Netflix’s Yeh Ballet is about two boys Nishu (Manish Chauhan) and Asif (Achintya Bose), who are from humble backgrounds and are discovered by a ballet teacher (Julian Sands). Ahead of its release, The Quint spoke to its creators, director Sooni Taraporevala and producer Siddharth Roy Kapur on making the film, working with Netflix and why they couldn’t cast stars in the film.
I had a chance to watch the film and I really liked the film, and I wanted to ask you that a couple of years ago you made a virtual reality documentary about these two boys who were from the slums who were attempting a dance form like ballet which isn’t as common. Why did you then feel the need to make a film about this?
Sooni Taraporevala: Yeah that was just a fourteen-minute film with severe limitations which was also exciting for me but it was just fourteen minutes and with a feature, I wanted to broaden it out, get into their backstories, which held you emotionally, which did things that documentaries can’t do.
Why was this something you wanted to produce because the two of you have collaborated on The Namesake?
Siddharth Roy Kapur: You know when I read the article about these two boys, I think it was in the Sunday Mid-Day, I remember being fascinated by the idea that this actually happened. It was such an amazing story of hope and aspiration. I had heard that Sooni had already made a VR film on it, we got talking and I asked her if she’d like to make it into a feature film and she said she absolutely would. And that’s how the process began. It just so happened that this was something I got drawn to and then realised that she was drawn to it even earlier than I was.
I felt like there are a couple of themes. One of them is of course the idea that certain dance forms are just limited to a certain class and they’re not accessible to other people and the other, that you don’t see boys attempting something like ballet. You’ve learnt ballet, that’s what I’ve read. Were these things you saw when you were learning the form?
Sooni: Absolutely, like I said before, I was very bad at it so I can’t call myself a ballet dancer even though I learnt it for many years. When I learnt it, it was very niche, it was very elite and no boys. So when I saw these two boys, I had tears in my eyes, because it was such an unusual and amazing achievement on their part and their teacher’s part. Because you know most ballet dancers start learning ballet when they are three, four, five years old. These kids started so late in life, they had never heard classical music in their lives and to be so good at something that is so out of their comfort zone was an achievement I wanted to celebrate.
I don’t know if I can say this, can I say this but the teacher in the film sees the foot of the dancer and from that he is able to gauge whether he can be a ballet dancer. Is that how it works?
Sooni: Yes actually, and I don’t want to get into a listing of what is real and what isn’t but since you asked me this, in reality Amir was sitting by the water cooler and he had his foot stretched out. And the teacher noticed his foot and said, “Come to my class.” And he couldn’t understand English so he said, “What did you say?”, but he did trip him.
Why was this a film you felt should release on a platform like Netflix?
Siddharth: What’s interesting in cinema today is that what seems to be working theatrically are films that are either large scale, big stars or very high concept so either slapstick comedy or a concept that has never been done before and so attracts people to it on the first weekend. Subjects that are more intimate, that are more dramatic, that might be a little more left of centre, that don’t have stars in them don’t lend themselves that easily to a theatrical experience that easily.
Though I do believe that a film like Yeh Ballet would work really well if it were taken to the screens. Also, a film like this did not really need stars. You needed to make this, I feel, with dancers who could act rather than actors who could dance and that’s what we decided to do from the get-go. And Netflix gives you the opportunity to go out there to a hundred and ninety countries around the world, a hundred and sixty-seven million subscribers at last count is what I’ve heard. Just an example, when we made a film like Dangal, it was able to do well in a place like China. And we had no idea about that when we were making the movie. In the same way, a film like Yeh Ballet has the potential to reach out to cultures we would not have imagined it could do otherwise and Netflix gives you that chance.
Sooni, how do you view this scenario, because the last film that you directed was I think ten years ago? So why the long gap and do you feel like this environment is more conducive to what you would want to make?
Sooni: The long gap is because I was trying to make a very large, ambitious film that never took off. Futuristic, sci-fi kind of thing. Yes, I do feel like platforms like Netflix are definitely life savers for filmmakers like me who have not traditionally worked with big stars, who tell stories that are more rooted, that are more indie in a way. And for me, Netflix has been a lifesaver and a game-changer for me at this age. I love it, I’ve embraced it totally.
Also, you know when I made Little Zizou, we had a hell of a time to get audiences outside India to see it, and now for me to able to reach a hundred and ninety countries in one day.
Video Editor: Veeru Krishan Mohan