Documentaries are as artistic and creative as fiction films: Vivek
Every year over thousands of movies are submitted for the prestigious Student Academy Awards and this year saw an Indian movie as a semifinalist. Directed by Vivek Nipani, the film titled ‘A Tale of Two Veils’, brings forth a story of great importance, which was highly appreciated at the annual competition for college and university filmmakers. The film is set in Bheemroda, Rajasthan, where women are fiercely fighting against patriarchy in society. Nipani shows a ray of hope and empowerment through the two strong women protagonists of his story.
The filmmaker talks about his journey, from inception of the movie to submitting it for the Student Academy Awards, he opens up about it all, along with sharing his plans for the future.
How would you describe A Tale of Two Veils?
A Tale of Two Veils, at its core, is a human rights story. The film highlights the ongoing struggle of women in rural villages, particularly in a small town called Bheemroda in Rajasthan, where they are battling the cultural effects of misogyny that continue to exist in their lives. The film does not dwell deep into the details of the issue, rather it highlights the human spirit and willpower through empowerment. It was important for me to showcase their adversity through strength.
It was important for me to showcase their adversity through strength
What was the point of conception of the film, what were the factors that inspired it?
This film was inspired from my travels through the rural outposts of Rajasthan, where I was commissioned to photograph for the non-profit organization, Aajeevika Bureau in 2009. In the first few days of my travel, I met a group of ladies, “the first Ujala Samooh,” (a self-help group that is showcased in this film) who travelled far and long (over 30 Kilometers). Here I witnessed how the women from these SHG’s (self-help groups) wanted to learn and be informed.
I always look for a moral to take from my journeys and traveling, (like children’s books where the teacher would explain the moral of the story, but as adults we fail or stop recognizing morals of life anymore) and so the women, in this case, taught me that no matter how hard the journey is, never stop learning and never stop fighting to be empowered for yourself, and for the betterment of the people who need you. That was the moment I knew that this story had to be told.
How difficult was it to research for such an intense subject?
This is possibly the hardest and most emotional question for me to answer. Even though it’s been over two years since the completion of the film, I can still remember every hour of the struggle I underwent for the research, and the preparation that went in to making it an award-winning film.
I tear up every time I remember it – bearing the 48+ degree centigrade summer heat, traveling back and forth multiple times, city to city, (Hyderabad – Mumbai – Ahmedabad – Udaipur – Mumbai – Hyderabad) to make sure that everything was ready for my team when they arrive. Thankfully, I had a lot of help from a friend who worked for a non-profit organization at the time, as she announced my arrival to everyone and I felt very welcomed.
Since I was in graduate school (Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles) at the time, I spent about 13 months researching – reading books, articles, newspapers, watching similar films based on or off the topic, anything related from human rights to women empowerment to even poetry, making absolutely sure that my preparedness will help me tackle any creative block during production.
I can still remember every hour of the struggle I underwent for the research and the preparation
Where and how did you find your two lead protagonists?
I spent 35 days travelling from one village to another in search of my “protagonist”. I went around with my DSLR and started recording and camera testing potential characters. Once I found Jassu, (one of the characters), I asked her if she would allow me to film her and her family for two weeks (she didn’t know what I meant but in all her humility, she agreed). The second character for this film came out of pure luck and coincidence (this is where all my research paid off).
The second character for this film came out of pure luck and coincidence
Independent films and that too student films, normally face issues in raising funds. Was it easy to acquire funds?
I launched an Indiegogo campaign to help produce this film. Lots of friends and family pitched in, but 70% of this film was my own money that I saved up over the years.
What drove the decision to enter the film for the Student Academy Awards?
Generally, I had planned to enter many festivals besides the Student Oscars. My experience, and a festival consultant, who prepared a list of festivals that I should promote the film at, suggested that I submit it to the Oscars. When I first received the email, I was at work (Assisting on a feature documentary in Hollywood) and had quite a long day. So when I got back home, I read the long email in a much more relaxed state of mind As soon as I read the first line, my heart sank for a moment thinking that I didn’t get in but as I read on, I called my parents asking them to stop what they were doing, to break the news to them.
As soon as I read the first line, my heart sank for a moment thinking that I didn’t get in
Have prospects for the film opened up post its Student Oscars journey? Has the film been travelling to other festivals as well?
Yes, my film premiered in London at the Norwich film festival and also won Best Documentary at Paramount Studios, Los Angeles. I am currently still in the market. Crossing my fingers.
Where next is the film headed? Are you planning to promote the film in India, will it see a release here?
My first goal is to go back to Bheemroda, along with my India unit and a portable projector and watch the film along with all the people who were a part of it. I would love the opportunity for distribution in India. Unfortunately, I missed the submission deadlines for many of the Indian film festivals. So I will wait until next year and reapply.
My first goal is to go back to Bheemroda and watch the film along with all the people who were a part of it
Which other genres or subjects would you like to work on? Are there any projects that are currently in the pipeline?
I am very interested in human rights, socio-political and environmental based stories. Even though I am a documentary filmmaker, today, there is a fine line differentiating documentaries and fiction films. People have an imagery of documentaries being boring talking heads, but not any more. Documentaries are as artistic and creative as fiction films.
I am currently working as an assistant editor on a feature documentary in Los Angeles. So once that is over, I am going to start working on my next project, a feature documentary that is again going to be filmed back home in India, (Tamil Nadu, specifically) on the subject of Euthanasia. That’s the most I can tell you right now.