Filmmaker Jayant Sharma: Six nominations at local film fest

Jayant Sharma on telling Indian-Australian stories, and on his acclaimed short film Blame the Ovens

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“You make a movie so that it can be premiered. But when it is, there’s a moment when you’re like, ‘Is the audience going to laugh at what I wrote?’” asks Jayant Sharma, whose film Blame the Ovens played at the recent Made in the West Film Festival.

He need not have worried. “They did laugh – on everything we wanted them to – which was one of the best moments.”

Blame the Ovens is a short film created by 24Six Films, a Sydney-based production company which tells stories about the Indian diaspora. Written by Sharma, it touches on themes of racism, subconscious bias, and the consequences of making assumptions. These are explored through a deceptively simple story: on a late Sydney night, two white Australians force an Indian bystander to buy them convenience store meat pies.

“The message we tried to get across is that your subconscious biases need to be dealt with compassionately, as opposed to with compulsion. You really see that towards the end of the film.”

Blame The Ovens scene
A scene from the film Blame the Ovens (Source: IMDb)

Blame the Ovens was filmed in May 2021, during Sydney’s COVID lockdowns. Its story though was initially developed years ago, when Indian international students here became the target of racially-motivated attacks. While sitting around Sydney Harbour – where the film was later shot – Sharma thought up the tale he wanted to tell.

“It was 2013, and my mind was on the attacked students. I thought, ‘How do we respond to this?’ It can’t be through retaliation. It can’t be through the media. Perhaps an approach through the arts could work?”

And so Sharma, Partner at EY and part-time filmmaker, set about finding that approach. His production company 24Six Films already had three talented crew members: director Ali Sayed, producer Aniket Deshkar, and Sharma himself as screenwriter. The City of Sydney Council let them shoot in Circular Quay area, and the owner of a local convenience store was happy to rent his premises.

Finding the right actors, however, proved more difficult.

“I’ve always believed that casting if the hardest part. For a critical shopkeeper role we went through about 15 actors. We were lucky with our other actors though. Pranam Janney, one of the most up-and-coming Australian-Indian actors right now, plays one of our leads.”

Alongside searching for the perfect actors, Sharma is also a perfectionist when it comes to film production, stating that “every technical element of the film, from music to sound to photography, was very important to us”. That perfectionism paid off. At Made In the West, Blame the Ovens received nominations for Best Movie, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Lead Actor for Janney, Best Sound Design and Best Original Score. Its wider release is currently being planned, with a trailer recently released.

Currently, the 24Six team are developing Hindi Vindi, which focuses on the loss of culture and language over different generations. It is slated for release in 2023.

How would Jayant Sharma advise young creatives looking to get a break?

“First, work on topics that matter to you. Second, collaborate; there’s so much talent available in Australia as well as mentorship opportunities and support.  So don’t be shy to ask for help.”

READ ALSO: Jayant Sharma: 40 Under 40 Asian Australians

Manan Luthra
Manan Luthra
Writer, cricket fan, gin and tonic enthusiast. Emerging journalist passionate about art, sport, and education

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