Avantika Hari, a Dubai-based film-maker
When the principal of your school says of you, 'This young girl is going to change the world', you cannot help but endeavour to make those powerful words come true.
I will always remember the day I walked into [principal] John Mason's office at Modern High School.
I had gone to give him sweets as it was my birthday, and was amazed when he announced to some parents who were in his office, "This young girl is going to change the world."
In the recommendation letter he gave me when I was applying
to university, he wrote, "I have no doubt that young Avantika will carve a niche for herself in the world of communication." I have always tried to live up to those words.
They say if you can dream it, you can achieve it.
I must have dreamt of my shrill-voiced character Rizu (who stars in my 98-minute movie Land Gold Women) in 35mm technicolor because my dream is coming true, every hue and nuance of it.
I came to Dubai from India at the age of eight, and quickly adapted to life here. I enjoyed my time at the Modern High School. I was a drama enthusiast and loved over-the-top grand musicals that Kevin Oliver used to direct.
I participated in all extracurricular activities in school. I used to sing, dance, debate, write and act. These skills came in handy later when I was studying filmmaking at The London Film School. Once, during the Creative Festival at Modern High, we were given four topics and told to pick
one, based on which we were to shoot a short video film. I chose "Life around the Creek."
I had plenty of ideas in mind and with a handicam and my father in tow, I set off to the creek. My peripatetic journey of a thousand miles had begun with that one step.
After completing my IB at Emirates International School, I left Dubai at the age of 18 to do my bachelor's degree at Stetson University, Florida.
I majored in Digital Arts and Economics. I worked in California for two years, but I realised that I was not doing what I really wanted to do. Keen to take up a job in the world of film, I decided to return to India. I knocked on the doors of almost every recording studio and firm worth its salt to get some work as an assistant director.
Promises were made and broken, and I was on the verge of giving up when I got a call from one of the firms.
They asked me if I would like to work with famous filmmaker, Prahlad Kakkar, for a soft drink commercial starring Bollywood stars Shah Rukh Khan and Preity Zinta. I was thrilled.
When I reported for work on the sets, I was told that I would be the extra wardrobe assistant – essentially an errand runner who is supposed
to take care of the 'extras'. But that day, although I was sweating it out in the relentless heat and grime of Mumbai,
I realised that this was what I wanted to do – work in films.
After spending some time there, I decided that if I wanted to master my craft I had to equip myself with the right tools. So I signed up for a course at the London Film School. I made some wonderful friends there who are very much part of my current venture.
A chance meeting with noted filmmaker Mani Ratnam in Chennai, India, led to a meeting with his wife Suhasini (a well-known actress)
who recommended me to the right people in the industry. Thanks to her, I soon got a call from actor Madhavan who asked me if I would like to be the assistant director for a film titled Ramji Londonwale. It was a wonderful experience. That was quickly followed by Hat Day for which I won the Commonwealth Vision Award in 2006.
The germ of the idea for Land Gold Women was conceived when I read a newspaper article in London.
It was about a young girl who was
a victim of an honour killing. I burned the midnight oil researching more about the issue, and finally, I had my script. My film almost never got made because there was no financier who was willing to produce the movie.
My cast and crew were convinced of its value and committed to the project, but having no financier proved to be extremely testing. However, my parents came to my rescue and offered to finance the film. If they had not believed in me, Land Gold Women would never have been made.
We shot the entire film in 24 days in Birmingham.
My family has always been my source of inspiration.
I remember my grandfather telling me bedtime stories from Hindu mythology in a dramatic manner and perhaps that was what kindled my interest in drama and theatre.
My mother is a trained dancer and singer, and my dad is an avid debater and stage actor. He is also a member of the NGO Reach 4 India and Pratham, so he has instilled a strong sense of social consciousness and service in my brother and me. Once I find a distribution house for my film, I will commit a part of the profits to helping women's groups that deal with the issue documented in it.
I am passionate about everything I do.
I'm very close to my family and friends. During the screening of my film at the opening night of The Screen Club recently, I was totally overwhelmed when chairperson
Nayla Al Khaja paid me a compliment, saying that the prestigious Screen Club was to open its movie screening season with a showing of our movie, Land Gold Women.
Land Gold Women has been well received for its storyline, cinematic quality and topic. If audience reaction when we screened it in Dubai is anything to go by, the film will do well. I have been told by those in the industry whose opinions matter to me greatly, that the narrative is powerful.
I screened the film for lawyer Nazir Afzal, director of Crown Prosecution Service in London, who is actively involved in creating public awareness about honour killings. I wanted to ensure that I had not distorted any facts and that the legality related to the issue was correct. He had tears in his eyes at the end of it. He said, "You have done in 98 minutes what I have not been able to do in 25 years."
I have always been fascinated by post- colonial literature.
My company, A Richer Lens, takes its name from the writings of an author I admire: Vikram Seth. In fact, his book Golden Gate carries the words which have become my life's mission: "Choose a richer lens to see with. Reach for a vision more complete..."
- As told to Nargish Khambatta, a Dubai-based freelance writer