Cast, Crew Reflect on Bollywood Film Shot in Washington
By: Geeta Goindi
Above: Cast and crew of the film ‘9 Eleven’ on the Red Carpet on the opening night of the first DC South Asian Film Festival. Seen from left to right are: Roni Mazumdar, Tejash Natali, Jyoti Singh and Manan Singh Katohora. Photo credit: Ceasar Productions
The fast-paced Bollywood thriller, '9 Eleven', shot in the Washington area garnered considerable community support for its premiere at the DC South Asian Film Festival held on the campus of the Universities at Shady Grove in Rockville. Directed by Manan Singh Katohora, produced by Narain Kumar Mathur and his wife Sadhana, the film stars twelve multi-talented artistes, in lead roles, primarily from the national capital region and New York.
Screened at the DCSAFF, a first-of-its-kind event organized by Manoj Singh and Sangeeta Anand of Ceasar Productions, it drew a sizeable number of government officials, community activists, talented artistes and avid movie-goers. On hand, were: Dr. Rajan Natarajan, Deputy Secretary of State for Policy and External Affairs in Maryland; Delegate Aruna Miller (Democrat), representing District 15 in Montgomery County; Dr. Debapriya Dutta, Counselor, Science and Technology, at the Indian Embassy, and his wife Ayona; Suneil Anand, son of the legendary actor Dev Anand; and Mrs. Vatsala Mehra, renowned ghazal singer, founder and director of the Balaji Music Academy based in McLean, VA.
Addressing the audience, post the screening, Manan acknowledged, "This movie has been possible thanks to Mr. Narain Kumar Mathur, Mr. Kishen Mathur and Mrs. Sadhana Mathur". He effusively thanked his parents, Mr. Bhupinder Singh and Mrs. Harvinder Katohora, sisters Aaman and Isha, for their support and encouragement. "It is a dream come true for me", he said. "It is a small film, but I hope it has a long shelf life"!
Even before the film was feted at its premier in Washington, it bagged two prestigious awards: 'Best Feature Film Award' at The People's Film Festival in Manhattan, NY; and the '2012 Rising Star Award' at the Canada International Film Festival.
For all its twists and turns, the film conveys a powerful message: actions always have repercussions! It's the law of Karma: as you sow, so shall you reap!
The title is enigmatic. It should be stated at the outset that the film is not based or connected with the 9/11 terror attacks which immediately come to mind, so deeply are they embedded in our collective consciousness. The director explained that, in the film, the action unfolds on November 9 which in India, where the story is set, is written as 9-11. Then, there are 11 people who are being terrorized every 9 minutes.
The film maintains its momentum. There is never a dull moment! Suneil Anand noted, "it is well-made and well-scripted. "I thought it was a gripping film", he told the audience. "It kept me glued to my seat. That's for sure"!
We were pleasantly surprised by the caliber of the performances. It was a treat to watch local artistes of the east coast essay complex roles with ease. The talented cast included: Jyoti Singh (Sarita Gupta), Priya Mathur (Gina), Nikkitasha Marwaha (Ruma Bose), Vicki Yung (Mrs. Chen), Devasish Ray (Major Dharam Bakshi), Chinmay Dhamne (Satya), Tejash Natali (Sameer bhai), Roni Mazumdar (Darryl Gonsalves), Sonny Chatrath (Dr. Rahat Khan), Samir Stewart (Abhimanyu Singh), Homi Irani (Father Joseph), Paul Singh (DJ Mittal) and Sumeet Verma (Gaurav Bakshi).
Some members of the cast and crew shared their insights and experiences of working on this project with us.
The editor, Aftab Asghar of Senses Films Productions, described his work as "a challenge and a unique opportunity at the same time" insofar as editing the film necessitated "a treatment that would bring people to the edge of their seats". He believed "the most unique, daring and challenging feat of the film" is that the action "happens entirely in a single room. Still, psychologically, you don't feel as if you are stuck in a room", he said.
"Generally, editors work with many locations, different plots, screenplay twists and, hence, they have the advantage of bringing pace and momentum to the movie, easily", Aftab told us. Not so, in this case. "As the editor of '9 Eleven', the primary way to create suspense was by cutting it fast on emotions which allowed us to analyze each and every reaction of the actors, even if it was not the real take", he revealed. "This way, we found some gems among the artistes even when they were not acting". He singled out "everyone's favorites - Jyoti and Tejash. I think director Manan Singh Katohora did an absolutely amazing job which helped a lot during post-production", he said.
Jyoti's character gives credence to the adage: tough times don't last; tough people do! She plays a key role in the film as a hard-core lawyer. "My character is nothing like me in real life", she told us. On screen, she projects a selfish, strong individual who has suffered hardships causing her to become self-centered. "I liked the role because it conveys the message that the things we do in life, good or bad, can affect another person's life without us realizing it", she said.
Off-screen, Jyoti is blessed with a warm, caring, benevolent disposition and it is no wonder that she made many close friends while shooting for the film. She gave us an insight to the people who worked diligently behind-the-scenes. "The crew was amazing, working endless hours", she disclosed. "I met Roli Chaturvedi and Vick Krishna who managed the schedule and the flow of direction. Jigme Tensing, our cinematographer, was amazing with saying, 'no, this does not look right' and we would shoot the scene again. He is from Bhutan and did not understand Hindi at all, but was able to tell us how the scene should be shot".
Among other names she mentioned were Ravi Muppa, Violetta D'agata, Gautham Kadian, Josh Feeser, Jack Martin, Rob Thomson and Sri Saripalli. "Most of these people were on the sets with us every day", she said. "We, the actors, were there for long hours, but even before we arrived on the set, the crew was already there and left after us. It is a team effort and I would say it was an amazing journey"!
Roni Mazumdar saw an interesting parallel between the reel and real story. "On screen, we see a story about the resilience of a man trying to avenge his son's death, while off-screen, this movie depicts the resilient journey of an independent film-maker, Manan Singh Katohora", he said.
Roni pointed out that "it was Manan who first envisioned this unconventional script and took a bold step to make it happen. If it was not for Manan Singh Katohora and Narain Kumar Mathur, this script would never have seen the light of day. Hats off to them for making it happen"!
Roni is based in New York where he attended the Lee Strasberg Theater and Film Institute, known for method acting. By his own admission, he "likes to get into the skin of the character". So, he strove to understand Darryl Gonsalves on a deeper level which meant delving into his insecurities and comprehending the root cause of his behavior.
Roni, whose mother tongue is Bengali, barely speaks Hindi and, as such, had to undergo rigorous training in diction. "Our assistant director, Roli Chaturvedi, spent extensive time with the actors to prepare them for their roles and lines", he revealed. "There were multiple rehearsals. We all know that handling 12-plus actors, each with a significant part, is extremely challenging. I believe the team really came through and produced excellent results in various areas including post-production, sound engineering and costume designing".
At the end of the day, it was the human interactions that predominated!
"Most of the actors and crew formed a bond", Roni noted. "In my opinion, that was the most valuable gift I was able to get out of this film, more than the awards and accolades.", he said. "The producer, Narain Kumar Mathur, was kind enough to open his home for many of the actors, including myself. We would go to his home as if it was our own. Even now, when I am in the area, I can go there".
Roni sprained his leg on the sets and ended up getting more care and attention. "'9 Eleven' goes far beyond a film for me. It's the relationships that I cherish till date", he emphasized.
Sonny Chatrath, who is also based in New York, felt the film was "a surreal experience for a number of reasons including the amount of time we had to stay away from our families and work. We were shooting long hours, sometimes over 12 hours at a stretch", he recalled.
The actor, who essays the role of Dr. Rahat Khan in the film, described his character as "an honest physician who gets entangled in an unfortunate situation, like the rest of the cast, but manages to unravel the mystery in the end. My character is the silent, inquisitive, often annoying type, who tries to get to the bottom of the mystery by himself".
Sonny believed that the film "is a sincere and honest effort by director Manan Singh Katohora and producer Narain Kumar Mathur" which "will win accolades for its unique storyline and fresh faces".
On his part, he said, "One of the things I am thankful for is the people I met while shooting - Roni, Jyoti, Tejash, Samir, Priya, Vicki, Nikkitasha and the hilarious Homi Irani. These people are very special and talented"!
At the screening, Vicki Yung, who plays the role of a Chinese woman in the film, caught up in the web, told the audience, "I think my main challenge was that I don't understand Hindi at all". The film is in Hindi with English sub-titles. "I relied on gestures and some key words", Vicki said. "There were some funny moments"!