Sahela’: A Film Inspired by Personal Journey of Self-Discovery

The film captures the journey of Vir Oza and Nitya Behl, a young married couple residing in Western Sydney…writes Sukant Deepak

Filmmaker Raghuvir Joshi’s movie ‘Sahela’, an Australian production in English, set to make its South Asian premiere at the Jio MAMI Mumbai International Film Festival 2023 is inspired by his own lived experience of having discovered his sexuality post-marriage.

“It was a big milestone In my life and I had to express it through the medium of film. I directed a short film called Yaman a few years ago which then became the proof of concept for the feature film, ‘Sahela’,” he tells.

He however adds that it would be unfair to call the feature film an ‘extension’ of ‘Yaman’ as the story and characters, and the milieu itself is very different. “But yes, the emotional core is the same, of love and loss.”

‘Sahela’, shot in Australia, boasts of a cast including Antonio Aakeel (‘Eaten by Lions’, ‘Tomb Raider’) and Anula Navlekar (‘Brahman Naman’, ‘BA Pass’) in lead roles along with Sheeba Chaddha, Vipin Sharma, Harish Patel, Anita Patel and Nicholas Brown. 

The film captures the journey of Vir Oza and Nitya Behl, a young married couple residing in Western Sydney. 

Struggling beneath the weight of Indian familial expectations and ingrained gender norms, Vir and Nitya’s paths intersect at a critical breaking point, propelling Vir to disclose his true sexuality to Nitya. 

This revelation causes a disconnect between the couple, casting a cloud of societal disgrace over their family’s deeply held cultural values. 

As Vir embarks on a voyage of self-discovery, Nitya grapples with the very fabric of her own reality, leading them down pathways of exploration and transformation. Albeit still emotionally tethered to each other, they unearth an alternate perspective on love.

“My growth as an artist and a human being in this film has been exponential. I love the process of filmmaking as much as I am passionate about telling stories. Both go hand in glove for me. I feel so invigorated after this experience. I want to make newer mistakes and get better at my craft,” he says about the experience of directing the film.

Stressing that it was an incredible experience surrounded by some of the best HODs in the world of cinema, from Nialdri Kumar (sitar maestro) to Wayne Pashley (Sound designer, Oscar-nominated for ‘Elvis’) and the DOP, Michael Mcdermott who shot ‘Hounds of Love’, he adds, “it was a great learning curve as an artist.”

Talk to him about the fact that there isn’t enough art, literature, or cinema on same-sex relationships produced in India and he feels while things have changed for the better in the recent past even in mainstream Hindi cinema and OTT platforms, we still need more art around queer narratives. 

“We can’t be fatigued by queer films and art just yet. It should not matter if they are cliches or too abstract, mainstream or niche — so be it. Let there be more … we need a bigger collective voice around queer films and art in general in our society. Let’s keep fighting the good fight, continue to speak truth to power and soon we shall see the rainbow at the end of the tunnel.”

For someone who has been living in both India and Australia, it has been an enriching experience straddling these two worlds. Stating that both these cities – Mumbai and Sydney – are melting pots of diversity and culture, he adds, “I am lucky to absorb and witness. I value it immensely as it has expedited my growth as an artist.”

Joshi, who was a student of Hindustani Classical music as a child, started seriously considering film during his school years. “It started with visualizing stuff I would read. Be it a book or an article in the newspaper. And those visual triggers led me to pursue the medium of film.”

Set to be a co-producer on Dev Patel’s upcoming directorial debut ‘Monkey Man’, he feels lucky to have found producers like Tayyab Madni

and Radhika Lavu who backed his vision.

“I am also privileged to have found a mentor in Dev Patel. I have learned so much working and assisting him on his projects. The support of this trifecta helped me make the film I wanted to make.”

The director studied film at Whistling Woods International in Mumbai back in the year 2009, but feels nowadays YouTube is a great way to start learning, doing short courses, masterclasses etc. 

“We can shoot a film on a phone and send it to film festivals. I think practical, on-ground learning on a film set is way better than going to a film school, to be honest. People management is something you can only learn by working on a film set,” he concludes.

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