Advertising teaches you to be disciplined, logical and objective: Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari

Bareilly Ki Barfi director, Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari says deep in her heart, she always wanted to be a director.

bollywood Updated: Jul 18, 2017 19:21 IST
Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari,Nil Battey Sannata,Bareilly Ki Barfi
Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari says she always wanted to be an artist and she thinks that a director is an artist.

She shone bright as an advertising professional during her 14-year tenure with Leo Burnett, but when she was at the top of her game, Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari surprised everyone by quitting her job as an executive creative director. And then in 2016, she made people sit up and notice her talent in Nil Battey Sannata (NBS), which she directed and co-wrote with her husband, Nitesh Tiwari. In the interim, she worked on a Kaun Banega Crorepati commercial centred on the girl child as well as a few short films. HT caught up with Ashwiny to talk about career, life and her next project, Bareilly Ki Barfi.

Has life changed a lot after Nil Battey Sannata?

Yes, it has definitely changed a bit, because in a creative field and especially in our [film] industry, no one takes you seriously until you prove yourself through your work. The audience or the world won’t approve of you [until you prove yourself]. After Nil Battey Sannata, people have started looking at me in a certain way.

Did you always want to be a director?

Deep in my heart, I always wanted to be a director. I wanted to be an artist and I think a director is an artist (smiles). A director tells stories, but he/she is also the captain of the ship. So, the management skills, teamwork or how to handle so many people come from [my experience in] advertising. The agenda of some movies is to make money, while some want to earn just enough money but be critically acclaimed. In this day and age, I don’t think anyone will say, ‘It’s okay if a film flops’, and it would be stupid to say. There are nine emotions in the world, so there will be an audience for all kinds of movies.

After NBS, do you feel expectations are high?

I think you just have to do your work with complete honesty; things that have to come will come, and won’t if they don’t have to. I’m a strong believer in the law of the universe and the science of Buddha. I always believe ki aaj hai toh sab kuch rahega, kal nahi rahega toh koi nahi rahega. There is a reason I have come here [in the industry]: to tell stories and make a difference in someone’s life. Tomorrow, even after I’ve made ten films, I would feel, ‘I can do something better’. I know I am still going to be judged. As a storyteller, everyone has that space, and so, it’s important to know what I am saying. When I got my first major award — the Best Debut director award — the looks on my mother and Nitesh’s face said it all.

Was it a struggle to put together your first film?

Regardless of how big a director or writer you are, everyone goes through ‘struggles’ in their own way. I had my own set of struggles. We spent a year writing the script for NBS, and at that time, I used to work for an agency. We made our mistakes but, finally, we got there. I knew Ajay Rai and showed him my script with no intention to direct. I was thinking that it has to be made, because you need to tell stories differently, and not in the same boring manner, especially with the way our country and our young minds are growing. When Ajay asked me, ‘Why don’t you direct?’ I was like, ‘What’s the harm?’ Deep inside, I wanted to direct. At that time, my biggest support was Nitesh and my mum. Also, my biggest challenge as a first-time film-maker was to overcome my own doubts. The second was to ignore the people who didn’t believe in me and just let my work speak for itself.

For you, what was the best part about NBS?

As a first film, NBS was kind of enriching. But the best part is that no one was looking to make money out of it. People were just looking to earn respect, and when that happens, everything else follows.

You are ready with your next, Bareilly Ki Barfi now…

Like my first film, Bareilly Ki Barfi also has a whole dichotomy of relationships, but it’s in a happy, slice-of-life quirky space. It’s a meetha film, rooted in real India. It’s completely opposite to NBS. My next film after Bareilly Ki Barfi is also radically different. While making movies, I get enthusiastic about every little thing from start to end.

You’ve spent 15 years in advertising. Does that experience help you while making movies?

Working in advertising teaches you to be disciplined, logical, and objective about each scene you write and direct. Every minute detail is planned. Plus, you are also taking care of your client’s money. But the most important thing it has taught me is to understand the human mind, which help make my stories stronger.

Evening 🌧🌚 #home #awayfromchaos #doyourownthing

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Advertising and films are considered to be two different worlds. How different are they?

When you’re doing ad films, you always think in terms of seconds, so our emotions are also per second. But in film-making, I see it as a life unfolding in front of me. So, there’s a liberty of putting in all the emotions. So, I have cautiously kept in mind that a feature film is about telling a story with objectivity but also getting the emotions out because if you cannot get your audiences involved in the film, you’re done. What I learnt from advertising is to get inside [a world] and get the right aspects out. It’s like breaking the dichotomy of a set agenda of storytelling.

🌚🌧 #mumbai

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Traditionally, the Hindi film industry has never had many women directors. Have you ever thought, ‘why?’

I hate being asked, ‘how does it feel to be a woman director?’ I wonder what it feels like being a woman doctor or engineer. When we meet female doctors or engineers, we don’t call them ‘women engineer’ or ‘women doctor.’ Historically — especially for a middle class family — if you aren’t exposed to film-making, or have a family background, you wouldn’t get into films. Also, the tag of Bollywood itself is like a ‘no-zone’ area. Overall, even in the world too, there are very few women directors. I think the pressure [in the film industry] is too high and the psychology could be that a tender heart may just break down after a point or that you need to be really strong [to go through this]. I think, as a country, we are taught not to take risks and play safe. But I feel this generation will see a whole lot of women cinematographers, directors and other roles being taken up by women, and I am proud to be a part of this new change in Indian cinema. More than half the crew of Nil Battey Sannata (NBS) were girls, and I feel very proud of them.

When it comes to being on the job, are there any differences?

I don’t think the challenges are very different for a woman. Everyone treats you exactly like they would treat a male director. In fact, a woman’s natural emotional intelligence comes handy, making her more approachable to the cast and crew. Initially, it was difficult to shoot with largely male-dominated crews in small-town India. The locals didn’t know how to deal with a woman — so I was being called ‘sir’. But it’s also true that everyone was extremely respectful. The one female film-maker I love the most is Sai Paranjpye.

On a day-to-day basis, are there any issues that a ‘woman director’ may face on a film set?

Frankly, I didn’t face any problems because advertising has taught me team-work. Also, we belong to a patriarchal society, so it is understood that regardless of how ‘equal’ you feel, if a woman raises her voice a bit, a man would get offended. I refuse to believe otherwise. But I don’t think it is important to be aggressive. I think we have reached a place where men are equally profound with their thoughts, their actions and the kind of words they speak. Maybe, it would have been problematic earlier but not anymore.

How did you meet Nitesh Tiwari (husband) first?

We have been working together for the longest time. It’s been almost 13 years of us being together, out of which we were working together for eight years in an ad agency. For two years, he was even my boss, and I was reporting to him. But it was an agency so it really didn’t matter.

Do you discuss work with him?

It’s very natural for any two creative people, who stay together to discuss ideas but a line has to be drawn otherwise it starts affecting your personal life. You can’t keep talking about work all the time. We also compensate each other vis-à-vis our strengths. Since I have an art background, my art direction is strong and my colour and style sense is definitely better than him (laughs). But his writing skills are definitely better than me. When it comes to direction, both of us are different in the way we look at films, and it’s only fair that way. I am a more impulsive while he is more structured.

What’s your equation with him?

He is my best friend and my best critique, and vice versa. And of course, he is the first person, who reads my script and vice versa. He is the first person to clear my ideas and I get 100 ideas a day. But the best thing is that as creative people, we don’t have egos.

Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari started her direction career with Nil Battey Sannata.

Lastly, what do you think is the most exciting thing about your life?

I have learnt a lot from my children. And it includes things such as getting excited and rejoicing over the smallest things and having a child-like happiness to do a lot of things in life. So, I would love to be an organic farmer, and help women in society to empower themselves, and maybe write a book. Currently, I am also working on an interesting project to revive certain handloom sections in our country. It excites me to be a good human being. I guess when you are good human being, you can add more to people’s life. And what better way to do that than telling stories (smiles).

Have you thought about what kind of films you wish to make in the future?

I don’t know what all I am going to do but I very well know what I will never do (laughs). I am scared of horror films, so, I can never do that. Also, though I appreciate all those big sci-fi films that have loads of post-production work such as VFX and CGI in films such as Spider-Man and Superman films but I feel that maybe, main kar nahi paungi (laughs; I won’t be able to do it).

@anshupsinghi aur mein aksar mommy baatein karte hai. πŸ˜‚

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Are you also a voracious reader?

I love reading. And I feel I have a great knack to see the potential in a book, and if it can be made into a movie (laughs). I read Emma Donoghue’s Room and told Nitesh that it should be made into a film. And when I went to London Film Festival for NBS, I saw that Room was also in the same section as Nil Battey Sannata. Then, I read The Sense Of An Ending and felt that it will make for a great film, and the next thing I know Ritesh Batra is making it. The same happened with The Devotion Of Suspect X. Then, I was told a Tamil film has been made on it. I was telling someone the other day that if someone has to make a film out of a book, they should hire me (laughs).

Your favourite authors?

My favourite is Haruki Murakami because I like his philosophy a lot. But it can never be made into films. I also like Ruskin Bond a lot. I feel as compared to India, Hollywood is more prone towards books because maybe, they have more exposure.

What kind of films do you like to watch?

I really like world cinema, especially a lot of French movies. There was a time when I wanted to learn French because I hated reading subtitles and wished to watch French movies like a French person. I also love Spanish films and Irani movies besides, of course, Hollywood. I like a lot of Malayalam movies too. I like all kind of films. So, I have watched a lot of Tamil films too such as Anjali. In advertising, there’s a term, ‘make it pan-India’, so I wish to make films in Gujarati, Marathi, Tamil, Malayalam etc.

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First Published: Jul 18, 2017 19:20 IST