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How I made it: Once Upon A Sky (2019)

This film is a tribute to life, while we are still living. The film follows the story of an Indian paraglider, Gurpreet Dhindsa and gazes upon this man’s total commitment to flying and engages with the idea that adventure sports is closest to being most alive and we know that best when we come to injuries. Injuries are variable here, some are fears, most are obstacles and finally of-course the ones which are external, which reveal as the film unfolds. The challenge is to get better than our circumstances and that brings out the real one in us.

72 min/ English/ Documentary/ 2019/ India

In its persistent mission and zeal to promote good cinema, Diorama brings you the experience of Director and Producer of the film - Barnali Ray Shukla.

Why this subject matter for your film?

12 years back, I nearly died of a wrong medical diagnosis. Am working on reclaiming life. That happens not just with medicines now but in my work, my day, the stories I seek and looking at life as a larger picture. I may not be close to life’s potential yet but what is important is to be headed in the right direction.

Most often, what holds us back from realizing our truest potential is that most of us take life for granted. I did, till my close brush with death.

Following the life of a paraglider, who sees life and adventure sports as two sides of the same coin, I intended a visual and emotional parallel to what I want to share.

“Life is ten percent what happens to you & ninety percent how you respond to it”

Interesting Fact : Gurpreet has given up things on earth to be in the skies.

Where did you find this story for this film?

On a morning flight to Bhopal, from Bombay, I browsed through the in-flight magazine. The travel-feature on Bir Billing as a paragliding hub in Himachal Pradesh, caught my eye. I had just made it to the longlist of the Mahindra-Sundance screenplay competition, and had to submit the entire screenplay, to be considered further.

Research felt important to understand paragliding to etch my central character for the movie. The column carried name of Gurpreet Dhindsa, one-line introduction and an email address. On landing, I wrote an email, mentioning ‘research for a film script’. Wasn’t sure of a response but he wrote back, an email or two followed. One such email mentioned he was coming to Bombay for an hour in the following week, before he headed out to Kamshet to a paragliding school.

We met in person, over a coffee at Mumbai’s Santa Cruz airport, just outside the Arrivals. As he spoke of his sport, life around it, the challenges, here was a story that knew its way through dreams, second chances and breaking stereotypes. This story needed to be out there. I had no idea how it would come about but I asked him if he would agree and he said yes.

What were the challenges you faced in making the film?

From the word go, there were challenges, right from choice of this subject. There is a certain kind of narrative expected of us South Asian Women Directors. It is all very fine that you choose to break stereotypes but since the ecosystem of funding is tilted towards certain preconceived notions of what documentaries should pursue, especially women, there seemed no point wasting time on window shopping for funds.

Also what good is it getting fund if there is negotiation to pitch this as a woman director, where you are expected to share the sorry state of life and times of women who are left behind when the man is into adventure sports. That wasn’t the film I was setting out to make. There would have been funds there. It is crucial why you want to tell the story you choose to tell, without prejudice.

Its only your resolve and determination (which shakes each day) and savings from television writing that you save up for rainy days. And then start redefining rainy day(hahahah)!

Did you face any problems in releasing the film?

NO I didn’t. Am thrilled saying so.

Normally, when you choose to start a journey with a documentary, it is all too random when you walk the indie path.

Film festivals play a key role in exploring the route to screenings when and if your film gets selected. Having said that the number of films being produced has shot up, so the competition is tough, submission fees are high, it amounts to a treasure which you hope if only Jack Sparrow could foot those bills.

Jokes apart, it has been worse lately as rupee is so weak against the US dollar, it has been very difficult. I have on two occasions had to choose Panorama over Competition section as a prestigious film festival asked for 250 USD for subtitles in their language.

I couldn’t afford that.

But the good news is, three months into the circuit we got lucky with an online festival. The distribution came by, barring a week of crisis when the technical issues were getting sorted.

What was your background before making your first film?

This is my third film. My debut film as a writer-director was a Hindi feature film, titled Kuch Luv Jaisaa, with Shefali Shah and Rahul Bose in the lead. Music by Pritam and Lyrics by Irshaad Kamil and presented by FOX Star Studios.

How do you think filmmakers like you can overcome common challenges like finance and distribution?

We just refuse to see the elephant in the room. Unless help from State comes in, and funds are created to tell stories that ideally last longer than the parking ticket or expect loyalty from the online viewer who is spoilt for choices, we are not getting anywhere.

How to reach Barnali Ray Shukla


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