Ana Tiwary’s film on Indian students in Australia


A documentary film about two Indian students may just be the beginning of a series of  stories Ana Tiwary plans to tell about Australia.

Filmmaker Ana Tiwary’s belief in the power of untold stories made it impossible for her, in 2009, to ignore the plight of Indian students in Australia. Diversity has been Ana’s artistic credo ever since her days of working in the Mumbai film industry. The troubles of diversity in social life would mean, for Ana, that her stories would seek out the muffled voices of the marginalised. The truth of this story is the art of the ‘complex’. As Ana says: “I felt the real students, their life in Australia, were missing in the debate about violence against Indian students.”

It is this untold, complicated dilemma of the Indian student in Australia that Ana’s much-acclaimed documentary film Sunshine and Shadeattempts to evoke.

The film premiered at the 2012 Parramasala festival and has since been screened to enthusiastic audiences in a few cities in Australia; the film is also due to be aired on India’s NDTV.

With the recent concern about the safety of Indian students Sunshine and Shade will continue to generate interest in Australia, India and beyond. It is an important story about the nexus between migration and education in our global village.

The film was shot in 2011 and completed the following year. The entire process of making the movie turned out to be physically and mentally intense for Ana. Ana was keen that her concept and work on the film were independent. According to her, the film was going to steer clear of the extremes of the debate in an effort to get at the real people and their lives in Australia.

The film follows the lives of two young Indian students in Australia. The title Sunshine and Shade, Ana says, came from Peter Cosgrove’s famous speech acknowledging the existence of racism in Australia. Ana’s film is one of a rare few, if not the only film, that tells the story of a new breed of migrant from India, marginalised and exploited, by friend and foe, in a land that hope and ambition bring them to. Yet this is the tale of modern diversity. No adversity can break the hopes of these young migrants, even when giving up is the only option.

“In this real-life story of two Indian students, it’s hard to see things as black and white,” says Ana. It is a story, she feels, that involves the whole Australian community, including the Indian diaspora in Australia. Often, the students feel let down and exploited by the Indian community itself.

“I don’t think any international student would go to another country to just study,” says Kanishk, one of the students in the film. “We just came here for PR,” says Sharn, in another interview, as if in response to that observation.

Sunshine and Shade is more than just a documentary about Indian students; the film is a look at modern Australia, believing in its ideals and agenda of diversity yet unable to keep the sceptical at bay. For these students, socially isolated and far from home, the Australian beach or the city lights have faded into insignificance. Australia’s modern economy refuses to recognise Australian qualifications. The promises of the global economy lead to dead ends. This then is the dilemma of the Indian student. The dream of a better future in Australia, for these young enterprising Indians, then ends up as a tough and costly lesson in life.

For Ana, Sunshine and Shade is close to her heart in many ways. She has been outspoken on the matter of diversity in the visual media ever since she migrated to Australia. Diversity for Ana, as a filmmaker, is about bringing together images and people that are not commonly associated.  This is the story that Sunshine and Shade attempts. Moving away from the contemporary official and popular images of Australia, which mostly hymn a very “Western” society with little diversity, no ethnic migrant communities, or show a slice of white Australian life from the recent past, Ana’s Australia is today’s Sydney. The Sydney you can’t afford to ignore any more. This very Sydney, with its broken dreams and frustrated ambitions, seems to be constantly lurking in all our private or public discussions about modern society, no matter who we are or where we may be in Sydney. This Sydney, Ana says, is what we find difficult to acknowledge.

After filming Sunshine and Shade, Ana, who’d become friends with the two students in her film followed up on their lives two years later. The interesting twists and turns of their lives is becoming another short film, says Ana. Sunshine and Shade doesn’t blame or criticise overtly. Ana’s story about the young students is one of hope despite the odds.

Perhaps untold stories remain untold because they are only half stories, fragmented, sceptical, shadowy questions and insinuations never able to become stories that people love to hear and tell. Like the transients from India on the stage of Australian multiculturalism, never entirely welcome, not sure of their place, yet believing that the good life, “PR”, is potentially well within reach. Perhaps even modern Australia, with its love for fairytales and fancy dress, cannot defeat such youthful optimism.

Published in The Indian Sun (Indian Magazine  in Australia)

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