Nurturing the Auteur/Artist: Teaching Filmmaking with a Difference - In Discussion with Filmmaker and Film Educationalist Oorvazi Irani

A Potpourri of Vestiges Exclusive
Filmmaker/Film Educationalist, Oorvazi Irani
Filmmaker and Film Educationalist Oorvazi Irani
Oorvazi Irani, the young and dynamic director of 'The Path of Zarathustra', talked to 'A Potpourri of Vestiges' about her upcoming film course 'Filmmaking For Beginners' that's starting next month while sharing her experiences as a filmmaker and a film educationalist. Oorvazi, who has made riveting short films like the intense "The K File" and the surreal "Mamaiji", likes to introduce herself as an artist at the core of all the roles she plays which include being a filmmaker, a film educationalist, an acting coach, and a film critic. She believes each role significantly gives and takes from the others, creating a new dimension to her work which is challenging and at the same time very satisfying. She is the Director of her home media production company SBI Impresario Pvt. Ltd. incorporated by her father Sorab Irani in 1975. She has been involved with international critically acclaimed film projects and with her company projects - research, production, direction

Filmmaker/Film Educationalist Oorvazi Irani


Here is a summary of the Q&A session we had with the talented filmmaker:

Q). Oorvazi, you come from a family which shares a deep bond with cinema. Your father is an accomplished film producer. Tell us what made you to take up filmmaking as a career?

A). As you rightly mention I share a deep bond with cinema, my dad Sorab Irani before forming his own company in 1975 started his career as General Manager of Himalaya Films, a production & distribution company of Shri Chetan Anand, Dev Anand and Vijay Anand. During his term in office he produced three major multi-starrer Hindi feature films: “Kudrat”, “Saheb Bhadur” & “Hum Rahe Na Hum”. However he is essentially an artist, a musician trained in Hindustani Classical Music who has been a part of the ‘60s Rock Music Revolution spear headed by the Beatles. As the Chairman and Managing Director of his company he has produced over the past 5 decades many critically acclaimed films for Indian and European markets including Channel Four Television and BBC, London. So as a kid I was use to seeing dad going on shoots and use to tag along in fact I remember as a kid I use to write Hindi poetry and one of my poems was very close to be selected for inclusion in a Channel Four documentary and was appreciated by the English Director but it was thought not being apt according to the taste of the Commissioning Editor so there went my chances of being part of a big film as an artist at that tender age. However my professional involvement started when I was in college in Jaihind and my first project was as an assistant director for a major 6 part channel Four series on Lord Ram “The Ramayana: A Journey” produced and directed by my dad which also had released a series book and music soundtrack. Working so closely with dad and being a Director of the company I was the spot boy and the boss at the same time and I learnt from the school of hard knocks. So joining my company and being part of making films just flowed, it was like a natural choice. 

But after a few projects I felt I also need an individual identity and life took me to various avenues till I landed up teaching films by default and that’s when I really discovered my love for cinema and it opened me up to a different world of auteurs and slowly the passion for films grew. In the meantime dad and myself had drifted away from making films and then in 2011 one day we decided to get back to filmmaking with the advent of digital technology and I started my exploration as a filmmaker as an artistic pursuit. So to answer your question it was a joint decision by dad and myself that I should start making films which were produced by my company banner and my first short film was “Mamaiji” in 2011 when dad bought me the Canon 5 D mark ii and recently I released my debut feature film “The Path of Zarathustra” as Director, Producer (Produced with my dad) and Actor as a PVR Directors Rare in 5 cities in India and Sony released the dvd of same. What makes me proud is that as a Parsi I was successful to give such a niche artistic film revolving around my small dwindling community and ancient faith a commercial platform and release it in theatres and muscled my way through with big Bollywood and Hollywood blockbusters, a simple honest film and effort stood face to face with big brute capital.

The Path of Zarathustra - OfficialTrailer

Q). They say that filmmaking is one of the toughest professions around, if not the toughest. Please take us through your journey thus far as a filmmaker.

A). Filmmaking is as satisfying as it is challenging and yes compared to the other arts as an artist I feel it takes so much more to make a film and on the sets its always crisis management, and to get it started it’s so much money, so much collaboration, so much time but then the high of making a film is also so much more. One film can put you in the spotlight which in any other field might take you years to accomplish. 

But besides that being a filmmaker I have realized that there is a very beautiful aspect to it that you leave behind a small part of you in every creation and also the films are a reflection of who you are. So the journey as a filmmaker is not only about getting the money and the crew and cast together but finding that unique subject and idea that you want to make your film about. So your body of work is a deeper mirror to who you are and sometimes finding the right idea is the toughest part because that is what ignites me to want to make the film.

For me when I wanted to make a film I asked myself do I have something to share with the world which is unique and it took me within myself – I feel the most unique and truthful place for an artist to start is within herself, her dreams, her beliefs, her family, her religion, her gender and my first film turned out to be a cinematic portrait on my grandmother but I discovered it quite by accident one day while brainstorming with my cousin about an idea for a travelogue on the Parsi community. We were suddenly excited about my grandmother being a presenter but soon realized she was too old to travel extensively. Then I paused, what if I make a short film on my grandmother; she is such an interesting character and has so many facets to herself which make her appealing. So I set about making the film which I am happy touched a chord with many of my audiences like Khalid Mohamed who loved the film and it got back memories of their own grandmother – Khalid describes the film as excellent, innovative and stylish and filled with warmth for a beautiful woman and he says wish he could have caught his own grandma before she passed away 12 years ago. But there were some audiences who could not relate to the film too, who said it should have been in the realist mode and this is a waste of time. But the most flattering compliment was the concluding line from Farrukh Dhondy, the renowned writer and erstwhile commissioning Editor of Channel Four TV, London “…If the Mona Lisa smiles so does Mamaiji”. This film becomes even more special to me today when my maternal grandma is no more and this is my way of keeping her alive forever. 
What is exciting for me as a filmmaker is the interplay of fiction and reality and the blurring of the two which I have been exploring in my films. Another interesting aspect is creating a unique cinematic world and you want your audience to live that experience. Cinema is not imitating life but a reflection on it and with my debut feature film “The Path of Zarathustra” I took the audience into another world that they know very little of which is the dwindling Parsi community and its ancient faith of Zoroastrianism and the first Prophet Zarathustra; its treatment and style is true to its theme and purpose. 


The Path of the Zarathustra, Movie Poster, Tom Alter


Q). There was a time the art of filmmaking was limited to a handful of influential people who could afford it. Today, we see more and more youngsters getting attracted to the profession. How do you think that has changed over the years?

A). Digital technology in the stages of creation and exhibition has really liberated the medium of cinema and in fact I like to believe that with technology being at its core cinema is the art form of the 21st century. And it has given so many young filmmakers the opportunity to make films but with this easy accessibility I also feel is a danger, there is an explosion of films and each filmmaker needs to pause and reflect on what they are contributing to cinema and society. 

Q). You teach filmmaking and have been mentoring students for years. What do you think is the best approach to groom the young filmmaking aspirations? Is there any specific quality that you look for in your students?

A). I come across young film students who claim to be very passionate about films and it’s their only goal in life to make films but unfortunately when they have to make a film they don’t have a clue about what they want to make; this is the first obstacle I have to help them cross. It’s like asking a running man on the road where are you going and he says, “Ah… I don’t know!” And I feel finding that truthful space from which to create is my most important task as a film teacher. But let me tell you filmmaking requires a lot of passion and you need to be preferably obsessive about it in a positive way. If you are casual and not driven you will never make a film. I am totally put off by students who lack initiative and are lazy, I feel they will find it very difficult and maybe never become filmmakers in the long run; maybe they don’t deserve to.

Oorvazi Irani with Minority Minister Dr. Najma Heptulla at the film premiere of The Path of Zarathustra
Oorvazi Irani with Minority Minister Dr. Najma Heptulla at the film premiere of The Path of Zarathustra
Q). You are both a filmmaker and a mentor. Tell us how tough it is for you to juggle between the two roles?

A). Deep down I think I identify with myself as an artist who is playfully trying to discover herself and the world around her. The beauty of what I do is that both my roles feed each other; they thrive on the beautiful relationship of creating and nurturing creators as one understands the other so well. I feel film is not a mere subject and each year I have all my students tell me how making a film has been the greatest learning in their two years and has taught them so much about life itself and that is the greatest compliment. What I thrive on as a film educationalist is when I can make my students learn as an experience and they discover knowledge, there is a great joy to it and a lasting impression. The best way to learn to create is to start creating and thus while I am teaching film we are right there most of the time in the midst of creation and discovering knowledge.

Q). Filmmaking is both art and science. How do you perceive it? Also, tell us what all factors need to be considered while designing a filmmaking course?

A). Filmmaking is an art, a craft, an industry, a livelihood and so much more but for me filmmaking is an opportunity to be part of a magical and empowering space where you play god, you can effect and stimulate thought, emotions, and trigger change. I feel it’s sacred in a way, it’s a coming together of history, culture, language, technology and in a way is a culmination of the older arts.

I feel you cannot teach somebody a subject like film it’s like teaching somebody about life, film is an alternate reality and what we can do is show the student the possibilities not tell them what is right and wrong, because there are no rules here. You can expose them to the history of cinema in terms of its language of cinema but you should be able to give them the freedom to make their mistakes and learn along the way and hopefully create their unique language. A filmmaking course should create a solid foundation of awareness of different styles and techniques and make them engage in the language of cinema and discover their unique voice. 

 A 32 hour, 4 weekend Filmmaking Course by Oorvazi Irani

Q). Tell us about the filmmaking course that you have devised for aspiring filmmakers and what it plans to achieve?

A). I aspire to nurture Auteurs, artists in cinema and not technicians who want to follow a craft so my approach is personalized and customized where I want to work with young aspiring filmmakers to help them find their path. I want to be able to blur the lines between knowledge and experience. I want them to open their horizons of ways of seeing and perception. I want to develop their keen awareness of the older arts and ask them to merge the boundaries. The best way to learn filmmaking is to make a film so I want them to make a film and use that as a playground to learn, to discover themselves anew and the magic of cinema. 

The Course includes:
  • Mentoring to make your own film
  • Understanding the language of cinema
  • Discovering the Artist in you
  • Studying your favourite filmmaker
  • Learning about cinema from India and the world
Q). There are many courses that claim to teach filmmaking. What makes your course stand out among the dozens of filmmaking courses available today? Also, how do you see yourself uniquely positioned for this role?

A). I want my course to be able to make the spirit soar and fly; for me the artist comes first and then the medium.

I feel the USP of my course is recognizing each student as a unique individual and trying to talk to them in the language they understand best and are excited about, meet their specific requirements. It's like saying someone understands Marathi but you insist on speaking to them in Hindi or you insist on speaking to some one from class 5 as a class 10 student, then you will not be effective in communicating with them. It's about getting to know what stimulates them and start from that point; it's about spending time to help them discover what they really want to express and share with the world, where do they belong and what is the wealth of their life and culture. It's not about a factory that wants to attract the maximum number of students with guest lectures and popular names, or impress them with fancy technology but it's about someone caring and sincerely being there and believing in the individual and helping them take their first critical steps towards a more meaningful approach to filmmaking. 
Filmmaker and Film Educationalist Oorvazi Irani (center) with her batch of graduating students
Filmmaker and Film Educationalist Oorvazi Irani (center) with her batch of graduating students
I am a filmmaker myself and thus understand the loneliness, the frustration, the joy and the high of wanting to make a film. As a educationalist I teach at the International Baccaulerate (IB), the subject of film at the SVKM International school, and I am also an IB Examiner at the world platform dealing with the age group of 16-18 yrs young aspiring filmmakers and I experience their failures and feel proud of their growth having witnessed their journey year after year. I feel I know what they need the most. So in my humble capacity as an artist I want to reach out to all passionate young aspiring filmmakers who are looking for a mentor to help them begin their exciting journey with depth and playfulness.

For more on Oorvazi Irani, please visit:

https://oorvazifilmeducation.wordpress.com/about/

Readers, please feel free to share your opinion by leaving your comments. As always your feedback is highly appreciated!  

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3 comments:

  1. That is a very thought provoking interview. Touches upon what it means to be a filmmaker and how young and aspiring filmmakers should be groomed. The stress is on finding one's own voice, something that I really appreciate. Hope this course gives us a bunch of promising filmmakers in the coming days

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  2. Its lovely to hear back on my thoughts and know that it resonates with like minded people. Yes hopefully i can reach out to those passionate filmmakers with fire in their belly and wings waiting to open and fly.

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  3. ROMANCING THE STONED ! (my v.short take after enjoying "Udta"...)
    "In style he perhaps recalls Anurag Kashyap...but i'm going to tell the world to be very very very afraid of Abhishek Chaubey...the terrifying new name of modern India cine-direction...."Udta" stuns in ways unexplainable and unexplored...take Satish Kaushik's piece, his loving haranguing fascist undercurrent.."all in the family" emasculating madness...as a substrate of the entire film... Moderated violence, unmoderated realism. Not Pahlaj Nihalani nor the entire military can keep audiences away from such mesmerizing work..well done, v.well done...only a fool will blunt the piercing point of "Udta" by calling it a Shahid-Alia film...Kareena's greatest effort...with the ease of "3 Idiots"....Dosanj does Indian acting proud...check out his blood spotted stare into camera wondering, accusing, why his love for his brother should backlash him so...all in the family, kya? Alia & Shahid are Ophelia and Hamlet and Juliet and Romeo rolled into one...but that is only for those who understand Shakespeare and not those who go about paying the great bard film-clip service...Shahid carries his Hamletian madness well into "Udta" from "Haidar"...good cash-in, Abhishekh...great understanding of the "persistence of image...ry"! It's a miracle they - Alia & Shahid - are alive at the end of the movie...in, uh huh, on a beach, omg, is that Anjuna? Udta Goa , anyone? Madrugnesss Re-loaded?-bohidar "

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