Ukrainian writer-director Dar Gai is making waves in the Indian film industry for her storytelling abilities, and most recently for her upcoming film, Teen Aur Aadha, presented by Anurag Kashyap. A philosophy major, Dar discovered her passion for cinema when she understood its power to evoke responses from an unwitting audience; which always fascinated her. She moved to India from Ukraine, to pursue her numerous passions; making films, teaching theatre and screenwriting. India’s sensory overload immediately inspired Dar. Having now lived in Mumbai for six years, Dar tells us that this land has given her abundant material to craft compelling stories with.
As an internationally acclaimed director, Dar believes stories are universal and meant to be shared, much like her own. Traveling to remote locations, in unfamiliar and often unsafe environments, is one of the many challenges that come with filmmaking. Being a woman on set, particularly in India, comes with its own obstacles and hurdles. Dar says that it’s a small price to pay compared to the feeling she gets when she is behind the camera. Connect with Daria on Dysco App to know more or work with her.
How did you discover your passion for filmmaking?
I guess it was natural for me to transition from acting and directing theatre to making films. It is the perfect medium for me to describe the way I see, feel, smell and touch the world. In my opinion filmmaking is a great tool for externalising experiences, thoughts, fears or just random childhood dreams. You never know where it’s coming from or where it will lead you. When I was studying philosophy I was mesmerised by the subject and always wanted to tie my life to it. Filmmaking gave me the perfect opportunity to do so, It creates an opportunity to combine philosophy with visual art and a whole range of other disciplines.
Did moving to India inspire your creative process and storytelling?
Wherever you go, you’re bound to be inspired by different stories and people. The unexplored introduces you to new thoughts and experiences. India is huge and diverse, with so many different languages, cultures and mentalities, that I constantly find myself inspired. When I came here, my initial plan was to stay here for an year, then it became two, then three, then four, and now it has been six years and I’m still not close to being done with it. There are more and more stories in my head.
“I want to be inspired, I want to be open to the world.”
What keeps you motivated to keep working and keep trying?
It’s the support I have received from my family, my mother, my producer, Dheer Momaya, my actors, Zoya Hussain, Jim Sarbh and my crew, that has kept me going even in the toughest periods. To be honest most of the time I wasn’t thinking about whether or not it will work, I was just leaping from the cliff. When you let doubts fester, you find innumerable excuses to avoid going through the process of jumping itself. I did not think about where my money would come from, how I can shoot my next film or how I would pay for rent. I mean I did think about it but only when it had to be paid within the next hour. My brain was just coming up with different ideas, I was meeting new people, I was getting more and more projects. Somehow, I guess, I always knew that I would be able to do it. I know it sounds cliche but I was just following my dream. I was running towards the horizon trying to touch it. I’m still running. And still believe that one day I will reach it.
My main goal is to keep being inspired all the time, because I know that if I am inspired I will be creating, I will find the strength to move on, to find small details that will give sense to the entirety of existence. This is the constant naive state of “I want to be inspired, I want to be open to the world.”
Do you ever doubt your decision to pursue film? How do you know you made the right career choice?
Sometimes even today, I question whether I should continue film. It is something that is always there in a person, that questioning, that doubt. Even now, I come on set and I’m like, can I pull it off, can I do it, should I actually continue it or should I, I don’t know, join a bank. Unfortunately I’m not very good at math so my choices are limited. Since childhood I’ve loved theater. I loved organising people. Even while I was studying philosophy, I was organising film festivals and art exhibitions. It was very inspiring, and I guess directing films has given me an opportunity to create, to organise people, to be their leader, to be their follower and at the same time to create a timeless space of magic like in theatre. It was a perfect combination.
Are there moments of ‘realisation’ when you just know why you’re doing what you’re doing?
Just yesterday I was in Rome, and I was writing music for our second film “Namdev Bhau” with Andrea Guerra, who is an incredible composer. He worked on the “Pursuit of Happiness”, “Hotel Rwanda” and many Italian films. The atmosphere that Andrea has created in his office, with his people was so inspiring. They don’t look at this film as just a “project”, how we sometimes tend to say, they look at it as a piece of art. For hours and hours, we, his co-composers, his assistants, were just discussing “Namdev Bhau”, his character arch, how to present the scene. I was getting angry and he was getting angry, I was irritated and he was irritated. We didn’t talk for 15 minutes. And this is when I realised that this is why I am doing what I am doing, this is why I’m a director. To meet people who give themselves to art, who are passionate about the music, about your film, it transforms into being not just yours but theirs as well, and that is an amazing feeling. It’s so important to surround ourselves with people who inspire us, who do even more than you do, who breathe by what they create and can’t imagine any other form of existence.
Can you tell us about the most meaningful impact you’ve had in your career?
Sometimes very good actors can’t create unique experiences that come naturally to regular people. For our second film, the actor we casted to play the role of a contemplative driver, Namdev Bhau, has actually been a driver for the last 45 years. The way he looks at life, the way his eyes experience the world was so unique and so captivating that I’m not sure I could find any actor that can recreate that feeling. Casting new actors, for me, is an opportunity to give them new experiences. Like for Namdev Bhau who had never left Bombay in his entire life, travelling on a plane for the first time was a big deal. My crew was carrying umbrellas above his head to protect him from the sun and he felt like a king. Those two months we spent in the mountains were so unique for us. It was heartwarming for the entire team to see Namdev Bhau walking around, thoroughly enjoying the experience of being the lead actor in the film, being the hero. Now all his friends, all the watchmen, the other drivers in his building, know that Namdev Bhau is a star. That experience, no matter how the film will do, it was worth it just because of what he was able to experience. I guess that is something that is most important to me.
I don’t believe in yelling at assistants and throwing chairs at sound designers (sometimes I do feel it though) for the sake of the film, I feel that the film is like a creature who needs love, attention, involvement of each person who is involved in the process of the film. It’s not about the later stages of the festivals, red carpets, awards and and laughing audiences. When everyone, from your spot boy, to your cinematographer and your producer, all feel inspired being on set and feel like they’re growing, this is when I feel that I’m close to completing my mission.
What do you want people to take away from your films?
I’m not sure filmmaking can change the world, I think filmmaking can inspire the world. I really hope that a scene, a dialogue, a word, or the feeling people get while watching our film, can inspire or trigger some forgotten memories or fleeting thoughts. If my film can remind you about the forgone taste of cherry in your grandmother’s garden I will be truly happy.
What advice do you have for people looking for ways to convert their passions into their profession?
I’m always trying not to allow myself to make the luxury of excuses, the absence of money, friends, a crew, or even inspiration shouldn’t stop you. If you have a thought or an idea about something, you just have to do it. If you are confident and your project has its own existence and therefore it’s own charisma, people will get attracted to it. Art is magic, but it can come into existence only if one believes in it and carries on through the dark forest with her small magical stick and a white speaking cat on the left shoulder.
Connect with Dar on Dysco App for collaborations and to find out more about her work. All images taken by Mumbai-based photographer Aditya Varma.