It is not autobiographical yet there is a lot of me in there: Oorvazi Irani on her debut feature film The Path of Zarathustra

“I identify myself as an artist first and foremost; film maker, actor, educationalist, all of these are facets to the same identity” says Oorvazi in her calm composed and assured manner setting the tone for what turns out to be a deeply reflective journey into her mind and method of art.

Oorvazi praying at a Fire Temple-probably the first Indian film shot inside an authentic Fire Temple?

A multi-faceted artist in her own right, my obvious inroad to her mind was with the question on what acting meant to her. A form of expression comes in the form of her reply almost immediately. “Every artist finds a form to express his or her voice, emotions and experiences. A painter for example, expresses via his canvas; his piece of art is his medium of expression. As an artist, you yourself are your medium of expression. You are the canvas yourself on which you paint your view point and show to the world. That is what fascinated me most about acting…” she trails off thoughtfully even as I am left with a poignant picture in my mind. Vibrant, colourful, much like the frames of her debut venture The Path of Zarathustra.

“Visual medium has always been a fascination with me, colours entice me. When I look at a photograph, simple things like the way the hair is done, or the dress, or even the expression on the subject’s face change and add to my perception of the photo. I have tried to capture this in the frames of the film, how these small changes can make a difference both externally as well as internally in the mind of an individual.”

A poignant moment from the film where the protagonist conveys anguish in a subtle manner,with no dialogues !

So what was the starting point of The Path of Zarathustra, the root idea that led her to take this up for her debut? “Who am I ? “ she says with practiced ease. “Isn’t that a universal query that guides every artist? “She insists. “As a parsi, and as a Zoroastrian, belonging to an ever dwindling community, what is my story my point of view? What are the stories of this community?”

As she talks eloquently about the issue, her conviction in telling the story of this unique and niche community shines through. “ Their story deserves to be heard. Their issues need to be discussed, debated and conversed about. My film is a small attempt at sparking such a conversation. It is how my journey as a member of this community has evolved at one level, and also about the evolution of community as a whole”

She however is quick to insist that this is not a documentary of any sort. She emphasises on the universality of the film’s subject, “to be unique and yet reach out to a wide audience.” That this has taken a lot of effort is stating the obvious “this film is three years of my life and journey as an actor” she says.

As the film readies for a release, is she nervous then? “You are so one with the process of creating art that worries and anxieties over the outcome do not cross your mind. However, now that my baby is ready to debut in front of the world, there are mixed feelings.” She says that while she is confident of what she has made, she is also acutely aware that few would find it unpalatable and pretentious.

“Tom (Alter, her co actor in the film) told me this as we saw the film after it was complete; that there will be many who would find a lot of pretence in the film. Yet there will be many who would also find resonance in the spirit of the movie. I am prepared for both.”

Tom and Oo deathbed
Oorvazi with Tom Alter,one of the highlight moments from the film !

Tom Alter is in fact an essential part of this journey of hers and she speaks fondly of the veteran actor “I knew I was new and these are senior actors I was working with hence I kept instructions to the minimal. Tom however would ask basic queries, clarifying things, and then surrender to the script and the moment completely. Like there is this death in the film, and he would figure out stuff like was the death due to any illness, or old age, because how an actor would then play it would vary,. There on though, he would just let the moment guide him. “That has also been her own method to essaying the protagonist of the film.

“I just let the lines, the moment, the script take me forward. I am an acting trainer, yet not much of that came into my acting in the film consciously. “Elaborating on training and its importance for an actor, she says “Training gives you the framework to bounce off into a plane higher than yourself as an actor, an artist. That is the sole importance of training.  It is very important to not be restricted by the training as an actor. That is precisely what I did.

Separating Oorvazi the person from Oorvazi the character was another fine balance she had to maintain in the film. “The character is called by my name, her journey at a spiritual level is mine too, yet it is not me. She would not react to things the way I would. That is something I consciously have tried to achieve in my acting in the film.”

As I sign off, we trail into an enlightening conversation into acting and its process itself. As Stanislavski and Chekhov find mention and merits of method and spontaneity get debated, I am left with a quite sense of her conviction and calm self. Something that she carries into her work as well, her trademark if one is into labelling. Now that is a rare quality in an industry characterised by insecurity and chaos. Yet, a film like The Path of Zarathustra is rare too.

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