Filmmaker Ivan Ayr’s debut feature film Soni made its World Premiere at the prestigious 75th Venice International Film Festival in Orizzonti Competition and won the Oxfam Best Film on Gender Equality Award at the Jio MAMI 20th Mumbai Film Festival.
The film is about Soni, a young and fiery policewoman in Delhi and Kalpana, her superintendent, who are dealing with a growing crisis of violent crimes against women. Their mission and alliance are further strained by complications arising in Soni’s personal and professional life.
He chose this subject to find out how the policewomen of Delhi were reacting to a rising tide of brutal sexual violence. “I’m sure the thought had crossed their minds that even they, despite their position of power, were susceptible to the same atrocities, both on and off duty. One can imagine the ensuing rage they must have felt but saddled with the responsibility to enforce and uphold the law, they are understandably expected to keep their personal feelings in check. For me, this tussle of emotions was worth exploring,” says the 35-year-old.
The film stars newcomers, Geetika Vidya Ohlyan and Saloni Batra, in the lead roles, and has been produced by Kimsi Singh and Kartikeya Narayan Singh. “Except for the principal cast, the pool entirely consisted of non-actors and part-time actors with regular day jobs, but all from Delhi for colloquial authenticity in the film,” he adds on casting.
An engineering graduate, Ayr studied English literature, screenwriting and direction while working in San Francisco. “I became a cinephile in my late teens, but making films seemed like an elite profession that was out of reach. I took my first big step in that direction when a professor in my master’s degree programme recognised me for my essays on a series of documentary films on technology. He encouraged me to keep writing, and I became quite serious about wanting to pursue writing in its literary form,” he says. He used his 9-to-5 job to fund literature courses and then enrolled in screenwriting and direction courses at the San Francisco Film Society. “From then on, I dedicated my evenings and weekends to filmmaking,” he says.
He was confident, especially in its aesthetics and story that would resonate with both men and women. “But one can never expect anything when there are so many good films competing, so it’s always a pleasant surprise when one wins the top honour in a category,” Ayr says on bagging the Oxfam Award.
And not just the Indian audience, the film got an overwhelming response at its debut in Venice and China. “The reception at Venice was incredibly warm.
After the screening, all that I could hear were two words—Bravo and Bello. It proves that before any cultural connection comes the human connection, irrespective of ethnicity or race, which ultimately is a testament to the relevance and universal resonance of the thematic elements that were explored in the film,” he says, adding, “After the screening in China, a man came up to me and said that he had learned some things about Indian society, but a lot about his
The film will do festival rounds for now, and the details of its theatrical release will be producers’ call.