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In 2014, Shabnam Sukhdev's The Last Adieu – where she constructs a portrait of her late father and celebrated film-maker Sukhdev Singh Sandhu – won the 61st National Film Award for Best Biographical Film.
Every time Ashwin received praise for his work on the film, he would tell people about his dream of graduating from the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) someday.
'Had Rock-Solid Goals, Belief in Self'
Goa-based photographer Dattaraj Bodke knew Ashwin for more than a decade – and in certain sense, they even grew up together – as family friends, classmates, and later, colleagues on projects. Dattaraj, along with another friend Chirayu, met Ashwin on 1 August in Pune – a day before he was last spotted on campus.
"He was my family. Today is the first day I can talk about it without having a breakdown. When I met him, he told me about the recce he was doing for his dissertation project. He was very excited to work on that film in December. That's how he has been from our undergraduate college days. I am still in shock."Dattaraj Bodke to The Quint
"I met him after a gap of two years, due to the pandemic, and I did not notice anything out of ordinary that day. When we were in our undergraduate days, he was like a guiding force to us as he was a couple of years older, and had some experience in photography. I remember seeing a photo of him when he was three years, with a camera. That's how much he wanted to be a film-maker. He had rock-solid goals and self-belief," Chirayu, a Pune-based photographer, told The Quint.
Ashwin has IMDB credits as a cinematographer for three other projects – Earth Crusader (Documentary-2016), Taap (Short-2020), and Whispers of Henna Tree (Documentary Short-2021).
'Magically Talented, Was Destined for Bigger Things'
Srikant Prasad Nishtala, who was the first Assistant Director in The Last Adieu, and is now a film-maker in Mumbai, told The Quint that Ashwin was not only one of the most "passionate artists" he has worked with, but also the "keenest of listeners."
"He was not only one of the most intelligent people I know, he was also like a brother to me. National Award is a big, big deal for artists. To be able to do that right at the beginning of one's career, when you are a student, is nothing short of exceptional. He was magically talented and was destined for bigger things," said Srikant, adding that Ashwin and he have been in touch over the last eight-nine years.
The film-maker also described Ashwin as "well-read intellectual," with whom one could talk about anything – from politics to paintings – and was also a repository of knowledge about all kinds of cameras.
"His sense of lighting and framing was unlike others. I remember that's how we became friends. I wanted to learn from him, and he did end up teaching me a lot."
Kadambari Kardam, a film-maker in Mumbai, echoed Srikant's sentiments – only she did not get the opportunity to meet Ashwin in person. Speaking to The Quint, she said:
"I have not met him in person, but he was my go-to artist on all things camera. He knew just everything about the technical aspects of the camera, and would patiently answer all my queries many times over the last four years. He was a class apart."Kadambari Kardam
'Campus Still Grieving': Students in FTII
The students at FTII had called the Deccan Gymkhana Police after noticing a foul smell from his room, following which police officials broke open the door.
"The body was in a decomposed state. Prima facie, it is a case of suicide. But no suicide note has been found so far and our investigation is on," Murlidhar Karpe, senior inspector of Deccan Gymkhana police station, said.
"He did not have many friends on campus – he mostly kept to himself. But he was regularly attending classes and practicals. He was very participatory in classes, so people knew of him," said an FTII student, on the condition of anonymity, adding that he was taking medication for a dislocated shoulder.
Another student of the FTII, who has worked with Ashwin on a project in the past, said that there have been times when he was "not spotted" for a couple of days due to medication.
"I met him at a party on 29 July – a bunch of final year students met after their theory syllabus was wrapped up. I never imagined this would happen."
Saeed Rabbihashmi, registrar, FTII, said in a statement, "The cinematography student committed suicide on Friday morning, his body has been taken to Sassoon for postmortem. Police investigation will reveal the reason."
Ashwin's last rites were performed in Pune on 6 August. He is survived by his parents and a twin brother.