Prateek Chakravorty completed his MBA at the University of Technology, Sydney, in 2003 but the Mumbai-based filmmaker chose to use The University of NSW (UNSW) as the principal location for his debut feature, rather than his own alma mater.
“Pictorially, cinematically, it was a better campus,” he explained, during a pause in production on From Sydney … With Love, which he describes as “a very commercial Bollywood film with a fresh feel”.
About 450 cast and crew, 32 of whom are from India, are working on the film, which went into production about a month ago and will continue filming in Sydney for another two weeks.
“It is about a small town girl from India who aspires to become a school teacher and wins a scholarship to study at an Australian university,” said Chakravorty. “It is a new world for her and how she looks at life, her perspective and the adjustments she has to make, that is what the film is about.”
Chakravorty is directing, producing and also acting in the film: his character falls for the girl but his love is unrequited.
“I'm re-living my own student life (in Australia) through the film,” he said.
Most filmmakers pay for locations but, believing the film would help build on its reputation in India, UNSW waived the fee as part of the overall arrangement. It will appear as itself throughout the film, rather than as a fictitious university.
“We take part in education shows, advertise in newspapers, do interviews, but it doesn't compare to being captured in a Bollywood film,” explained Meherlyn Jussawalla, director of diplomatic relations and international protocol at UNSW.
“Now is the time to rebuild India's relationship with Australia following the attacks on Indian students two years ago in Melbourne,” she added. There were 292 Indian students enrolled at UNSW in 2008, this climbed to 404 in 2009, then plunged to 216 this year.
“The film is a positive representation of life in Australia for Indian students,” said Anupam Sharma, a UNSW graduate whose company, based at Fox Studios, offers production services to Indian filmmakers. “There are song sequences but there is an essence of realism and no buffoonery … A rap sequence adds to the film's contemporary nature.”
Luna Park, the Sydney Harbour foreshore, the Opera House and other Sydney locations will also be in the film. Scenes that tell the lead character's backstory and what happens to her once she returns to India will be filmed in West Bengal shortly.
Chakravorty's highly regarded grandfather, Pramod Chakravorty, made about 20 films and filmed abroad, often at a time when this was unusual. Just a few months before he passed away in December 2004, he told his grandson that he liked the script of From Sydney … With Love.
Prateek Chakravorty said he always knew he would make films and, upon returning to India from Australia, he enrolled in a filmmaking course at Whistling Woods International, then assisted on several major movies. His US-based father is an engineer so the urge jumped a generation.