Venice International Film Festival, Italy
Your debut feature film, Soni (2018), now on Netflix, was nominated in the Horizons category at the Venice Film Festival. What kind of response were you expecting at its world premiere there? Considering the brilliant Indian films and filmmakers that have preceded Soni at Venice, and knowing the Italians’ contribution to cinema, it was a bit hard not to feel nervous about meeting the expectations of the audiences. However, I imagined they would like the character of Soni, and they indeed fell in love with her.
Best way to spend 24 hours Have a good breakfast, hop on one of the water taxis to get to the Lido, sit by one of its beaches and enjoy the sunshine, or the rain for that matter. Have some pizza and wine in the afternoon. If you happen to be there during the Venice Biennale, take some time to relish the art.
Top tip for visitors Better keep those seasickness pills with you!
Something you didn’t expect The density of tourists.
Influential Italian film La Notte (1961).
A cherished memory Entering a packed Sala Darsena, the 1,409-seater cinema hall, to a welcoming round of applause, followed by a warm introduction by festival head Alberto Barbera.
Useful Italian phrases Lei parla inglese? (Do you speak English?), Grazie (Thank you).
Worth spending your money on Wine.
A popular attraction that lives up to the hype The Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute.
Street style Not quite sure, but it seemed extremely casual and laid-back.
When in Venice. . . Get used to the water.
Toronto International Film Festival, Canada
Your debut film Mard Ko Dard Nahin Hota (2018) won the Grolsch People’s Choice Midnight Madness Award at TIFF: What was your first reaction when you heard the announcement? I’ve been winning silver medals since school. The second best, never the first — this broke the jinx. I’m not sure if I felt euphoric, but I definitely felt relieved. Twelve-hundred people stood up and applauded; I almost looked behind thinking it can’t be for my film, it must be for someone else.
A director/actor you enjoyed meeting at TIFF I wanted to bump into Shane Black, but he’d left by the time I arrived. I saw Paul Greengrass walk by, that was a high. I didn’t say hi, didn’t smile. . . I just stared.
Best way to spend 24 hours Come here during TIFF; end your day with Midnight Madness.
Favourite local dish A totally unhealthy platter of poutine — French fries dipped in cheese curds and gravy!
Something you didn’t expect I expected kindness, politeness, hospitality and manners and I got them all.
Toronto in one word Warmth — in the kind hearts of a rather cold place.
A popular attraction that lives up to the hype A restaurant called Calii Love. It’s small but boasts a celebrity clientele and amazing food.
Coolest experience Attending a party by XYZ Films (the production house that represented our film) at Wildflower, a club at the Thompson Hotel. It’s a great lounge with a stylish vibe. And the director of Thor Ragnarok (2017), Taika Waititi was there too!
An Instagrammable spot Calii Love has some cool graffiti on its walls.
New York Indian Film Festival, USA
What inspired Daughters of the Polo God (2018)? I had gone to Imphal during the Manipur polo season, to show my previous film, Riders of The Mist (2015). Somi Roy, who had organised the ladies tournament, told me that some funds had been allotted to document the first tournament and asked me if I was interested. What followed was my journey through the landscape of an ancient culture, an indigenous horse breed and fearless Manipuri women riders playing polo. And most importantly, no one in the world had heard about this growing sisterhood. So, I took it upon myself to bring this story to the world.
A popular attraction that lives up to the hype The 9/11 Memorial and Museum. More than a tourist attraction, it has become somewhat of a pilgrimage for me every time I visit. It is my most quiet and serene NYC experience and by far the one I treasure the most.
Something you didn’t expect I was pleasantly surprised to find that a lot of options have opened up for vegetarian and vegan cuisine. My favourite is Izakaya Juraku with Japanese food and ramen noodles and Ube Kitchen for vegan tropical desserts.
Favourite walking route A daily walk from my apartment at East 22nd St and Park Avenue South, passing the Flatiron Building to the Grand Masonic Lodge of New York.
Go-to snack Soft pretzels with rock salt and honey mustard from Auntie Anne’s.
Recommended fine-dining restaurant My all-time favourite is Gramercy Tavern. The robust American fare is my comfort food.
Iconic NYC film Moonstruck (1987) starring Cher and Nicholas Cage. ‘When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore.’ How can I not like that?
Unusually fashionable district It would be wherever I can get my favourite sneakers from Philipp Plein.
Hidden gems for shopping Vintage bookstores in Greenwich Village.
Where to party Williamsburg in Brooklyn with its bars and eateries. Bonus: majestic views of the Manhattan skyline from across the water.
One thing you’d go back for The West Side Livery Stable (established in the 1860s). It’s a precious piece of NYC’s history that is being maintained for carriage horses of today.
Cannes Film Festival, France
Was this your first time in the French Riviera? What was it like representing India at the Short Film Corner? This was my first time in Cannes. It was a great feeling to screen my film, Pournami (2018), at the Short Film Corner, and it was also well-received by the audience.
First impressions I was overwhelmed by the expanse of the festival. There were pavilions for every country, where the respective representatives could hang out and plan their day. I would spend time at the Indian and Turkish pavilions since my short was an India-Turkey co-production.
Favourite local dish The bakeries were my favourite places to eat. I particularly loved the chocolate croissants.
Something you didn’t expect Standing in queue for up to two or three hours to catch any of the feature films in the competition or screening sections, because of the crowds in Cannes!
French film you love Amelie (2001) is one of my all-time favourites. I remember being enamoured by the colours and the unique storytelling.
Mumbai versus Cannes I live in Chennai, but have worked in Mumbai, so from that perspective I would say that Cannes is more picturesque and charming, but Mumbai is more vibrant and has raw energy.
Useful French phrases Bonjour and merci. The French expect you to know at least these two words if you are visiting!
Instagrammable spot One right outside the festival: there is a hill with big bold letters spelling out ‘Cannes’ erected on it (just like the Hollywood sign in Los Angeles).
Where your team hung out Mostly at the Turkish pavilion because we loved the Turkish coffee they were serving.
Best stop on La Croisette The beaches. We would often stroll along them in the evenings.
One thing you’d go back for Cannes needs to be visited during the festival for the movie watching experience. Sometimes you can watch a film along with the cast and crew of the movie.
Hong Kong International Film Festival, Hong Kong
How did it feel to screen The Gold-Laden Sheep & the Sacred Mountain (2018) at the 43rd Hong Kong International Film Festival? And what crossed your mind when you won the FIPRESCI International Critics Prize? It was a wonderful audience, and I was very happy with the response we received. I was hoping to win an award, but wasn’t expecting that it’d be a FIPRESCI. Some of my favourite filmmakers have won it in the past, so it was a big moment for me. I felt a rush of excitement knowing that out of all the wonderful films at the festival, the jury thought my film deserved the award.
Best way to spend 24 hours Take the Star Ferry, try some of the Michelin-starred restaurants and check out the Temple Street Night Market and the Ladies’ Market — plenty of street shopping options there. Take the tram to The Peak or hike through the beautiful nature trails. Ride the long escalators (The Central–Mid-Levels escalator and walkway system) on Hong Kong Island and stop by the many restaurants, pubs and clubs.
Favourite meal I am allergic to shellfish, so I wasn’t able to try some very exciting-looking things. Though the dim sum at Spring Moon was exceptional, and the roasted goose as well. Otherwise, a five-course Chinese meal is a must try!
Mumbai versus Hong Kong Many parts of Hong Kong reminded me of Mumbai — especially the uptown residential complexes. But culturally speaking, it’s a completely different city.
Useful Cantonese phrases I didn’t pick up much Cantonese as many people speak English there. The ones I did learn, I’ve forgotten already.
Worth spending your money on Hong Kong is a paradise for shoppers — trendy clothes, cosmetics, sneakers, ceramics, raw food and souvenirs! Most stores have discounts, but if you are at a street shop, don’t be shy about bargaining — it’s a cultural thing.
A popular attraction that lives up to the hype The Peak. You can either take a tram or hike up there, both are very cool. The Peak offers a magnificent view of the island.
Street style The street style is pretty casual yet very trendy. Cropped chinos, sneakers and a cool T-shirt are good enough to become one with the island crowd.
Where your team celebrated We started at Symphony By Jade at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre with a wonderful five-course meal and then hopped bars in Tsim Sha Tsui until the morning.
One thing you’d go back for As I was primarily occupied with the festival, I was contained within the city. Next time, I’d check out the natural beauty around the island and visit Macao, which is only a ferry ride away.
Must-see for first-time visitors The Peak, Ladies’ Market, Hong Kong Cultural Centre, Tian Tan Buddha statue, Star Ferry, Chungking Mansions…and the Times Square shopping mall!
Docaviv: Tel Aviv International Documentary Film Festival, Israel
Your debut short, Tungrus (2017), has travelled to a whole roster of film fests, picking up multiple awards along the way. In what way did Tel Aviv stand out from the flock? It is possibly the most liberal city in Israel. Other cities, such as Jerusalem, have a greater conservative slant. Tel Aviv seems more progressive and liberal than even some of the other major metropolitan cities I have seen, like say, London or Tokyo. And the food is unbeatable!
Non-touristy way to spend 24 hours Head to the beach to read the newspaper and for a bath — it seems like all Tel Avivians do that. Eat a pita pocket from a food market, hit up one of many hipster coffee bars. Cycle or run on the beach, or do some yoga. End your day at a jazz bar.
Favourite meal The hummus at Abu Hassan and the many interesting small bites at Levinsky Market.
Unique Selling Point City beaches and hummus!
Favourite Israeli director Guy Davidi, who co-directed 5 Broken Cameras (2011) with Palestinian Emad Burnat, and Ari Folman — Waltz With Bashir (2008) was a seminal animated film for me.
Mumbai versus Tel Aviv Both are coastal cities, but the beaches are treated very differently in terms of being public spaces. For example, locals spend entire days at the beach in Tel Aviv. There might be a lot of people, but it doesn’t feel crowded. It’s not noisy, and it’s very clean. Tel Aviv also has a vibrant busking tradition. We found a couple of Hasidic Jews singing Pink Floyd by the promenade of a beach.
Useful Hebrew phrases Sababa (Cool/no problem/alright) and L’chaim (To Life!/Cheers!).
Worth spending your money on Buy as many bottles of arak (a Levantine anise-flavoured alcoholic drink) as you possibly can to bring back home.
Must do Visit the Nahum Gutman Museum of Art dedicated to the Israeli painter, sculptor and author.
A popular attraction that lives up to the hype The old city of Jaffa in Tel Aviv. Whether you opt for a guided tour or a self-guided walk, you need to learn how the city has grown and evolved into the modern-day Tel Aviv.
First impressions A city of the young and fit. Completely safe at any hour of the day because most places are open until the early hours of the morning. Also, a very expensive city. I’m not sure how the young afford it, but the cost of a pint of beer, for instance, can be as steep as 8 dollars. It is a cheaper option to buy alcohol from a local wine shop and drink it in a public space, which isn’t technically allowed but not really frowned upon either.