The Road Home. An Exclusive Interview with Director and Film-maker Rahul Gandotra.
Rahul Gandotra’s short film, The Road Home was short-listed for the Academy Awards in 2012. The Road Home is a short film about a boy named Pico who runs away from Woodstock, a boarding school in the Himalayas, with a return ticket to Britain in hand. Pico may look like he belongs in the Himalayas or that he’s from an Indian descent but his British nationality is something that others around him find hard to accept. Pico tries to get to New Delhi and encounters people who softly push him into realizing that others don’t see him the way he sees himself. After finishing his undergraduate degree at the University of Michigan, Rahul attended the London Film School for Masters in Film Directing. For his Masters thesis he traveled to the Himalayas to shoot for The Road Home. He released the short film for free, and intends to make a full-length feature using the same plot. The trailer and additional information can be viewed on The Road Home Official Site. The underlying issues in the movie are pertinent in understanding today’s globalized society, and particularly poignant for the expat community. The short film leaves you with a deeper understanding of certain emotional issues surrounding globalization and the lingering feeling of displacement it leaves in many people. We at Jeddah Blog were very excited when Rahul Gandotra agreed to be interviewed, and our brilliant and resourceful writer Zareen Muzaffar set out to capture this exclusive story. You will all be surprised also, by a certain connection Rahul has with Saudi Arabia. Read on to discover more about Rahul Gandotra, his short movie, his life and experiences. How did you enter filmmaking and what was the journey like? I was pursuing professional sports at university when I got injured. To pass my time I picked up a camera which later graduated into a video camera and I started taking photography and film-making courses. At the same time I was about to graduate from university and started applying for management consultant jobs. My professor who had seen my work during the course told me I should seriously think of getting into the field. I think my fear of going into film-making had to do with the fact that I was disappointed with a lot of the films out there. So you could say the interest was there, but I kept delaying the decision till the very end. I started making short movies on my own. Sure, I was making mistakes but I was learning on my own. Honestly, I just slipped into this film-making profession and it has been a long path. The Road Home was part of my master thesis project. What led you to make this short film. How did this concept and idea come to you? While I was in Prague for a year, one of my teachers really encouraged me to make a movie about my life. I became interested in the idea, especially as I had built some connections, and had even written a script whose theme revolved around the search for home and identity. The topic was very close to me. The idea kept on flipping in my head till I decided to make an autobiographical account of my time spent at Woodstock. Search for home and a search for identity became the main underlying theme of my short.
How long did it take to film this movie? I didn’t have the proper film budget but it took 2 years for the whole process and six to seven months to write the script. Once the script was finalized we got into some intense pre-production. We spent about two months in India shooting for the film. While you were making this movie, did you have a particular audience in mind? Who were you reaching out to? In a way it was in defense of my ‘self’ and my experiences as a traveler. There was always this constant question of who I am. It gets frustrating with time because how you feel is different from what people see you as. When I went to India to shoot the movie, I was introduced to this book Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds by David C. Pollock and Van Ruth E. Reken. The book is basically about the children who have been raised in multiple cultures during their foundational and developmental years, such that they don’t really fit into any one culture. That book described me really well. I realized these are the type of people I am making the film for and that this film is for anyone who questions where they are from, at any time of their life. Any one who has had an outsider experience or has left their country can relate to this movie. You have traveled extensively and lived in different countries. Tell us about your experiences as an expatriate (particularly while you were in the Middle East). I was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, grew up in eight countries across Europe, the Middle East, Asia and America. I lived in Riyadh between the age of 6 and 9. So my memories are from a child’s perspective. It was a lot of fun, I went to an American school, and lived in a compound. I spent some time living in Yanbu as well. The time I spent in Saudi Arabia was very enjoyable and I am sure my parents’ experiences were different than mine. So, where do you feel ‘at home’? Nowhere [laughs] Would it be safe to say home is everywhere? No [laughs again] What do you think is the impact of globalization on one’s authentic self? Does it survive? I would say in my case, it is a very extreme version because I have moved around quite a lot. I think it’s a double-edged sword. At one end, I had a very unique upbringing, for example I didn’t have to read about Ramadan, I lived through it while I was in Saudi Arabia. The sound of call to prayer is very soothing to me, so for me, all these are good memories. It may be something completely different to another person, so it depends on one’s personality too. You get to see the world in the flesh rather than reading about it. On the flip side, I moved around so much I feel I’ve lost the sense of community. I’ve lost count of the number of times I had to throw away things and then had to buy them again. Building your community and home again gets tiring. People think its a vacation, but its not. They associate travel with vacation but it’s not the same thing. You are not coming back to your surroundings, you are building it all again. There are some unintended consequences of moving around too much; you forget how long it takes for people to put their trust in you or how long it takes to build your community. Can you tell us about your next project? I have written a full-length feature version of The Road Home and that will be my directorial debut. Working with Andreas Eigenmann, I have turned Pico’s story into a coming-of-age adventure road movie. The feature script is faster-paced than the short. Lastly, since The Road Home was an autobiographical account, what would you tell Pico, or how would you address the internal conflict he goes through in the movie? That’s a tough question. When I was a nine year old, I wasn’t so eloquent or knowledgeable. I didn’t have the third culture book to tell me whats happening. There is a certain level of restraint, and its too much to ask of a nine year old. I read that a lot of third-culture kids handle culture in 3 ways: There are chameleons, the ones who blend into the society and basically avoid sharing their rich history; there’s the wallflower, those who avoid people and don’t interact much and then there’s the screamer. They are the ones who say “I am going to tell you who I am no matter what you think I am”, and obviously Pico and myself is the screamer. I wouldn’t stand anyone telling me who I was, and the number of hours of discussions I’ve had in life are too many to count. Ironically, if I hadn’t been through all these experiences, I probably wouldn’t have made the film. It has been something that has been a large part of my life. Special thanks to Rahul Gandotra for sharing his thoughts and views with us. To see more, you can go through this sampler pack including commentaries, interviews, photos, wallpaper, internet resources, and a link to the film for free.