“A brown man with a white name making a film with unknown faces” is how debutant director Jonathan Augustin encapsulates his career’s first coming-of-age feature ‘The Lift Boy’, out in UAE cinemas this weekend.
This English-language feature, about a disillusioned 24-year-old lift operator from Mumbai, is the quintessential underdog release when compared to Bollywood’s big-ticket film ‘Kalank’, starring Alia Bhatt and Varun Dhawan, out in the UAE cinemas at the same time. But the makers of ‘The Lift Boy’ — who fought against all odds to roll out the film in the UAE — refuse to let outside forces dampen their excitement as they talk up their labour of love.
Gulf News tabloid! caught up with director Augustin and his acting discoveries Nayla Masood and Moin Khan ahead of the UAE screening of ‘The Lift Boy’. Here are five things to know about the film gleaned from our conversation with its lead players and its director …
1. ‘The Lift Boy’ is a slice of life film that revolves around a young man who’s forced to fill in for his father as a lift operator in a posh building in Mumbai. He hates his job at first, but then finds a friend and mentor in an ageing widow and landlady of the building, Maureen D’Souza, played by Nayla Masood.
“Go watch this film and you will walk out with a broad smile. It’s a coming-of-age film that celebrates dignity of labour and individuals that you may normally not notice. It’s a universal story about a father-son relationship too,” said Augustin.
2. Director Augustin and team spotted the lead actress at a mall in Mumbai. Masood was exiting after watching ‘The Salesman’ when the casting director of ‘The Lift Boy’ spotted her and asked her in for an audition. She was under the impression that Augustin wanted her to design costumes for a film and was surprised to learn that he was offering her the lead role. It was a leap of faith that propelled her to say yes.
“I related a lot to my character. I run an NGO for underprivileged for around 75 kids. Maureen D’Souza also wants to create an impact in someone’s life … With acting, I have discovered something new in life,” said Masood.
3. Moin Khan, who plays the troubled Raju, got his first acting break after a series of rejections. He was so dejected before being offered a part in ‘The Lift Boy’ that he almost took up a job at a call centre to make ends meet. But ‘The Lift Boy’ was a turning point in this life.
4. ‘The Lift Boy’, which released in India a few months ago, opened to mixed reviews. But Augustin isn’t taking the negative feedback to heart. All he wants is for people to give his independent feature a chance by viewing it. He even offered a critic, who wrote a scathing review of ‘The Lift Boy’, a scripting job because he admired the young critic’s writing style and presentation. Augustin believes that reviews are just points of views — some relevant and some not.
5. ‘The Lift Boy’ was rejected by a series of studio giants because it didn’t have “mountable faces”. Translation? No studio in Bollywood wanted to back a film that did not have known, bankable actors. How would they put obscure actors on billboards was their greatest worry. Augustin did not succumb to their pressure and focussed on making his dream project come alive.
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‘The Lift Boy’ is out in the UAE on April 18.