mid-day's 39th anniversary: Chembur ki Ashwiny

Updated: Jun 29, 2018, 09:35 IST | Mayank Shekhar

Her first film won her a Filmfare, her second earned her commercial success. And she is already one of Bollywood's most promising filmmakers

mid-day's 39th anniversary: Chembur ki Ashwiny
Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari says her grounding in advertising helps her balance the commercial and creative in cinema. Pic/Atul Kamble

Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari, 38

Hyphenated identity is Ashwini Iyer Tiwari's pet peeve. "Why is a woman always someone's someone?" she rightly asks. Filmmaker Nitesh Tiwari and wife Ashwiny, as she's often referred to, for instance. Rather than Ashwiny, hit director of Bareilly Ki Barfi (2017), and the critically acclaimed Nil Battey Sannata (2016), sitting on a two-film deal with Ekta Kapoor's studio, whose next is a comedy-drama with Alia Bhatt.

This could also be because she and her husband, both former advertising professionals, burst into the mainstream movie-scene almost simultaneously — Nitesh (Chillar Party; 2011 and Bhootnath; 2008) picked up a best director Filmfare for India's biggest blockbuster, Dangal (2016) the same year that Ashwiny bagged the black lady as best debutant director for Nil Battey Sannata.

They're also working partners — he's a "quintessential writer," she has an "arts background"; it's a "team." That said, they go about filmmaking like surgeons: "You can discuss surgery forever. But you have to perform it on your own."

They first met at Ghetto, the legendary resto-bar at Mahalaxmi. This warms our hearts already. He was with Lowe. She worked with Leo Burnett, the agency she had joined right after her commercial-arts degree from Sophia Polytechnic, and where she remained for a decade — until turning 30! By then, most of the world's work-force is deep into a monthly addiction stronger than heroin — the phone's beep announcing the salary-deposit.

Instead, Ashwiny picked up "her savings, gratuity, provident fund" to go freelance, and write her first film. She couldn't afford this luxury earlier, as an only child, growing up in Mulund, with middle-class parents, both of them teachers (mother, a school principal; father, a professor in plant-pathology). "I once told them I wanted to be a painter. They said that's for 'business people' [to pursue]! [Job] security was paramount."

What changed her life? A 45-second promo on the girl-child for Kaun Banega Crorepati that she worked on for her client, Sony Television: "The film's tag-line was, 'Badhai ho, ladki hui hai'. It was extremely powerful. I thought if a promo can do this; imagine the impact a feature on the subject could have."

She wrote Nil Battey Sannata, about the mother-daughter relationship, having only recently turned mom (of twins: a boy and girl) herself. To test her skills as director, she attempted a short film, What's For Breakfast Mom, that picked up a National Award, no less. At Delhi airport, returning from Nil Battey's tiring shoot, she chanced upon Nicolas Barreau's novel The Ingredients Of Love, and simply couldn't put it down. That led to Bareilly Ki Barfi.

The secret to her back-to-back success though, is possibly her grounding in advertising: "It teaches you to balance the left and right brain, creativity and commerce — the client in films being the producer, who puts in the money."

Also she keeps safe distance from Bollywood's hustle to remain creatively sane: "Much before a hundred people join the process, and you reach millions, eventually filmmaking, to start with, is a lonesome exercise."

This explains her lovely bungalow in a leafy, quiet, gated colony, close to RK Studio in the central suburb, where Raj Kapoor cemented his career in the '50s, while the rest of the film industry grew north-westwards — almost kissing Ahmedabad now. Which isn't to say Ashwini doesn't encounter that quizzical look from filmies over where she lives: "Chembur?" Yup.

Before I turn 40, I want to 
Watch Federer play Wimbledon.

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