Sooni Taraporevala on taking the leap of faith with Netflix’s Yeh Ballet
The award-winning director on her love for ballet and the boys on whom the film is based
For the script of her next film, Sooni Taraporevala has teamed up with her daughter Iyanah Bativala. The renowned filmmaker admits it is not exactly easy working with her offspring. Iyanah, who is studying in a university in the US, is fastidious about meticulously marking comments in the margins of the script draft as they email it back and forth to each other. “She gets exasperated when I sometimes forget to do that with the version I send across. She is a tough cookie.” Taraporevala laughs when she says that, her voice laced with maternal pride.
Talk around motherhood is a mixed ball of emotions for the 62-year-old photographer-writer-filmmaker right now. She lost her mother just two weeks before she started shooting her recently released Netflix film Yeh Ballet. “It was painful, but I think my mother’s blessings watched over me all through my shoot. I cannot recollect a single obstacle during the making of the film. It also helped greatly that Netflix and producer Siddharth Roy Kapur have been extremely supportive.”
The movie, which is centred on the heady rise of two male ballet dancers from the dingy, humble quarters of Mumbai to international ballet schools is an uneasy subject. But Taraporevala had already gleaned all the gritty research that was required for the storytelling, two years ago, when she had made the documentary on the two boys Manish Chauhan and Amiruddin Shah. The docu was produced by Memesys Culture Lab, where her son Jahan Bativala was working at the time. “They had wanted to make a virtual reality film based on a list of subjects and this was one of them. When they asked me if I would be interested, I instantly agreed.”
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It also helped that Taraporevala had learned ballet as a child. “I know how elitist ballet can be. When I had learned it as a child, it was an all-girls space…there were no boys. When I saw Manish and Amiruddin Shah, performing for the first time I was so moved I had tears in my eyes. And I instinctively knew this is the story I need to tell.”
The film tenderly peels the many complex layers that form the plot—the class divide between the two slum-dwelling protagonists and their wealthier, more hip classmates; the bristling friction with their conservative families when they decide to learn a dance form that is so essentially related to the feminine; and the punishing practice of exquisitely measured steps that finally yields such graceful, flawless performances. Taraporevala brought in Cindy Jourdain, an international ballet dancer, to choreograph the sequences for the film. Even though the two male leads were rank newcomers, she says it mostly helps to rely on the great engines of faith and perseverance. “As a director, you cannot teach someone to act. When I cast Manish and Achintya, it was only because I had full faith in the abilities and they looked natural in front of the camera.” The film does have more than a few notable names in its cast—Jim Sarbh, Danish Hussain, Vijay Maurya and English actor Julian Sands. After her last directorial venture, Little Zizou in 2009, Taraporevala has indeed spent a long time readying her offering for the big screen. “I will be back sooner, next time,” she says.
Cindy Jourdain and Achintya (Photograph: Sooni Taraporevala )
One wonders then of the challenges involved in being a female filmmaker in a male-dominated space. “I am not saying it’s easy,” she says. “But don’t allow that to be a daunting force. Today there are so many avenues for storytelling thanks to streaming platforms. Just focus on your story. Make it excellent.”
Photographs: Supriya Kantak