The Ukrainian born filmmaker Daria Gaikalova, who prefers to go by her stage name Dar Gai, has never been one to shy away from difficult projects.
In fact, Dar Gai decides to add a gender-neutral perspective to her filmmaking with the use of her pseudonym, as she would like the audiences to watch her movies from the perspective of the characters in them, instead of the fact that it directed by a woman.
Q. How is Daria in real life?
What makes me unique is that I’m a strange traveller. I’m both at home and not at home, simultaneously. When I’m writing scripts, I feel like I’m Indian, but when I try to polish it and look at it objectively, I realize that I’m neither a filmmaker nor a Ukrainian. I’m just a traveller looking for stories to tell and to rediscover myself.
Q. About your stage name
It was important to me that the audience does not judge the film based on whether I’m Ukrainian or a female. If they have questions, I think it’s better if they can figure out who the creator is. When we think about the creator, our mind goes away from the story and into the background of the creator. That’s why I put my name as ‘Dar Gai’, so that people don’t know whether the filmmaker is male or female. People think that I’m a male. I receive invitations addressed to “Mr. Gai”. I don’t want audience to get a different context of the film, except that of the film itself. I created this safety net, however, facing social issues as a female director is a tricky question. There are definitely some gender issues.
Q. Why did you opt for India?
I was doing my Bachelor degree in Philosophy. At the same time, I was heavily involved in theatre and art. I thought I knew enough about Western culture and wanted to explore something new. So I sent my CV all over the world, and one of the schools in India invited me to teach. I stayed initially for 6 months, but then they told me to stay for another 6 months. I knew that this would repeat. So it’s been 6 years now, and now I don’t see it as another 6 months. I guess I’m kind of stuck here. We have so many different ideas to tell on the screen, with so many projects. I came to Bombay and took a short course on screenwriting in Whistling Woods, and they invited me to teach. So I taught there for three and half years, and then I took a break to realize that I’m not a very institutional person. I need my time to find what I want to say. Each feature film tells me that we’re growing as storytellers and not just filmmakers. It’s not just about technique, it’s also about what and how you’re trying to say; what you are trying to discover inside.
Q. From screenwriting to direction
I think screenwriting was like a cheat because I was trying to be a documentary filmmaker. But a part of me knew nobody has applied for the course. So I decided to try it. I discovered that it’s very close to me and allows me to create worlds which were always inside me. I was fascinated with this experience. The next step was to put them on the screen.
Q. About ‘Teen Aur Aadha’
I was sitting in the cinema and was watching a strange Bollywood film and was bored. An idea then came up to me for a short film set in a brothel. I shared the idea with my friend who is a cinematographer. He said that we can shoot it in one long take. It would be around 20 minutes. I started writing the script and another friend of mine, Aditi Modi also loved the idea and said that we could shoot in her house. She would produce it. I agreed. I used my own students who came there to assist. We shot a short film and I showed it to a friend of mine and she really liked it. We then decided to show it to Anurag Kashyap. He watched the film and his first reaction was “I wish I shot it” and for me, that reaction was one of the most inspiring ones because that pushed me to not fear the creation. Whether people related to it or not, for me it was a creative process. I would just need to move on with direction. He said that he liked everything, but that we could use better cameras. So he helped us to shoot it again. He watched it again and proposed the idea of it as a feature film. So I started writing the script and he liked it. He said that he could be a presenter but said that filmmaking is all about the drive. I should shoot even if I don’t have the financial support. We got great support from him and realized that we shouldn’t depend on studios or producers. It’s experimental and we knew that nobody would take a risk in investing in it. So we decided to produce it ourselves. The producer of the film, Dheer Momaya read the script and said that he can feel for the script, and could imagine how it would come out in three long takes. So he decided to produce it. We brought our team together and nobody was getting paid. My idea was to infuse Ukrainian and Indian culture together for the music. We put Ukrainian folk song with Indian musical instruments. So, I guess this is how it happened.
Q. Jim Sarbh and Zoya Hussain are fresh from the stupendous success of Padmaavat and Mukkabaaz respectively. Does it help having two established actors in your debut film?
My producer is very happy. We definitely discuss if their film can promote our films. At the end of the day, our industry is tricky that big fish can push the smaller fish.
Q. Obstacles while filming
I guess the most difficult was that it was shot in three long takes. With our shoestring budget, we could not afford even one extra day for rehearsal with the camera. The camera came only on days of the shoot. We had to rehearse for days without the camera to make sure that things were perfect. My producer actually lost half of his hair during the days of the take. We knew that if it didn’t happen in the next two hours, we wouldn’t have a film, because we wouldn’t have the budget for that. I remember in the second part of the film, at the end of the take, something was happening to the camera all the time. We had to retake again and I didn’t know till the last second if we got the take or not. All the three takes were extremely stressful. It was difficult for the actors, but we were blessed with good actors who had done theatre. We also went through a lot of takes with the actors, like we did in the first part with a twelve-year-old boy. We did around fifty hours of rehearsals with him. He was able to pull it off and was the best in the entire film.
-“We have received 7 awards for the film so far and go to Ottawa Indian Film Festival as an opening film, and in June there’s a screening at London Indian Film Festival”
Can we remove “opening night”? As I couldn’t come for the first day to Ottawa and they put other film as opening and ours in the next day. We can add “Odesa Film Festival” as it’s a very prestigious Eastern European festival and the entire crew including Zoya and Jim were invited with the film there.
Q. Where has your film screened?
We’ve travelled to over 22 film festivals and still continue to make rounds. We got our first premiere at the Kerala Film Festival, and they saw through each subplot and metaphor that I had put into the film. Their reactions were overwhelming. I think it was the best response towards the film. We have received 7 awards for the film so far, and was initially selected as an opening film for the Ottawa Indian Film Festival, but since I couldn’t make it so my film was screened the next day. We were also invited at the “Odesa Film Festival”, a very prestigious Eastern European festival and the entire crew including Zoya and Jim were also present. Then in June there’s a screening at London Indian Film Festival. Now we’re just all over the world, France, Portugal, and Nigeria which was a nice surprise. I’m looking forward to see how people from different nations are able to relate to something so specific to Mumbai.
Q. Virtues of film festivals
Film festivals are just as tricky as Bollywood. We thought that it would be easy at first, but now my producer says that he’s done with festivals. You need to know how the festival functions and they can be important for small films to get a digital release, whether through Netflix or Amazon. You also get exposure to the audience and get to test your film on the audience.
Q. First stint with Indian cinema
My grandmother knows Raj Kapoor songs by heart and who Kishore Kumar is. During her time, Indian films were extremely popular. Unfortunately, when I talk about Indian cinema with my friends, they only know Bollywood and awkward films. They haven’t been exposed to modern Indian art house cinema because we don’t have distribution for that yet. I really hope that Indian film festivals in Ukraine will open up some doors to each other’s cultures.
Q. Ukrainian born, Indian filmmaker
I am facing a lot of issues with it. When people ask me where I’m from, I say that, ‘I was born in Ukraine but I work in India’. When they ask me which country do I belong to as a director, and I don’t know how to answer. I can’t say Ukraine because I’m not shooting in Ukraine, and when we’re shooting the film, to be considered as an Indian filmmaker, you need to be born in India. That creates issues with funds. Even though my story and actors are Indian of Marathi, I need to be considered as an Indian for this to be an Indian project.
Q. Casting couch in the film industry
I think I’m lucky because I haven’t met people who were trying to take advantage of me. Or, I was not seeing it and I wanted to stay at home and write. I’m not very extroverted. I heard about these stories, but I haven’t faced them.
Q. Objective as a filmmaker
I really want to make a feature film every year, and I want with each film to grow as a filmmaker and to give opportunities to people who have not been exposed to filmmaking or acting. For example, our lead in the second film has never stepped outside Bombay his entire life. He’s been a driver for 45 years, and when I saw him, I thought that he could be the best choice for our film. It was his first experience in his entire life to travel and have people take care of him. His experience and its reaction made me very happy. No matter what would happen to the film, it was worth it.
Q. Status of independent cinema at present
I think right now, indie filmmakers are getting important opportunities for exposure through digital platforms. We are not tied down to Bollywood studios or producers who want to make 20 crores with stars. That kind of freedom has never been there before.
Q. Upcoming projects
Right now, we are in the last leg of post-production of our second film and next week I go to Rome to write music background score with an Italian composer. Hopefully, by the end of this year, we’ll do a round of festivals or a digital release. We have three projects for feature films.
One is a film which will be shot by three to four different female filmmakers from around the world. One is from India, and it’s me in this case. One from Ukraine, US and Nigeria or Netherlands. It is a collection of short stories of female experiences and their feelings. It’s inspiring and I think it’s important to share these stories just to see how all women around the world have the same issues.
The second project is a black comedy set on the India-Pakistan border.
The third one is a digital film for one of the major platforms.
Q. The filmy gyan
If you have your camera or phone, just shoot your film even if you have no budget. Don’t think about how it will be. If you get an opportunity, just take it and shoot the feature film.
WATCH the trailer of Teen Aur Aadha:
READ Dar Gai’s bio:
Also READ/WATCH other INTERVIEWS: