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Pune Campus Watch: Meet a National Award-winning student filmmaker from Talegaon who wanted to make films since he was 12

He was 12 years old when a considerably older friend lent him a CD of Martin Scorsese’s thriller, ‘Taxi Driver’. It was this unsettling tale of a vigilante taking up arms that Vishesh Iyer (26) says was the turning point of his life and attracted him to films with darker, more complex themes.

On Sunday, the filmmaker from Talegaon Dabhade received his first National Award for most promising debut director from President of India Droupadi Murmu at the 68th National Film Awards for ‘Pariah’, a film made during his graduation year at MIT ADT University in Loni Kalbhor, Pune in 2019.

Pariah’s central character is a 72-year-old paedophile who is attracted to his domestic help’s six-year-old daughter. His story synopsis reads, “In order to battle his sexual urges, an aged virtuous paedophile is trying to circumvent around his maid’s daughter. Things start to escalate when new tenants move in, leading their lives into a complex path of uncertainty…”

A rather difficult subject to deal with, Iyer admits it was not his first choice. “I was researching for a film on female genital mutilation but I did not have enough material and resources. Somehow, I have always gravitated towards the darker, more difficult subjects. It was sometime around my research for an earlier film that I came across this subject and started developing a script but it was extremely tough,” he said.

Pariah’s central character is a 72-year-old paedophile who is attracted to his domestic help’s six-year-old daughter. (A still from the film)

“I leveraged my network and made contact with a German psychologist who is working on the same subject in India for 5 years. Thanks to her, my script became real and stronger. She suggested changes in the script like how some situations had to change, some dialogues, certain body language, based on how a paedophile would act or think,” he added.

Iyer says what makes his film stand out is that it does not view paedophilia in the single dimension of it being a criminal act. “There is no pardon for the act, of course, I am not condoning or justifying it. Also because during my research I realised that people are aware of their instincts for years, they just cover them up or hide them. But at the same time, paedophilia is a mental health problem. It needs treatment like any other disease. I am not sympathising with a perpetrator but my film deals with a lot of nuances. It explores the depths of loneliness, the uncertainty of actions in human episodes and economic disparities too,” he said.

Iyer, who graduated in December 2019, made the film as his graduation project. While MIT ADT University, where he completed a BSc in Filmmaking, sent it for the National Awards, he says they forgot about it after the lockdown and he was out of work for months after graduating.

Currently on a high and considering some offers after his National Award win, Iyer credits his mother, who raised him single-handedly, for his success. “When you are a single parent, you want to play safe with your son’s career and let us admit it, filmmaking isn’t exactly doing that. But she never burdened me with her expectations. Also growing up, my family allowed me to be exposed to a lot of world and regional cinema, which helped develop my sensibilities. I am a thinking filmmaker today, thanks to that,” he said.

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