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August 25, 2017

Sooni Taraporevala On Documenting Two Young Ballerinos

Text by Huzan Tata

The award-winning screenwriter’s VR documentary film, Yeh Ballet, chronicles a heart-warming tale in all its 360-degree glory

Two underprivileged boys, one ballet teacher, and a whole lot of hard work and inspiration — these are the ingredients of Sooni Taraporevala’s latest film, Yeh Ballet. And it’s in VR (virtual reality) too. Telling the story of Amir and Manish, two teenage boys from Mumbai’s chawls (Amir’s father is a welder and Manish’s is a taxi driver), the film chronicles their journey from training with their Israeli-American teacher Yehuda Maor to their acceptance at The School of Oregon Ballet Theatre in USA.

“What drew me to their story was that both the boys were such unlikely ballet dancers. They are not from tony South Mumbai schools and they did not learn the form when they were kids. In fact, till three years ago, they had no experience of either ballet or Western classical music. And yet, they were so amazingly good at it that they progressed faster than everyone, and achieved great levels of mastery in a short time. Which goes to show you two things — that talent can be found anywhere and just how much talent there is in our country that probably goes unrecognised,” says Taraporevala. As the film — made at Anand Gandhi’s Memesys Culture Lab — is shot in VR, audiences are treated to 360-degree shots of the boys’ pliés and pirouettes, as well as those of the Mumbai locals and the director interviewing the stars of her film. The end credits include lovely shots of the dancing duo enjoying themselves in Oregon’s snow. Amir is heading to the American Ballet Theatre Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School in New York City — the best in the country — for further training soon. What does Taraporevala hope viewers take back from the 15-minute short? “In these times of gloom, it’s a sweet and hopeful story with a happy ending. I like to call it a Virtual Reality Fairy Tale.”

Yeh Ballet has been shot and can be viewed in a 360-degree radius on iOS or Android devices by downloading the ElseVR app, or on www.elsevr.tv/yeh-ballet/

Sooni talk:

The Challenge “When you are shooting in the documentary style — on the fly and taking guerrilla-style shots in trains — that’s a difficult proposition. You also can’t have close-ups — all the cameras in the rig are fitted with wide-angle lenses that see everything. As a film-maker, there is no place to hide in the shot.”

Working In VR “I don’t think a feature film is possible at the stage the technology is in. You’d be very uncomfortable watching on headsets for an hour-and-a-half. In fact, Yeh Ballet is the longest VR film made at Memesys Culture Lab. I was worried it might be too claustrophobic or disorienting or that people might get motion sickness while watching it. Thankfully, my fears were unfounded. The film screened very well at the Sheffield Doc/Fest where it premiered. And nobody threw up!”

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