With a short film that had its world premiere at Festival de Cannes this year, Delhi boy Akshun Abhi, now based in Los Angeles, is on a high
The film that took Akshun Abhi, all of 24 years, and the team of 7 Rounds to Cannes is based on last year’s Kansas racial killing in which a 51-year-old Navy veteran shot an Indian techie who was enjoying a drink with a friend in a pub.
“Suddenly, this man walked in shouting ‘Get out of my country’ and fired at Srinivas Kuchibhotla. And, just like that, this man — because he was deemed an ‘outsider’ — lost his life,” says Abhi who, despite the passage of time, never stops “getting moved and shocked by a death that was so unnecessary”. This incident is what compelled him to start work on 7 Rounds.
Together with a friend, screenwriter Karthik Menon, this alumnus of New York Film Academy wrote a script that showcases not just the growing fear in the minds of the American people — especially after the travel ban on immigrants from countries including Syria, Iran, Yemen, Libya and Chad — about people from a particular community but also the daily struggles and problems of immigrants in the United States.
“We’ve also shown how South Asians, especially Indians, are often mistaken for people from the Middle East or other Muslim countries and hence, become targets for hate crimes,” says Abhi, who has personally faced some situations bordering on racial abuse in real life.
Since his return, his roster has been full of audition calls for “feature tracks for Hollywood productions”. Discussions and meetings have been lined up with some South Indian filmmakers in the US as well, informs Abhi, excitement writ large on his face.
Needless to say, his parents back home in Delhi are worried. “My father keeps asking me to shave off my beard; although he may be right to some extent, I have kept it because I enjoy sporting it. And moreover, I feel I must have the freedom to choose the way I want to look,” says the youngster who’d rather work towards reducing hate crimes through his work.
And adds that it’s through his work that his family enjoyed its first Cannes outing where his father “was very excited about his new tuxedo which finally came of some real use”.
In Cannes, Abhi spent about nine days interacting with the film fraternity from across the world and, of course, soaking in the flavours of the French Riviera. “Although I missed the opening ceremony on May 9 that saw many film people from India, I was present at all the other major events including the Festival’s competition and nomination announcement days. And staying close to the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès, I was able to experience the festival throughout the day and late into the night,” he adds.
Of course, the day Abhi’s film was screened was indeed special. “It was amazing how everyone responded to the concerns we put forth in our work,” he says, talking about the discussions that followed. “Instead of a conclusive ending, we preferred an open-end for 7 Rounds and that is something that kept many in the audience speculating on what the outcome could or should be. And the impact such incidents have on the lives of characters who face racial abuse,” he lets on.
Other than meeting many stalwarts from the Indian film industry including Nandita Das and Nawazuddin Siddiqui (“who were there for their incredible film Manto which was a treat to watch”), Subhash Ghai (“who congratulated me for my film”) and the American-Indian filmmaker Ravi Patel (“who was very encouraging about my work in 7 Rounds), Abhi’s “greatest moment” at Cannes was “being able to just see and hear the charismatic John Travolta talk about his movies and work. I was immediately transported back to my schooldays when, after watching Grease and Saturday Night Fever, I got hooked onto dance”, he smiles.
Interacting with international filmmakers including Luis Porto and Yves Bouzaglo from Switzerland and Poland’s Pawel Tarasiewicz, “discussing various aspects of filmmaking was a great, educative experience,” says Abhi who is thrilled that various independent production companies from the US are evincing interest in his work. Already, he and his team that also includes director Giorgos Alexandros Savvidis, producers Miranda Guzman and Trevor Doyle, and actor Abhay Walia have been invited to participate in some of the major festivals in the US.
Little wonder then, the youngster is glad he followed his heart’s calling despite embarking on a more academic route — undergraduation in biotechnology from the Jacobs University in Bremen (Germany) — after class 12.
“It was at the insistence of my childhood friend that I then took off for the New York Film Academy to pursue acting, with filmmaking as a focus,” he says. And with films such as Hakikat — Reality based on a true incident of an untimely death of a sister, Deceased, 4th Person and Wonders of Love dealing with issues such as religion, sexuality and health, he has been striving “to work on the social evils of our society”. But for now, the experience of having walked the coveted Red Carpet at Cannes is going to stay with him for a long time to come.