A storyteller from Canberra

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An Indo-Australian film on migrant life competes with the biggies for a place at the Oscars

Kai ek toh ruk kar zara bhigo de mujhe; baki jitney udhte badal tum rakh lo, Abhijit Deonath wrote some time last year.

Loosely translated, these lines read, “Just let one pause for a moment and drench my soul; you can keep the rest of the fleeting clouds.”

The words turned out to be prophetic. A month later, some of his other thoughts, this time set to tunes, went straight to the Oscars.

Salt Bridge.Indian Link

Seven songs written and composed by Deonath (pictured) for his film Salt Bridge were shortlisted for nominations in the Original Song Category for this year’s 88th Academy Awards.

The film was also shortlisted for nomination in the Best Original Score category for its background music composed by Marciano Telese.

Even though the film did not make it to the final selection, this is no mean feat given that it is Deonath’s first film!

The Canberra-based poet, film-maker and music composer does not live in the moment; he dwells in his experiences. Salt Bridge is an outcome of these lived experiences of a migrant life.

Salt Bridge.Indian Link
Abhijit Deonath

In the laboratory, ‘salt bridge’ is a term that refers to an electrochemical device – one that acts as a bridge between two chemicals that do not mix, and yet, there is electricity produced.

Deonath’s film draws from real-life experiences of life in a new country. Basant, an Indian migrant played by Rajeev Khandelwal, is haunted by his tragic past and finds solace in the arms of a married woman, much to his community’s chagrin.

“We miss our friends and people back home. This creates a vacuum and identity issues; and we seek a quick connect in our surroundings,” Deonath tells Indian Link, while describing the main premise of the film.

Casting for the film, which is in Hindi, was difficult, admits Deonath.

“Finding an actress who has no Indian roots and does not speak Hindi but still is able to react to the language subtly was quite difficult,” he reveals.

Salt Bridge.Indian Link

Luckily for him, he found Logie award-winner Chelsie Preston Crayford, who is remembered for her roles in The Code and Underbelly: The Razor. The two other protagonists of the film are played by Rajeev Khandelwal (of Aamir and Shaitan fame) and National Award Winner Usha Jadhav, remembered for her roles in Bhootnath Returns and Dhag. Brisbane-based actor Kaushik Das and Perth-based Mayur Kamble have supporting roles in the film.

Deonath, who grew up on the music and lyrics of Salil Chowdhury, Khayyam, Sahir Ludhianvi, Majrooh Sultanpuri and Gulzar, misses the music of yesteryear.

“Every song has its own metre; and the lyrics and the tune should be in perfect sync with each other.” That is what he tries to do with his songs in Salt Bridge, which are very Indian in their appeal and arrangement.

Salt Bridge.Indian Link

His film has done the rounds in three festivals, at Kochi, Jaipur and Dhaka. But Deonath shies away from any labels. Neither does he want the elitism surrounding art films or the pomp surrounding big-budget blockbusters. “I want to stay away from any pigeon-holing or stereotyping.” He merely wants to entertain and engage his audience.

“Perhaps like the cinema of Hrishikesh Mukherjee,” he finally indulges me and gives me a name.

Salt Bridge will be released in Australia this year.

Visit saltbridgemovie.com