Here comes afia

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By NANDITA DAS WILL SHOOT IN THE CITY IN MARCH FOR DIRECTOR ONIR'S SHORT FILM
  • Published 16.02.10
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Nandita Das

Exit Kalki Koechlin. Enter Nandita Das. A change of story by director Onir has meant that the Shubho Mahurat actress turned Firaaq director, and not the Dev D debutante, would come to Calcutta to shoot for I Am Afia.

Come March 1 and the My Brother... Nikhil maker would return to the city where he grew up — he did his comparative literature from Jadavpur University — to shoot the last part of the four-in-one I Am film.

The I Am films is about “people with fractured lives but unbroken dreams”. “It’s an attempt on my part to show the conflicts and dilemmas of the modern Indian society,” says Onir, who came down to Calcutta last weekend to recce the locations.

He has already completed the other three shorts — I Am Omar, I Am Abhimanyu and I Am Megha — which have dealt with topics like exploitation of gays, child abuse and the plight of the Kashmiri pandits. I Am Afia would complete his ambitious project.

Earlier, there was talk of Kalki, who played Chanda in Anurag Kashyap’s Dev D last year, being Afia. But no longer. “At that time I wanted to make the film on NGO corruption but as we discussed the subject more and more, both Kalki and me felt that the narrative was becoming too hurried in the 25-minute limit. So we decided to make a full-length feature out of it and change the story of I Am Afia.”

Onir

Now, I Am Afia is about a woman who has just walked out of a bad marriage. She wants to have a child but she doesn’t want to depend on a man for that. So she seeks a sperm donor for the same.

Why Calcutta for this story? “Calcutta can represent any city in the country,” explains Onir. “I have based each of the other stories in different cities. Also, I have always wanted to shoot a film in Calcutta. So everything fell into place.”

Onir and his team would shoot at several locations in Calcutta but largely in places that represent the new face of the city. “I don’t want to shoot in old Calcutta because it has already been done in many films and done very well. I would be shooting a lot on Park Street, especially Flurys. Then there’s a sequence in Floatel. There’s Gariahat, streets of Chowringhee...”

Not just Nandita, the title stars of two of the other three shorts — Sanjay Suri (Abhimanyu) and Juhi Chawla (Megha) — feature in I Am Afia and will be in town for the seven days of shooting. The 25-minute short would also star Purab Kohli, who was an integral part of Onir’s My Brother... Nikhil.

The I Am films, each of which costs around Rs 30 lakh, has been funded by “the common man”. Anybody who’s paid Rs 5,000 or more has “co-owned” the films. “The response to the concept has been overwhelming... almost 50 per cent of the money has come through my Facebook contacts,” says Onir.

Even for his Calcutta shoot, Onir is getting help from friends here. Dev R Nil is doing the costumes for the film free of charge and Mallika Jalan is volunteering as the line producer.

Once I Am Afia is shot, the film will be completed by end-March and then travel the festival circuit.