it was hardly that. It was tough, to say the least. But then its been made. And why? UK based director Ashvin Kumar will tell us.

Ashvin, who has worked as an actor and then director in theatre, forayed into films as an editor. For six years, he edited, produced, acted and directed plays, short films, commercials and music videos, as well as set up and ran a digital editing studio in Delhi. He moved to London in 2001, where he briefly attended the London Film School, during which time he wrote, directed and produced short films. In addition, he wrote two feature films called `Cricket' and `Samir — the terrorist'. `Road to Ladakh' is his first hour-long feature film.

As you react to the film with its own genre of narration, Ashvin Kumar takes time to talk about this venture, which he will be taking to several film festivals worldwide in the short film or special films categories. He is also seeking distribution/ representation at major international television markets.

Why did he choose Ladakh?

"Well it is a product of the script. It has got nothing to do with me wanting to make either a political statement, as has been suggested in a few screenings before, or wanting to be dramatic. The script demanded, my characters demanded that because of the state of mind they were in, I needed a place that could echo their mental state visually, which I think Ladakh does extremely well. It is lonely, far out and so realistic. And that is the sort of pendulum my characters are going through when they are taking this road journey and I thought very hard about what road journey would be suitable for this. It could have been set in deepest Madhya Pradesh as well.

In Ladakh, the characters do take on; there is a latent and subtle political reference. It's not even political, it sort of refers to some kind of activity, whether it's political or motivated by personal vendetta, we don't know. And I'd like to leave it at that.

Why did he make a short film? Why not a full length feature film?

First, because I needed to make a short film. Close on the heels of that decision came the idea of a lonely man and a mission. And it was also the awareness that if you want to make it to the international film circuit, you should make a short film. Right? "Well yes,'' he answers emphatically. "Nobody backs you unless you have done something. The idea of making this film was need based.'' And did he always want to make films? "I wanted to act. I started as a stage actor while in my teens. Later turned to directing plays, and then films. After that took to writing a film. And now...'' he trails off. It seems to be a natural progression to films? "If I were left to myself, I would still be an actor. But I realised that being an actor doesn't really pay. So, I switched to something that is more lucrative. Films may not be a safe career choice, but theatre is also not.'' Has he ever considered making feature films? "Feature films are what I want to make. Short films are just a stepping-stone. In fact, I don't understand the short films genre. They are usually not more than 10 minutes. But I chose to make a 50-minute film to provide depth to the subject.

What kind of feature films would he like to make? "In India?" He asks puzzled. And then continues, "I love the place and the people. I am talking as if I am a foreigner". A lot of Indians based in the West are now making films that are different but based on the Indian ethos. "I use India as my laboratory. I come here for inspiration, go back to London and start writing for my films. I also watch at least 14 films a week. When I am writing, I see lot of films. I don't derive any stimulation while working in London, but arranging for resources, finance and distribution is easier there. I don't think I want to make a film outside as I feel I have not even touched the surface of this country."

Has he seen Ram Gopal Varma's `Road'? "No, I haven't watched a film for the last six months. I want to see `Company', `Road' and `Mr. and Mrs. Iyer'".

Any filmmaker whom he admires? "Satyajit Ray. He is incomparable. But I have not seen the works of a lot of Indian filmmakers like Adoor Gopalakrishnan. I have seen only a few films of Mani Ratnam."

"I expect `Road to Ladakh' to do reasonably well in various film festivals. I wish to sell the film to some television channel.''

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