Debutante filmmaker Samruoddhi (Sheetal) Porey has the Americans speaking her language, literally. In her film, tentatively titled Mala Aai Vhayacha Aahe, Porey has cast Americans in speaking roles for the first time in Marathi cinema. What’s more, four-year-old lead actor, Aiden Barkely, speaks Marathi throughout the film.
A lawyer at Bombay High Court, Porey picked up the issue of surrogacy to examine how India has become a hotspot for childless foreigners looking for surrogate mothers. While she hesitates to divulge the details of her story, claiming that the "issue is too sensitive", she does admit that it’s based on a real-life incident. But it’s not a documentary.
"I spotted a foreigner boy in a market, and immediately knew he was my lead. Everyone tried to dissuade me, doubting his ability to speak in Marathi, but I managed to convince his parents to give it a shot," reveals Porey.
She started training Barkely to speak Marathi herself, before hiring a professional tutor in the final months. "He picked up the language well," Porey beams, adding that after months of working together, she was shocked to find out that Barkely was born through a surrogate mother himself. She adds, "There are two other foreigners in the movie, Stacy Bee and Matt Barkely, who is Aiden’s father in real life. But neither father nor son have ever acted in a movie before."
At the moment, the Barkely family has returned to the US. When asked whether she was afraid that the touchy topic and her choice of casting would hurt local sentiments, Porey replies, "When making a film, we don’t intentionally want to hurt anybody’s feelings. But it’s possible that after its release, some people might get offended. But I think that the Marathi film industry is very cooperative."