(August 14, 2023) A writer, director, and producer based in Los Angeles, Shaily Sanghvi has made several inroads into Hollywood, with films like ‘Pandaal’, ‘Jasmine Flowers’, ‘Little Joys of the Finite’, ‘Haze Grey’, ‘The Grass is Greener’, ‘Pirouette’ and more.
Sanghvi grew up in Ahmedabad but her love for films made her shift to Mumbai right after her under-graduation. Even as a child she would be completely involved when watching movies. “When I was watching Kuch Kuch Hota Hai at the age of four, I was weeping because I did not want Anjali to leave Rahul at the station,” she recollects. Even today she admits that she draws inspiration from the beautiful painting that Sanjay Leela Bhansali creates in each frame. She completed her undergraduate course in Mass Communication from Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University, where she was first exposed to filmmaking. She later moved to Los Angeles and finished her master’s from New York Film Academy (LA campus).
For someone who has always been an expressive person, whether it was through her paintings, poems or learning dance forms like Kathak, Salsa, Bharatnatyam or Belly Dance as a child, she learnt early that there was a way for her to express all these forms together and this was when she fell in love with the craft. “I could use my poems for characters’ emotions, painting to make my frame aesthetic, and dance to understand complex human behaviours. And when I saw Zoya Akhtar and her films using each of these forms to express emotions her characters go through, my mind was set,” says Sanghvi. Incidentally, she made her first film during under graduation which she believes was guerrilla filmmaking in a true sense. “My parents became my production designers; my photography friend became my DOP and my room became my set. Not of much surprise, that film was not a great one. But what I did realise was the lengths I was ready to go to get that story to life and film it. I learnt a lot of what not to do from that and how to grow.”
The first time she saw a set was when she did an internship for India’s Best Dramebaaz, Season 2 on Zee TV. This was when she was still doing her undergraduate course when she found that they needed interns for a TV show. “There was not even a second of doubt that I wanted to do it. That was the first time I went to Mumbai for work and not to see relatives. That month of internship was enough to give me a lifetime of determination to go back and do this for life,” the Global Indian says. It was only after two years that she moved to Mumbai and joined Balaji Telefilms as Ekta Kapoor’s creative associate. And proverbially, there was no looking back as she has stints with Disney, Monozygotic (Roadies famed, Raghu and Rajiv’s production house), and Flipkart MiniTV after that. She also worked with several celebrities like Sonali Bendre, Sajid Khan, Vivek Oberoi, Ekta Kapoor, Vishal Malhotra, Mallika Dua, Rhea Kapoor, Akash Gupta and more.
One film that she is proud of is ‘Pirouette’ that has garnered various awards including the Best Drama award at the prestigious Synergy Film Festival 2022, alongside her well-deserved recognition as Best Female Director. The film is about this uncomfortable topic of desires through the journey of a ballet dancer and her struggle to fulfil her dreams. It talks about how sometimes the dreams that you choose do not choose you back. But does that make it the end? Life runs in circles, if you have not received what you desire, it is yet not the end. “Awards and recognition may not help your craft, but they do play a role to boost you. Pirouette being one of my early films to gain recognition gave me a boost to keep going,” she avers. Other than this, her horror-thriller film, ‘I Got You’ has also bagged a couple of awards in categories like best horror and best director. “One of the bigger milestones is creating my film ‘Alive’. Crowdfunded, this film holds a special place in my heart since it was roughly based on my experience of recent grief. Having lost my Badi Ma very recently, it took me a lot of courage to gather myself and make this film happen. The film is currently in post-production and we are working towards making it the best version of itself. Since it is based roughly on the way my family dealt with that grief, this film means to me a lot more than any of my creations,” she says.
Sanghvi is working to elevate India’s standing on the global cinematic stage and takes pride that she has a unique perspective of blending two cultures to bring a fresh story. “The last two films that I directed were both Indian stories. My film ‘Jasmine Flowers’ is about an Old Indian woman, residing in the US, hoping for a wedding invitation to her neighbour’s wedding despite her inauspicious status as a widow. What we explore in this film is not how regressive the traditions are but how in today’s time we are living against them,” says Sanghvi. Having a multicultural experience helps a lot while exploring human emotions. “I want people here to know India for things way beyond the dance we have in our films. Being amongst the biggest entertainment industry in the world the Indian film industry should be known for so much more, for the stories, for its culture, for so much that it has to offer and I want the world to see that,” she opines.
Films come with their own set of challenges. For instance, Pirouette was being shot on 35mm film camera and choreographing a whole ballet sequence and training the talent to perform it within the limited takes that a film camera allows to fit everything within the limited budget was hard. “Films are someone everyone will have an opinion on. That is the beauty of it. You make one film but that same film will be seen in a million different ways. That is not a test to your abilities but the natural way of art to exist,” she admits. Currently, she is working on the postproduction of three of her films and is preparing her next project, a web series to be shot in the coming year. See you at the movies!