Amira Bhargava, mentored by Zoya Akhtar makes it to Doha Children's Film Festival
Zoya Akhtar's protege Amita Bhargava's debut film about a flower seller with a hearing disability makes it to a Doha children's film festival
Amira Bhargava first met mentor Zoya Akhtar on the sets of Dil Dhadakne Do, while assisting her. This was in 2013. Since that film was two years in the making, the two had enough time to realise they shared a bond. Akhtar saw a protégé in Bhargava, and mentored her for her first film, a short titled Aamer. The story follows a hearing impaired boy, trying to make a living as a flower-seller on the streets of Mumbai. The film, having done the rounds of festivals in Chicago and France, besides India, is now ready to screen at the Ajyal Youth Festival in Doha at the Journey Into Life section which is known to explore stories about children and young adults. This year, more than 100 films from over 43 countries are being screened at the ongoing festival. Bhargava's debut is themed on sound, and is interestingly a silent film, "up until one point", as she says. "Aamer's mother is trying to put aside from her measly income, some money to buy him a hearing aid.
But once he discovers Mumbai through the hearing aid, the chaos and din of the city starts playing havoc with his senses," she says. Bhargava, who was familiar with Akhtar's style of working, found a helpful and insightful mentor in her. "Zoya will never tell you what to do or not. Instead, she will make you ask certain questions. I'd end up finding solutions to my own problems. She taught me how to trust myself - that is vital for any first-time director," says the 28-year-old. The film was shot over three days on the city's streets, right from Sassoon Dock, to Worli and Dadar flower market. "We tried guerilla-style shooting; there were no sets, only real
locations. Of course, it was not possible for Zoya to accompany me since she is recognised. It may have interfered with the filming process," Bhargava adds.
The lead actor is a boy named Pawan Mandakale, from Salaam Balak Trust in Andheri. Bhargava had auditioned a number of children, especially from those who perform in ads, but was not satisfied. "They were talented, but I was not finding what I was looking for. I needed a certain kind of sweetness and vulnerability rolled into one. Having not met with any luck until that point, one day, I thought of trying my luck at Salaam Balak Trust. I walked into the Andheri shelter and the process was really smooth. I auditioned a few boys from there, and Pawan emerged as a clear choice. In fact, he was the first boy who smiled at me at the gate. I knew right then, that he was my Aamer." Bhargava conducted a series of workshops with him to get him comfortable in front of the camera. "Working with a child in your first film is a challenge and at the same time, a uniquely fulfilling experience."
Bhargava's tryst in movies began "just like Zoya's film, Luck By Chance". She moved to Mumbai within a week of graduating from St Stephen's College, Delhi, seven years ago. "I wanted to be in the movie business since I was 15, but, I never had a plan chalked out. And, I didn't go to film school either. After I moved to Mumbai, I managed to be at the right place at the right time. My first break came with Kahaani, where I got a chance to be a part of the post production team. That opened doors to many more opportunities with some of the best names in the industry. And here I am."
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