Tabrez Noorani established himself as a line producer for Hollywood projects, shooting in India even before the concept gained popularity. Having worked with Danny Boyle on Slumdog Millionaire (2008), Ang Lee on Life of Pi (2012), and Lana & Andy Wachowski on the TV series, Sense8, among other projects, he has created a space for himself that connects India with Hollywood. On the back of his directorial debut, Love Sonia, that released Friday, Noorani talks about why he chose to make a film on sex trafficking and his views on the phrase “poverty porn”. Excerpts:
You have been a part of the film industry since your high school days when you would assist your uncle Zafar Hai. What took you so long to direct your first film?
A large part of the reason was that no one wanted to make a film on sex-trafficking…a film in Hindi that is real and unflinching even though it has a lot of hope. It also took me a while to research and get the real stories together. Then there were exciting projects being offered, such as Life of Pi, which I did not want to miss working on.
But Indian films are exploring stark subjects.
It’s different if you want to make a small film shot completely in India. For Love Sonia, we needed bigger budgets as it’s a story that travels across continents. The film is about two sisters, one of whom becomes a victim of global sex trafficking, and the other fights all odds to bring her back.
Why did you pick this subject for your debut film?
I believe the first film should always be based on something the filmmaker feels deeply for. I was earlier working on a film with four stories, one of which was about a girl from a village who becomes a victim of trafficking. However, as I got more involved and met some of these girls, I started to work with NGOs in LA that deal with trafficking. I had never heard of global trafficking in context of India. One had heard of, say, Mexico, but never countries like China or Nepal. Their stories became real and I felt these needed to be told.
The phrase ‘poverty porn’ became popular after Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire. What are your views on it?
It depends on the story. Yes, there are makers who insist on shooting a cow on the street or charmers or beggars. That, I think, can be classified as poverty porn. But the sensitive filmmakers don’t want to shoot in slums anymore. For instance, for Sense 8, we shot in affluent settings.
How did you ensure Love Sonia avoids ‘poverty porn’?
By taking the film back to the West. What happens with the Indian girl is happening to girls from every country. But the bigger challenge was to keep it real yet not so stark that the audience is desensitised. We did not want to exploit the exploited nor did we want to water down the experiences of the girls. It took sensitivity on part of our team to walk that thin line. It helped having known the survivors and we had them on all our sets to ensure the film inherited their spirit of hope and their courage to emerge from it.