#TIFF, #TorontoInternationalFilmFestival, #TheFather
Bulgaria based filmmaker Petar Valchanov and his partner Kristina Grozeva write, produce and direct films ranging from documentaries, and shorts to feature films. IBNS Canada Special Correspondent, and Canadian-Media's Editor Asha Bajaj catches up with Petar Valchanov, director of "The Father", one of the critically acclaimed films premiered at the TIFF 2019.
Image Credit: TIFF
Kristina Grozeva and you are a writer-producer-director couple based in Sofia, Bulgaria and have been working together. Where and when did you meet Kristina and what motivated you to form a partnership to work together? What was the name given to this partnership?
We have known each other and worked together for more than 16 years. We met in the film school in Sofia. Our first meeting outside the film school was at a festival in Egypt. Our passion for film developed while we were in school. During that time, we helped and cooperated with each other. It was not of course, official cooperation. Our desire for cinema was in the developmental stage. Then after graduation, we tried one commercial and then one short film. We had lots of fun and gained good experience. We felt we were good partners, and this inspired and motivated us to form a partnership to work together. The official partnership started with one short film Jump. We created a production company called Abraxas Film.
Name a few films, documentaries and shorts and features which were produced by you both? Give some details of their themes, and the background reflected by these films? Where were they shot?
In 2012, we co-directed the short film ‘Jump’. We also produced several short films and features, including the documentary Parable of Life (2010) and feature films such as 'The Lesson' (2014), 'Glory' (2016) and 'The Father' (2019). The documentary ‘Parable of Life’ is about a painter, who is my father. "The Lesson" depicts the drama about economic stress and the desperation of Bulgarian society. ‘Glory’ is a parable exploring the themes of corruption, class differences in contemporary Bulgarian society. They were shot in Bulgaria in real locations.
Describe the struggle you faced before you got recognition. Who was your idol?
The struggles we faced mostly pertained to getting finances in Bulgaria. For one of our feature films, we got only 15,000 dollars as funds, which was a small amount. After that, we started getting financial help from the United States. Our idols were our teachers, programmers and directors of films of different genres
Coming to the film 'The Father' which is written, directed and produced by Kristina Grozeva and yourself, what motivated you to write the script?
Our real-life experiences concerning relationships and communications between different generations were the main motives for us to produce this film. ‘The Father’ is the most personal and intimate story. The opening scene of the film, in which after Pavel's mother's funeral, one neighbour comes and tells his family that she had a phone call from Pavel’s mother, relates to my real experience. In real life. After the funeral of my mother, one neighbour, who was an intimate friend of my mother's, came to us to tell us that she had a phone call from her mother. I was startled at that time. I began to think that maybe my mother is trying to send us a message, maybe she had something she wanted to tell us. Then after further investigation, we found out that it was due to a faulty phone connection. This event motivated us to write the script for the film ‘The Father.’
(The storyline of the film as mentioned on the IMDb website centres around Vasil, who has just lost his wife Valentina. When a woman at her funeral proclaims that the dead woman called her cell phone, Vasil seeks out the help of a well-known psychic in order to contact his wife. His son Pavel tries to bring him to his senses, but Vasil stubbornly insists on doing things his own way. "The Father" is an intimate family drama about the difficulties of connecting with those close to us. )
Which elements, do you think, were responsible for the film's critical acclaim? Besides supernaturalism, what are the other elements of the story? How did you rationalize the supernatural element in the film: such as hearing noises at night; the breaking of mother’s favourite vase and Father’s reasoning that his wife is trying to tell something.
Besides supernaturalism, other elements that were responsible for the film being acclaimed as North American Premiere in the Contemporary World Cinema section, are humour, comedy, grief, guilt and coping with life. We introduced comedy in the film to send a message across the viewers as well as to the world at large that to visualize sorrow through comedy and laughter is crucial in diminishing the effects of sorrow.
Lastly, it was the guilt of the character Vasil, which was responsible for evoking events such as Father hearing noises at night, breaking of mother’s favorite vase, Father's insistence that his wife is trying to tell something, and Valentina’s friend struggling to convince Vasil that Pavel's mother had been calling her again and again. The end, when Vasil confesses that he had killed Valentina, rationalises the supernatural element of the story because it was the guilt of Vasil, who is portrayed as mentally challenged, which had given rise to hearing noises at night and that Valentina was trying to say something to him.
#TheSkyIsPink, #ShonaliBose, #PriyankaChopraJonas, #FarhanAkhtar
Shonali Bose, director and producer of the Priyanka Chopra Jonas-Farhan Akhtar starrer "The Sky is Pink" opens her heart to Asha Bajaj, IBNS Canada Special Correspondent, and Canadian-Media's Editor, in an interview during TIFF 2019, where she talks about her personal loss and the loss faced by the parents of a child who dies from an immune deficiency disease.
Shonali, can you tell me what motivated you to produce this film? Is there a real-life link to the story in the failure of the advancement of medical research and technology to find a cure for diseases such as Severe Combined Immune Deficiency (SCID) Aisha suffered from in the movie?
No, it is not a medical journey and it is nothing to do with the medical failure to cure the disease. That is not in what I was interested in. I was basically approached by Aditi and Niren Chaudhary to tell the story of their daughter. I told them that I would tell only their story, I was inspired both by their love story and for being such good parents to their daughter Aisha. They knew their daughter suffered from SCID and that she would not live long. Yet they were able to create such magical moments for her. They understood all the medical terms and did whatever they could to make her life happy. I found them very inspiring as parents. That is the story I wanted to the tell. Through that, if anybody gets the message of medical failure to cure a disease, that is fine. But I did not put that message. I do not put messages like that in my films. There was, of course, no cure for SCID in India at that time. But since then Niren's boss had started a bone marrow transplantation bank.
Image credit: Shonali Bose Facebook
In the movie, Aditi says that the birth of every child serves a purpose. What do you think Aditi meant by saying that every child has a purpose in life?
Aisha was a very evolved soul. She did not have to be on earth longer than 18 years and therefore died. It was because she did not have to be on earth longer than that. Such was the case of my son Nishan who lost his life at the age of 16. His soul was more evolved than Aisha. Because people with more evolved souls leave earth earlier. Ishan knew that his purpose in life was over and he died.
As far as Aisha's purpose in life, I do not think there is a belief that a child should be born with a purpose in life. That is not what Aditi meant. She was trying to say that she did not want to abort the child.
From left to right: Niren, Shonali, Priyanka & Ishan
What do you think Aisha's purpose in life was? Can you elaborate on that?
I think that Aisha's soul had chosen her parents and chose to die at the age of 18. She had served the purpose in life and she had learnt all that she wanted to learn. She did not intend to live longer than that. Same with my son Ishan. He chose me as his mother and knew he would die at the age of 16. I feel gifted that he taught me about loss and pain and coping with death. He chose to have me as his parent and then died. That is really amazing and beautiful.
Same with Aisha. She brought a lot of life and light and courage in her parents' lives. She taught them to be brave and perseverance in life as they had to deal with stress and difficulties in finding cures for Aisha's disease and to make her short life happy. These were the difficult lessons of being aware that Aisha would die soon. Aisha's purpose in life was to teach her parents the meaning of loss, pain and death and the strength to bear these.
There was a scene in the film in which medical blood reports said Ishan was not the legitimate child of Niren. Both Aditi and Niren are shattered. They felt that their lives were falling apart. Although there was a clarification later which proved the reports to be wrong, such reports could shatter the lives of many couples and challenge medical technology. Please comment on this.
This is based on fact. They did receive such a report. Everything is true. I did not make up anything. AIIMS hospital in Delhi had produced a false blood report and when they were in London there was a fight between them with Aditi saying that we deal with this crisis or think of treating Aisha. The fight was not very serious and did not last long. But it was full of humour. The Sunrise Radio Station in London which helped the parents to raise money for the treatment of Aisha was also real. Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital (GOSCH) in London which saved Aisha's life was also real. Everything is based on fact.
L to R: Ishan, Priyanka, Aisha & Niren. Image credit: Facebook of Shonali Bose
The film's message of freedom in choices in life is revealed by Aditi's message to her son Ishan when punished by his teacher. Another message of hope and happiness revealed in Aisha's tribute to her parents asking them to let go of the past and enjoy life with hope for the future. Besides these, do you feel any other significance in the meaning of "The Sky is Pink'?
You are right about the two messages that you feel you get from 'The Sky is Pink.' Pink sky also signifies expanse of horizons, endless opportunities, optimism and positivity. To me, there is a third layer to it. It also signifies the presence of my son Ishan in the pink sky.
[Shonali Bose becomes emotional]
Every morning I look at the sky and say, Ishan, where are you? Talk to me. Every morning I talk to him. Today is the ninth death anniversary of my son Ishan and coincidentally 'The Sky is Pink' would be premiered in Toronto today. This morning when I looked at the sky to talk to him the sky was pink in Toronto.
[Bose shows the image of the pink sky on her mobile phone which she took that morning.]
The pink sky was given to me by my son.