Analla: Black Saturday through the lens of Indian immigrants & Hinduism

By Indira Laisram
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L-R: Erin Mahoney, Matt Bird and Prince Kanishk Nediyedath

The Victorian bushfire of February 2009 is a tragedy etched in everyone’s memory. Often, it is a tragedy told from the Anglo-Saxon perspective. In reality, tragedies do not discriminate races or backgrounds. For an Indian immigrant couple, Black Saturday would be an unforgettable experience and one that puts them now at a cinematic spotlight.

As the narrative goes: Rani and Sanal (not their real names), new to the country and high on ambition, are a couple, who like everyone else, came to Australia with little understanding about the bush fire seasons or, for instance, how tragic or rough 2009 would be. Franchising a petrol station in the Yarra Glen Valley, they were underprepared of what laid ahead that ‘Black Saturday’ afternoon of February 2009.

Their petrol station stood under a hill as the ravishing fire passed around them. Fortunately, the Elvis helicopters (nickname of Erickson S-64 Air-Crane, tail number OB-2081-P (N179AC), which has gained fame in Australia as a highly visible and valuable tool in bushfire suppression) were able to save them. The fire razed their petrol station, but they are alive to tell their story.

It is the story of Rani and Sanal and other survivors rooted in actual event that coalesce to become a telefeature film titled Analla. The brains behind Analla—producer Erin Mahoney, writer/director—Matt Bird and writer/cinematographer—Prince Kanishk Nediyedath—believe strongly that Analla will contribute significantly to providing a stronger sense of the Indian-Melbourne community and its integral place in the socio-cultural fabric of Victoria and, indeed, Australia.

Erin Mahoney

Overseen by highly experienced executive producers—SunJive Entertainment (Wolf Creek 2, Danger Close, High Ground), the trio are working on a low budget Short “Proof of Concept” sequence from the telefeature script which will be shot by late May. “These scenes will serve as footage to test and further interest the market to invest in the film, so as to realise our vision as a telefeature,” says Erin.

In 2017, Prince recounted the story of Black Saturday told to him by family friends about first generation immigrants, Rani and Sanal. Their story had familiar elements: hard working immigrants chasing their dreams, potential catastrophe and resilience. It would be the birth of an idea—Analla.

“It was such a beautiful story told from a different perspective. We needed more representation of the Indian community, so we thought we got to make this,” says Erin, adding, “This diverse telefeature has a compelling approach that conceptualises the dread and the potential chaos of the uncontrollable Australian bushfire.”

Prince, who is an Indian born Australian cinematographer, has worked on several short films, music videos and commercials in Melbourne. A recipient of multiple Gold awards at the state level, and nominations at the national level with the acclaimed Australian Cinematographers Society (ACS), he met Matt Bird at film school and collaborated for the project.

Prince Kanishk Nediyedath

“The project has been an aspiration of ours for many years. We both see things in similar ways and speak the same visual language, we are constantly developing our style and finding new ways to express ourselves through the language of cinema,” says Prince.

“The story of Analla resonates with anyone who calls himself/herself Australian. It’s a film about our relationship to the environment, to the people around us all coming together in this moment of national crisis,” says Matt, who has been featured in award ceremonies and festivals such as Australian Cinemtographer’s Society, Top Shorts, European Cinematography Awards, Melbourne Underground and Festigious Los Angeles.

Asked why this story is important to tell, Erin says, “Australians are blessed as we all live in a country culturally diverse. Diversity works its way into our work, food and lifestyle. Though we have a significant breadth of exposure to different cultures, it can be difficult to learn in depth about each other’s backgrounds. The contrast between communities is highlighted in their traditions, the primary method of keeping in touch with one’s culture. We recognised that these traditions could also be a valuable method for us to represent the lives of practicing Hindus from India living in Australia. It was important to us that it be incorporated in a way that adds to our story and strengthens our characters.”

Much of the film’s First Act is designed to teach the audience to view the narrative through an allegorical lens as various scenes are spent methodically capturing the essence of Hindu rituals—likely foreign to many western viewers in Australia—that have a direct correlation with the events in acts two and three.

“At the heart of Analla is the contrast between western opportunism and eastern Hindu philosophy and spirituality. One of the characters Allen embodies exploitative reactionary western attitude, seeing an opportunity to possess Ruth by holding her financially indebted through unwelcomed acts of overly generous philanthropy during a time of personal and universal turmoil,” says Erin, who has a background in accounting and administration and is a final year university student, interning at Sunjive as an emerging creative producer.

Matt Bird

The film focusses on Hinduism as it is underrepresented in western films and often stereotyped or appropriated to highlight the grand weddings or festivals. “This is the primary reason why we make sure we are being as accurate and respectful in our representation as possible because any shortcomings will be a detriment for our characters and the film,” asserts the trio, in a statement.

For now, the film’s script has been developed and Australia-born Vimala Raman, who is now a top Telugu and Malayalam film star in India, has offered full support for the project.

“We are very excited about having her main character as Rani. Whether she will be able to get to Australia for the Proof of Consent will be a bit tricky but having an international Indian actress interested in our project is reassuring and exciting,” says Erin.

The crew is currently trying to raise 10,000 dollars for funding and looking forward to hearing any feedback from other people in the community who want to get involved or have a story to share. “If there is a better way we can represent this community, we are absolutely open to any kind of collaboration with anyone,” says Erin.

After all, ideas must come together to construct a story. And importantly, a humane and compelling story!


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