TORONTO: French director Mia Hansen-Love's 'Maya', one of three India-set titles in the Special Presentations selection of the 43rd Toronto International Film Festival, provides a genteel, non-judgmental, understated view of the country, shunning the cliches that the western cinematic gaze on the subcontinent often falls prey to.
Filmed primarily in Goa, 'Maya' tells the story of a restorative trip to India that a French war correspondent undertakes after being released from several months of captivity in Syria.
The film, also shot on location in Kolkata, Mumbai and Hampi, isn't big on plot and draws its strength from Hansen-Love's ability to funnel emotion into little gestures and subtle human exchanges.
Steering clear of the chaos, squalor and poverty of the land and focusing on real people grappling with believable life issues, 'Maya' is a delicate little film that probes an unlikely relationship that develops between the 32-year-old war reporter Gabriel Dahan, played by Roman Kolinka, and his Indian godfather's college-going daughter Maya (first-timer Aarshi Banerjee).
Add a post-screening interaction with the audience in TIFF's Bell Lightbox, actress-turned-director Hansen-Love said, "What you see in Maya corresponds to my experiences and knowledge of India.
I spent a lot of time prepping in Goa, besides having travelled frequently to the country before.
If you develop a personal connection with a place, you look at it differently."
"I do not necessarily see all the films that are made about India.
Many of them block off roads and other spaces during the filming.
I did not do that. I inserted my fiction into real life.
I found a way to remain invisible while shooting Maya on the streets."
Although the hero of the film is Gabriel, it is named after the principal female character.
"When I wrote the first draft of the screenplay, it was titled Gabriel Has Come Back.
As the script evolved, I realized that Maya is an essential figure.
It is she who helps Gabriel rediscover himself after the trauma of the Syrian experience and regain his passion for life," the writer-director explained.