Another milestone: Ivan Ayr’s 2nd drive to Venice International Film Festival

Even while he is still giving the final touches to his second film ‘Milestone’, shot in 28 days, it has already made it to the Venice International Film Festival (Horizons section) on the basis of the first cut.

Filmmaker Ivan Ayr, whose debut movie ‘Soni’ also premiered at the 75th Venice International Film Festival to a standing ovation, smiles that he was not expecting another screening at the prestigious festival so soon. Though the filmmaker prefers to keep things under wraps until the final product is complete, the word about ‘Milestone’ got to one of the programmers at the Venice Festival. “So I shared the first cut with him, just to get feedback. He thought the film was ‘complete’, and one thing led to another. I barely had time to react. Guess when it is finally shown and reactions start coming in, things will become more believable,” he told IANS.

Revolving around a veteran truck driver and focussing on the psychological impact of the profession on his life and well being — how one becomes used to confined in a home away from home, the movie delves on the thought — one may be going places but is he getting anywhere? “It also talks about the changing economic and social landscape of the country, and how it impacts him — his past and he coming to terms with it. The film is not just about life on the road, but also about life when you come back. It’s also about understanding —who am I if I am not ‘that’? What am I doing when I am not doing that? It’s more about the human experience in present day India,” says the Director about the film that was wrapped just three weeks before the lockdown in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Conceived while he was still based in the US, Ayr initially wrote the story about an Indian truck driver there. It was only when he moved to India that his producer and he thought about moving the film to the Indian truck community. “She believed it could be interesting if the film was set here. I shifted gears and started rewriting for India.”

While ‘Soni’ required extensive research on not just how the police functioned but also the thought processes of those in uniform, this one was somewhat familiar territory as Ayr’s extended family is in the transport business. “Yes, this world was not that alien as people in my extended family drove trucks and went on to become major transporters — both in India and the West. So, in a way I was acquainted with the ecosystem. Of course, for the film, I spent time with modern day truckers to understand the specific problems they were facing and present day experiences.

Set in Sanjay Gandhi Transport Nagar, the largest transportation zone in Asia (National Capital Region), Ayr, who co-wrote, directed, shot and edited the film says that the pre-production was not only extremely hard but also took a lot of time. “Five months were spent in finding the locations we had imagined. We shot a lot on highways and revisited the transport hub multiple times to get a sense of things there.”

Starring actor Survinder Vicky in the lead, who played the protagonist in Gurvinder Singh’s ‘Chauthi Koot’, the Director, whose last film garnered much attention at major festivals abroad feels a great festival run might be instrumental in getting international distribution but the same does not apply to the Indian scenario. “In the absence of major starts, festivals are the only way to get films to international audiences. But, when it comes to India, it depends on the movie. As history has shown, and remains so till date — Indian distributors aren’t very excited about international festivals. They might personally like the film, but their business decision remains unaffected by which festival your film is hitting.”

Pointing that the kind of films being released on multiple OTT platforms clearly points at their growing preference for mainstream content, Ayr, who likes to work on two-three ideas at any given time, adds, “I don’t know if the pandemic had a role to play with it or it has accelerated that trajectory. But, it’s a development that’s certainly happening. What’s in store for regional art house cinema is anybody’s guess. Frankly, things don’t look very promising if they continue to go this way.”

Ask him if getting financial backing after ‘Soni’ has become easier and the filmmaker points that it all depends on the kind of story one is telling. “It makes me upset that despite proving yourself multiple times, one has to struggle for financial backing. However, eventually people do find a way. And one thing is for certain — films made by good directors do find audiences. The Indian diaspora is huge, we can’t make assumptions about what will work or not.”