Ivan Ayr's debut feature SONI, the only Indian film in an official competition section of the prestigious 75th Venice Film Festival, has an interesting juxtaposition — of two policewomen who step up to curtail sexual violence against women. Actress Saloni Batra, who makes his big screen foray with the movie which explores gender politics, says it also focusses on the need for more representation of women in civic life.
SONI played on Friday at the Venice film jamboree as part of the Orizzonti Competition category, dedicated to films that represent the latest aesthetic and expressive trends in international cinema.
Saloni describes the film, which also marks the debut of Geetika Vidya Ohlyan, as "unlike a crime drama".
"The film is a character study of two very different female police officers, an ACP and her sub-inspector, who are bound together by their common struggle to enforce law and order. It explores the dynamics of their work relationship and ultimately a friendship. Yes, gender is the premise and it is one of the things the film looks into, particularly at the crimes happening against women in our society.
"The intention is not to victimise or glorify these women at all… It shows two very normal women who are a part of this profession, their aspirations, weaknesses and strengths. It also brings to focus an important fact that we must have more representation of women in all spheres of civic life including administration, judiciary, police and all other walks, so that the gender bias slowly but surely can be eradicated and men and women are perceived as equals," the actress, who plays Kalpana Ummat in the movie, told IANS in an email interview.
She agreed that the film offers a rare representation of two women officers who not only have to deal with crimes against women but also have to cope well with their personal lives.
"And about how the norms and traditions prevalent in society on the one hand, and the laws they are out to enforce, trap them," she added.
It's an unusual subject to make a feature debut with. But for Saloni, who has earlier worked in the theatre field, as a casting assistant, as a model and as an actress in short films and web series like LIFE SAHI HAI and IT'S NOT THAT SIMPLE, it was a "dream come true" to work on such realistic cinema.
She credits the film' technical team for envisioning "such an unusual subject in a beautiful and powerful way".
"The subject itself is extremely challenging given the complexities involved in the professional and personal lives of these characters. The process we followed to portray these characters was indeed an eye-opening and a big learning exercise for me," she added.
A world premiere at the Venice Film Festival is something that came to her as a "huge pleasant surprise".
"This is indeed a great honour for a newcomer," said the Delhi girl.
"Coming from Delhi and being a non-movie buff, acting was never on the cards initially, although I was always into performing arts like singing, dancing, drumming, from a very young age," said the NIFT Chennai alumnus, who holds a specialisation in fashion and lifestyle accessories.
While she moved to Mumbai to work under an accessory designer, she got into styling for films.
"Being behind the camera was an extremely exhilarating experience for me. That's when I decided to take up acting. I'd had no formal training in acting but such was the interest that had kindled in my heart, that I got into theatre to learn the craft," Saloni said.
Working with groups like Theatrewaalas and The Artistes Studio gave her a lot of confidence and she dug deeper into honing her skills.
"To understand films and camera better, I also worked with the amazing Mukesh Chhabra for a year and a half. He was a great mentor to me. One of the films I was a casting assistant on, was DANGAL. As an actor, I did many commercials for television and I also did a couple of web series and some short films. In September 2016, I was auditioned for the role of Soni by the Indian Casting Company and in January 2017, I was re-auditioned by Ivan and his team for Kalpana'' role in Soni and finally bagged the role."
By Radhika Bhirani