Flickerfest comes to Mullumbimby this week with a three-day program of short films that rival the best in the world.
Appearing in the Aussie Shorts is our very own, most easterly Indian, Sandy Gandhi, aka Sandra Ahrana. Sandra plays the best friend and reluctant reality TV star Asha alongside one-time SBS news reader Kumud Merani.
Spice Sisters is about a woman who refuses to remain invisible. In her efforts to win a place on a reality cooking show, and the friendships she cements along the way, she finds the acknowledgment and fulfilment she was searching for.
The story is set in a master-planned fringe suburb consisting of brand-new homes on big lots. It’s pristine and spacious, but also empty and soulless. A reality cooking show, with all its exaggerated emotions and manufactured drama, provides the former Bollywood star with a distraction. But soon it assumes a much more important role in her quest to find fulfilment when she ropes her home caterer friend Asha into auditioning for reality TV.
Underneath the comedy of two Indian women attempting to navigate the world of reality television, it’s the story of friendship, lost dreams and triumphing against the odds.
For Sandra, scoring a film role at 59 living in regional NSW was something of a surprise even to her.
‘I met a guy called Nicholas Brown, who is an Anglo-Indian actor, some time ago. He wrote a script for a movie called Lighten Up, which has since become a play for the stage. When he wrote that he was looking for an Indian female comedian to be part of his film. He came across my website and found my book was called Enlighten Up, he found out I was a standup comedian and so we did some work together. I gave him a hand with some of the scripting, and the film was interesting; it was about a woman who was about my age who wanted to be white. She didn’t want to be Indian. In his script the woman was called Bronwyn. The first thing I noticed when he sent me the script was that I realised it was an anagram for Browny. Anyway, he was chatting with one of the partners of Emerald Productions who happens to be the director of this film – Sheila Jaryadev – who is an Indian Aussie living in Sydney; she was looking to cast and he said that he knew the ideal person. She flew up here and screen-tested me and asked me to do the part…’
The Emerald Productions film took out Best Script at Sydney’s Short Film Festival. It was no surprise to Sandy, who knew the minute she walked on set she was working with dedicated and talented professionals.
‘Emerald Productions are these three incredibly smart women who have made lots of short films that have won awards. All three met at film school after different careers. I knew their standards were high and I let myself go with it. I put my trust in them really; it was a nice surprise. When I saw Spice Sisters in Sydney for a cast-and-crew screening I was impressed. It was an interesting thing for me to watch because while I could remember doing the scenes, it was hard to see Asha as me on the screen; she really becomes her own character.’
Filming came at a good time for Sandra who, at the time, was dealing with her mother in India having to go into care.
‘My mum is unwell and about to leave the planet, and in the film it felt like a homage to her as I am wearing all her saris and jewellery. I think it gave me the motivation to do the film. It was good timing, and like all art we pooled our resources. There was no million-dollar payment, and considering that was the case everyone was very committed, and the film is well crafted and beautifully mad. The cinematography is amazing; the cinematographer is Ross Giardina. He is amazing. While we were filming, he seemed anally retentive about getting every scene right but when you see the film you can see why! It’s beautiful.’
Sandy thoroughly enjoyed the experience and remarked that being behind the scenes gave her a new insight into how short films are crafted.
‘When you talk to production people they say that making short films is tougher than making a feature; you need shorter scenes to tell a story. It was nice to do a film for someone and actually see the product. In the past I have had the token Indian roles that end up on the cutting room floor!’
Spice Sisters is screening as part of the Australian Shorts on Saturday night. Sandy will be there, and it is her birthday, so don’t forget to wish her well.
On being recognised on the big screen in the small town she calls home, she jokes: ‘I might have to wear a burqa!’
Flickerfest comes to Mullumbimby Civic Hall, Friday–Sunday.
Friday session starts at 7.30pm, Saturday at 3.30pm and then at 7.30pm, and Sunday at 7.30pm. Go to flickerfest.com.au for program and ticket information.