Kajri Babbar has made documentaries and short films in the UK and India that aimed at initiating a debate on some of the most pressing social issues. Some of it has been selected and screened at ‘Student Oscars’ and The Cannes Film Festival. She’s also the daughter of producer Kishan Babbar and niece of actor and politician Raj Babbar.
While studying Film Direction in the UK, Kajri wrote and directed her first short film, Pardaa which tells the story of an Indian-Muslim girl studying in London who, in the need of money starts to work in a strip club. Pardaa became an official selection in the semi-finals of The Student Academy Awards 2017 and was screened by NAHEMI.
Her second short film, Khoj screened at the Shorts corner of the Cannes Film Festival 2018 and became semi-finalist at The Student Academy Awards 2018.
Armed with a postgraduate degree in Film Direction from Arts University Bournemouth UK, a diploma in Social Communication Media and a bachelor degree in Journalism from Mumbai University, Kajri intends to use film-making as a tool to initiate a change of perception towards gender equality and LGTBQ+ community.
We were lucky to have her answer some of our questions, so here goes…
What made you pursue film making?
Ever since childhood, I loved to listen to and tell stories. Films were an escape for me into other, more just and equitable dimensions of reality, that enabled me to live an alternate dream-life beyond the painful boundaries of inhibitive and disabling social environs. As I grew up, I started to perform in Theatre under the direction of my aunt Mrs. Nadira Zaheer Babbar and my love for storytelling just enhanced. Filmmaking was just a natural diversion from that.
What was your drive behind making films?
My exposure to journalism and feminist thinking during my college days led me to conduct my own research into problems and environs which most women across the world have to struggle against in their daily lives. As a result, I discovered many absorbing, inspiring tales of extraordinary women. Each one of these tales requires a platform and a vehicle for showcasing them. These stories and the opportunities for artistic expression which these offers fascinate me as a filmmaker, especially one who believes in work as a passion.
Do you think it is essential to go to a film institute in order to become a successful filmmaker?
Learning filmmaking is essential. You can do it at film school or on a set. Luckily for me, I had both! But yes, if you have no connections and don’t know how to get in but are passionate about filmmaking, Filmschools is your option. I was very fortunate to have gotten a scholarship by the British Council for my Masters and this eased my father a lot. It is unfortunate that film schools are not affordable for everyone, but if one does proper research various kinds of scholarships are available in the country and outside.
Which film has inspired you the most?
I can’t choose any particular one from the Apu Series by Mr. Satyajit Ray. Pather Panchali, Aparajito and Apur Sansaar
How has Mr. Raj Babbar inspired you in your journey to date?
I have been blessed enough to grow near such an inspiring human being. He is over 60 years today but I still do not know anyone who competes for his passion and energy. His need to still learn and work hard is not only an inspiration for me but our entire family. I respect him not only because he is my uncle but because he is just so dedicated to the cause he believes in. Having just a five-minute conversation with him can fill me up with positivity and wisdom.
What roadblocks did you face when you were starting out?
The major roadblock was to understand my calling and voice as a storyteller. I was always told and made to believe that making films on a social issue is not a sustainable career. I was trying hard to learn the mainstream way of filmmaking. It was when I was studying my Masters in Filmmaking in the UK when I decided to experiment and make a short thriller with a strong female protagonist – Pardaa. The film got me a lot of praise but most importantly it got me confidence and hope.
What are your greatest personal & professional achievements to date?
Definitely my first short film – Pardaa. From getting selected by NAHEMI to be screened at Aesthetica Film Festival 2017 to official selection in the semi-finals of The Student Academy Awards 2017, Pardaa received great critical and public acclaim. The success of my graduation film Khoj got me wide recognition and appraisal in cinema enthusiasts worldwide, but it was my first ever short film Pardaa, that gave me the confidence to recognize my voice as a filmmaker. Pardaa will always be the biggest achievement in my career.
Have you ever faced extreme failure? How did you deal with it?
Every failure seems extreme to me at first. I can’t rate my setbacks, as I am growing and doing more work, the stakes are increasing and so are the failure scales. But I think I am also learning how to tackle them by default. I have a pattern, denial – acceptance – sorrow – back again!
How do you go about selecting the themes for your films? What motivates you?
I have always believed that my work must reflect the intensity of my convictions and social causes. I want to harness the power of films to increase the socio-economic empowerment of women and LGBTQ+ inclusivity. I am very selective and yet experimental when I select a topic. I like to take my time and conduct proper research before starting to write a script.
How did you come up with the idea for your first film Pardaa?
Pardaa tells the story of an Indian-Muslim girl studying in London who, in the need of money starts to work in a strip club. During my Masters at Arts University Bournemouth in the UK, I happened to have met a girl from my university who worked in a strip club.
Can you tell us more about your upcoming projects?
Currently, I am working on an international project between the UK and India. It is a historical film based in the early 1900s and tells the tale of a strong Indian woman living in the UK. I am sorry but I can’t reveal much further at this stage. But we will be making the announcement soon.
When not making films, what keeps you busy?
When not making films, I am watching films. I am a true millennial when it comes to Netflix and chill. In my case, it is Netflix, Amazon, Hotstar, Zee5 etc and chills.
Which book/theme/issue would you love to make a film out of one day?
I want to make a series on the lives of the Kashmiri Women today and how the politics of the valley is affecting their basic lives. I would love to make it with a neutral political stance and just tell the tales of humanity.
Do you have any advice for young Indian filmmakers out there ?
Don’t give up! Just Don’t… if you get a setback, cry for a day but be back to struggle the next.