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Verve People
May 31, 2017

When Women Call The Shots: Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari

Text by Tanisha Choudhury. Photograph by Manasi Sawant. Make-Up and Hair by Sanah Kewal

“You have the right to dream — no matter who you are, where you come from or what age you are”

After 14 years with Leo Burnett, Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari quit her job as executive creative director. While she told stories for many of India’s biggest brands, it was her work on a commercial for Kaun Banega Crorepati, centred on the girl child, that changed the way she approached them and made her want to tell them on a wider platform. A few short films later, she made her feature length debut with the critically acclaimed and heartwarming Nil Battey Sannatta (2016), which she directed and co-wrote with her husband Nitesh Tiwari.

“Working in advertising teaches you to be disciplined and objective about each scene you write and direct. Every minute detail is planned. Ultimately, we make films for an audience that is spending their time and money to watch them. But the most important thing it has taught me is to understand the human mind and those insights help to make my stories stronger.”

“My biggest challenge as a first-time film-maker was to overcome my own doubt. The second was to ignore the people who didn’t believe in me and just let my work speak for itself. Another daunting moment was when I was awaiting reactions from the first set of people who were shown a rough cut of the film. And of course, the biggest worry for anyone is being able to make a mark on the audience.”

“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 in handy, making her more approachable to the cast and crew.”

“In India, we hardly have any women directors. It’s only now that we are seeing more women take up directing and cinematography and I am proud to be a part of this new change in Indian cinema. However, the female film-maker I love the most is Sai Paranjpye. When I want to give myself a little boost, I look at a picture of her holding a cigarette on the sets of Chashme Badoor, teaching Farooq Sheikh how to smoke. She told the most amazing real-life stories in a simple, comical way and in the regional language she was comfortable with.”

“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. In fact, I was very well taken care of; there was a lot more amicability on set and less gaali galloch.”

“You have the right to dream — no matter who you are, where you come from or what age you are. I wanted everyone who saw Nil Battey Sannatta to start thinking about themselves and their parents in this way.”

“Getting funding and a release for the film was not very difficult, but it wasn’t a cake walk either. Since we had a good product in hand, we got very good presenters. If everyone involved in making it believes in the project and those who are backing it believe that they want the audience to see this story, then the lack of budgets and big stars don’t matter.”

“A lesson I learnt on my first film is that good things come to those who wait. Also, that it is important to take your time to tell a good story. If you believe in it and say it with all your heart without cheating yourself and your audience, they will be here to listen to you.”

“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.”

“My next release is in a happy, slice-of-life space. Bareilly Ki Barfi is a meetha film, rooted in real India. All set to release in July 2017.”

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