'Soni' goes to Venice: Director Ivan Ayr’s film debut

The synopsis of Soni — two Delhi policewomen dealing with the growing violent crimes against women — makes one reflexively think of gender and the sorority of women. However, filmmaker Ivan Ayr (his nom de plume)on a long distance call from San Jose, is quick to put things in perspective about the film that will have its world première in the Orizzonti Competition section at the Venice International Film Festival later this month. “Gender is the premise. It is one of the things the film looks at. The subject is live in the backdrop but my intent has been to go deeper… it is not something I wanted to beat in the head with a stick.”

His characters are not victims nor did he want to glorify them; the two extremes are what he finds our cinema always veering towards. Instead, he wanted to portray simple, regular women, show their aspirations, weaknesses and strengths. In that sense Ayr refers to Soni as a character study.

Ayr elaborates on how he wanted to explore the ‘human-ness’ of the two characters caught in a certain situation. He wanted the audience to grapple with the moral dilemmas such a moment would have thrown at them. Gender plays a role to the extent that the two protagonists are women but the film could have been about two men as well.

Muted emotions

At a deeper level, Soni is about the power imbalance intrinsic in our society, even in the supposedly empowered sections like law-enforcers. “The assumption is that if they are female cops they will be in a position of power, they won’t be susceptible to everyday crimes that other women face,” says Ayr. But is that really so? “It’s about how we may have the power to curb the menace but could ourselves be targets.”

'Soni' goes to Venice: Director Ivan Ayr’s film debut

The film was inspired by “the unspeakable incidents that brought Delhi under the spotlight of shame”. But Ayr says it is not a kneejerk reaction to the Nirbhaya rape case of 2012. “May be the seed was sown then but it took time to settle in the subconscious.”

The cop’s point of view is the pivot. “People in uniform are supposed to keep emotions in check and enforce the law,” he says. But what of the emotional tussle, the rage within? For him, the vantage point of the police is crucial for the broader view of the situation on ground and a closer look at reality. “A police station is where the actual weaknesses of a society are in full display,” adds Ayr who has worked with first time actors for Soni. It took him six months to find Geetika Vidya Ohlyan and Saloni Batra, who play the lead roles. “I didn’t want a casting director to present me with a pool of actors; I wanted to audition as many professional and non-professional actors as I could.”

Single take

We go on to talk about the technicalities of filmmaking. There is a story but not a typical three-act screenplay. One thing leads to another but there are no plot twists, no expectations. There are silences to offer both the characters and the viewers pauses for reflection. Each scene has been shot in one take; all for realism, to make it seem credible. “I wanted to stay in a particular space and time with the characters, without the intrusion of cuts. I wanted them to react organically to things within that frame,” says Ayr.

Filmmaking has been a passion fuelled on the side for him, beyond the day job of technical writing. Home is Chandigarh and he keeps returning from the US to spend 2-3 months in India every year. An electrical engineer by training, Ayr had always been interested in writing and he started taking short courses in literature and history. He vividly remembers a class on adapting novels to screenplays that piqued his interest in particular: “It showed me how cinema has its own language,” says Ayr.

On Soni

'Soni' goes to Venice: Director Ivan Ayr’s film debut

The film’s idea occurred to him in 2014 and he kept building on the characters while parallely making shorts. The pre-production started in November 2016, which is when he spent a lot of time with Delhi police personnel, observing the daily grind, the dynamics and hierarchies within. Ayr kept revising the script until the end of January 2017 and shot in a 24-day schedule in Delhi in February.

Soni was picked by the Work In Progress Lab of National Film Development Corporation’s Film Bazaar in November last year where it got further refined under the mentorship of renowned French editor Jacques Comets and veteran director, Marco Mueller.

Ayr thinks that had it not been for the Film Bazaar, Soni would not have got the kind of attention it did, especially from the international delegates, festival programmers and curators. “It gave a big push towards the place we find ourselves in today,” he says, hoping to take the City of Canals by storm.

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2021 9:17:50 AM |

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