My sentiments and instincts both lie in the creative world – Trishya Screwvala
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]rishya Screwvala – daughter of Ronnie Screwala (owner of UTV) talks to Pandolin about her relationship with her father and her recent found love for documentaries.
Being the daughter of one of Bollywood’s iconic Producers do you feel that you have big shoes to fill?
I try not to look at it that way. I think my father has been very supportive by allowing me to pursue a career that pleases me. I think of him as an entrepreneur. He is a creative person too but an entrepreneur first. My sentiments and instincts both lie in the creative world. I am keener to look at socially conscious and alternative forms of media. I think I am fortunate to have that kind of support and knowledge behind me.
Were you always interested in becoming a part of the film industry? Did you ever think of doing something else?
Absolutely. Initially I never considered a career in Film or Media. I was not one of those avid film buffs. I grew up watching very little film and television. I wanted to be a ballet dancer and then a vet. I actually went to LA to study biology and for fun I landed up taking a film class. Gradually I saw myself doing one each semester until I thought that maybe this is something I actually enjoy. And it has only been in the last few years that I have looked at films as a serious career option.
Did you consider or have a desire to work in the Hollywood system?
I mainly worked as an intern at some of the studios and production houses like Fox Searchlight and Kennedy Marshall. I had a great experience and in some sense realized what I didn’t want to do. During the final year of my Masters program I came across an opportunity to work with a wonderful Documentary Film Director, Geeta Patel. I worked for approximately fourteen months and that was essentially my first experience with Documentary/Independent film. It was really exciting.
Can you comment on how the experience differed after returning to the Indian film industry?
I think I have many years to go in both industries before I can actually make a comparison but with whatever little my experience has been, I would say that the basic difference is that Hollywood churns out a larger variety of films. They have an ability to cater to niche audiences and therefore create specialized content and I think that is what our industry lacks. We definitely have breakthrough movies coming out during the past few years but I think the establishment of a structured Documentary World or Independent Film World with viable platforms of distribution is yet to be cemented here.
Who are some of your most influential Producer/Directors in Bollywood & Hollywood?
Geeta whom I met soon after she spent 8 years in Kashmir making a documentary, has been an incredible mentor to me both creatively and professionally. Filmmakers like Shekhar Kapur, Ashutosh Gowarikar, Rakeysh Mehra and Anurag Kashyap have been inspirational for me in terms of their unique style and process. In Hollywood, independent producers like John Battseck, Kathleen Kennedy and Lianne Halfon who have really made some bold, off beat yet important films have also been an incredible inspiration for me. My favourite documentary is Tarnation by Jonathan Caouette. This is actually the film that inspired me to get into documentaries and really showed me that the scope of documentary extends so much further than the voice over driven informational films I thought them to be. Caoutte’s film is personal, visceral, raw, highly emotional, and let me add depressing. He has really used the documentary form as an incredibly powerful storytelling device.
Your father must offer you some great advice on becoming a producer. Could you share any memorable words of wisdom?
My father has always been a grounding force in my life and a huge supporter of anything I have chosen to pursue. He constantly gives me a reality check and his execution driven focus is an important reminder to anyone in the creation and conceptualization phase of a project. His disruptive, out of the box thinking has been a huge influence and a great learning curve for me.
What sort of films do you and your father watch together or watched together growing up?
My father and I try and watch a film a week and we watch all kinds. Most recently we’ve seen Mandela on Mandela, Water for Elephants, Paperchase, Crazy Heart, Shor in the City, Beginners.
Are you currently working on any project with UTV?
No, I am not working for UTV right now. I completed a documentary, Bollywood – The Greatest Story Ever Toldand that was my only project with them. Currently, the marketing and distribution teams are taking it forward. As for now, I am working on a couple of things on my own.
Talk to us a little about what projects you have lined up for the coming year?
Currently I am working on an LA based feature that Geeta is in the process of rewriting. We have spent the last year working with Jeff Imada and Travis Wong to create a martial art from the folk dance that an incredible choreographer Sidi Larbi has created for the project. It’s a very exciting film that is artistic and social justice driven, but also has the potential to be very commercial, if done right.
Over here in Mumbai, I am in the process of trying to start out an organization that will tackle social issues through alternative forms of media. I came back to India with the hope of pursuing documentaries but the penetration of documentaries is almost negligible in the Indian market. The goal is to find the right media and platforms that are more accessible and effective in generating awareness for key issues among the youth.
Do you plan to direct movies as well?
Not as of now but I am open to it in the future. I view each project independently and it is always about getting the film made in the best possible way, so I prefer not to restrict myself to any titles or labels. Maybe if the right project comes along, I would end up directing it.
How do you think a balance can be created between the artistic vision of Directing and the business aspect of Producing?
That is a tricky question that no one ever has a real answer to. It’s based on trial and error and varies from project to project. I think the film industry is unique because of that. Although it is a creative industry, it is a business at the end of the day. I think it is important for Producers to understand that at the core of it, we are dealing with a creative product. You can’t look at it as a traditional business.
Having said that, it is important for Directors to follow their creative vision while keeping an audience in mind as there is no point in making a film that is not seen by anyone. It is a challenge and a constant negotiation to determine how far boundaries can be pushed to help create an ever-evolving environment where audiences appreciate new concepts, ideas and innovations without alienating them completely.