Moradabad's movie man

Filmmaker Tushar Tyagi, who has seen his previous films, Gulabee and Hari, make it to big international festivals, speaks to Yogesh Pawar about his soon-to-release film Kashi, his life and his journey

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Moradabad's movie man

Los Angeles-based filmmaker of Indian descent Tushar Tyagi is making waves in the film capital of the world with his work. His previous films – Gulabee and Hari made it to big international festivals. The 28-year-old's latest 'Kashi' is set in rural India and deals with social issues like Swachch Bharat and Beti Bachao and Beti Padhao. Do these issues move him that much? "This is the 17th year of the 21st century. Surely this problem is an embarrassment for India since it persists 70 years after freedom," he points out, "We are a nuclear power and one of the fastest developing economies. It's time we dealt with problems of those below the poverty line. We have to fix and clean our country ourselves, no one will do it for us. The government can only get dustbins installed (which aren't enough by the way), but people need to learn to throw garbage only in bins and not on roads or in rivers."
He explains why this film and its subject is close to his heart. "I'm only the second generation out of my village in UP. Growing up, I spent every summer at my grandparents'. I still remember if we drove after sunset it was common to see defecating on roadsides. People stood embarrassed when headlights hit them. I wanted to do something about it and made a film as a tool of mass awareness."

We can't resist wondering if this is a way of doffing his hat at the the government's agenda following in the footsteps of Akshay Kumar's 'Toilet Ek Prem Katha (TEPK)' to ensure better response for its India release? "Yes, you could call it that. After all the government is on the right track. Even if highlighted before, we need to keep bringing it back on the top till we resolve this problem once and for all. And it's not just this issue. Everything is inter-related and we need to be vigilant," and explains, "There are so many working on gauraksha and yet on my recent visit to Varanasi, I counted 210 stray cows on road without food and water, chewing plastic bags filled with garbage. We need an animal control department where stray cows and other animals can be taken off roads. And we need to stop disposing off garbage in plastic bags out in the open." He admits he still hasn't watched TEPK.

"Unfortunately, I haven't been able to because of how busy I'm with the post production of 'Kashi'. I hope to check it out soon."

His next A Broken Egg the story of a dysfunctional family that goes through varied emotions over dinner due to the recent discovery of their teen daughter being pregnant and adamant to birth her dead boyfriend's child, releases September end. "This was shot in Los Angeles in December last year and I will be jumping headlong into the post production as soon as Kashi is off the table."

Three years ago his Gulabee won him a Royal Reel award at the Canada International Film Festival. Still spoken of highly for its pathbreaking nuance of looking at the life of a sex worker. Remembering how it fell together still gives him goosebumps. "I was living in New York. On a flight from JFK to Delhi, two women sat next to me. One of them spoke of her maid's 12-year-old, abducted and sold to a brothel. That shook me. I wanted to make a film about it. For the rest of the flight I imagined the face of that girl and made an initial draft of the script on the flight. A week later, I spent time researching my subject in Mumbai's red light area of Kamathipura. I spoke to many sex workers and finalised the script and shot in Mumbai."

Though Tyagi's been living and breathing films (and even doing radio for a bit) since 2013 as an assistant director, actor, writer and filmmaker, it wasn't till Gulabee that he began working with Indian topics. "Like I explained Gulabee happened suddenly. Till then, I made independent films in New York. I'm glad that I was on that flight that day, and overheard that conversation, which inspired me," says the Moradabad born who pursued computer engineering in Roorkee.

He explains the switch in careers saying he wanted tell stories since he was little because of his grandmom's stories. "The only way I knew to do that was film. Engineering happened as, like most Indian parents, mine too wanted me to get a nice degree first, instead of taking off to the US for Film Studies right after school. Since then, they've come around and are quite supportive."

Whether Lying is done.., Inception of..., or 'Behind a Woman's Eyes' all of Tyagi's films are off-beat. When asked whether he will ever make a proper Bollywood mainstream masala film ever, he laughs. "I'm currently working on another women-centric film, about a 28-year-old Hindu from a conservative background who hides her severe vitiligo under heavy makeup every day. She falls in love with a Muslim boy who is unaware of her symptoms. When it is revealed her life turns upside down. I wonder if adding an item song will help position it as a proper Bollywood mainstream masala film. I plan to be in Mumbai next year for a bit to find producers and funding for it and eventually make it happen."

Tyagi dislikes being slotted as an American filmmaker, or someone who wants to make films in India and abroad. "Filmmakers are like birds – we fly and nest wherever our work takes us. I see myself as an Indian who wants to make films in India and abroad taking our culture to the international level.''

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