After nearly 15 years in advertising, Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari considered the transition to filmmaking a natural progression. She made her feature film debut with Nil Battey Sannata (2016) followed by Bareilly Ki Barfi (2017). Now she is exploring the streaming space with Faadu - A Love Story (streaming on Sony LIV) which Iyer Tiwari describes as a “character-driven web series”. Earthsky Pictures, the production house she owns with her husband Nitesh Tiwari, has a full slate for 2023. It includes Tarla, a biopic on celebrity chef Tarla Dalal, who will be played by Huma Qureshi. There’s also Bas Karo Aunty and Bawaal. Additionally, they are venturing into Malayalam cinema too.
Here are edited excerpts from the interview:
What about Faadu’s story appealed to you?
What appeals to me is that it is a quintessential love story. A love story which has not been explored in this day and age…of the younger generation of our country who think very differently. They are fearless, they are go-getters. Both of them are strong individuals. So what happens when two strong individuals come together and have their own thought processes? Then, what love signifies to them. The story has a lot of poetry and is very raw in terms of the characters. It’s a character-driven web series.
As someone who’s from a different generation, what were the challenges you faced while understanding the generation your characters are from?
I feel as a maker you can be 70 years old and still make stories if you're connected to the roots and the mind of who you’re telling your stories. For a storyteller, it’s very important to not be stagnant. We update ourselves with cameras…how it is going to be capturing light, and what’s going to happen in the kind of stories we want to say. The same thing happens when we are writing a story, we need to make sure we are very updated with the changing generation. If Steven Spielberg was not up to date, he would not be telling the kind of stories [he does] even today.
Can you talk about the role that poetry plays in Faadu?
Poetry has a huge role to play because Saumya Joshi, the writer of Faadu, is an award-winning poet and a theatre writer-director. Poetry comes very naturally to him. Every individual is quite emotional in some way or another when it comes to love. There are different ways of expressing love. For these two characters, especially Manjiri (Saiyami Kher), her way of expressing love is through poetry.
What was the process of directing Pavail Gulati and Saiyami Kher?
Pavail and Saiyami are very talented actors, they’re director’s actors. I do feel their potential was not exposed for a very long time. A good actor is like a chameleon, they can get into any kind of role. When I gave them these characters, both of them jumped on it and doubted also, especially Pavail, because he’s always done these dapper roles, so how would he fit into something like this? That’s what made him work even harder, get into the dialect, and get into a space which he has not explored. I usually shoot in live locations. That helped the actors because live locations allow you to imbibe mannerisms… character study happens. They are very hardworking, they listen and when they’re in doubt, they ask questions. They’re very thinking actors and that makes them special.
You’re a producer, director and writer. Do you have a preference?
Producing comes as a natural thing because I’ve been working in advertising for over a decade. I’ve been working with youngsters and mentoring them. Producing is just a natural progression and nothing new to me, honestly. I enjoy both, I enjoy being a director and I also enjoy being a producer when it is mentoring younger filmmakers and writers to tell their stories.
Why did you transition to filmmaking after nearly 15 years in advertising?
I wanted to make my story for a larger medium because in advertising, you tell stories for 30 or 40 seconds. And then you’re telling stories for cinema and you are telling at least a two-hour film. Then, you are now telling a story for a web series which is like four films together. I think it’s a joy to be telling stories that you like, to inspire, aspire, and to introduce audiences to different kinds of stories. That’s why I started directing.
Nil Battey Sannata was your feature film debut. What was it like to have it receive such acclaim?
It felt good, it was something which I always wanted to say. I made the same film in Tamil also. It garnered enough appreciation and also won many international awards. It did very well in theatres. Even today people remember that film because it did impact their lives.
How was your first day on set?
It was in Agra, we shot in a basti right behind the Taj Mahal. It was one of the most beautiful experiences because I saw a side of our country where there were so many girls, so many people who had similar dreams and wanted to study and do really well. If a maker does think like this and tells stories like this, and it someway touches people’s hearts, I think it’s great.
Between Nil Battey Sannata and Bareilly Ki Barfi, what do you look back on more fondly?
There’s no preference. All our films are as special, including my short films. Whether it’s Ankahi Kahaniya (2021) on Netflix, with Abhishek Banerjee falling in love with a mannequin, or it is Ghar ki Murgi (2020) with Sakshi Tanwar taking a holiday, or it is Nil Battey Sannata, Bareilly Ki Barfi, even my first short film, What’s for Breakfast? (2012) is also as special to me.
While writing your female characters, what do you keep in mind?
Bareilly Ki Barfi was not revolving around a woman, because there were Rajkummar Rao and Ayushmann Khurrana in it. What happens is that I do try to quantify a woman’s character in my film and give her enough to say and have more author-backed roles…whether it is Swara (Bhasker) educating her child and also going to school or Kriti (Sanon) in Bareilly Ki Barfi having her own point of view. A person is not made because of one, an individual is made because of a lot of other thought processes also. For me, it is very important that even others feel the same way about the woman in the film.