Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari has given up a long and successful career in advertising to give feature filmmaking a shot. Her debut feature Nil Battey Sannata (Good For Nothing), about a single mother who enrolls in the same school as her daughter to improve her academic performance, has travelled to several international film festivals before settling down for an Indian release on April 22. But even before the release, Iyer Tiwari has already directed her second feature – the Tamil remake of her debut called Amma Kanakku (Mother’s Calculation). The original film stars Swara Bhaskar, Ria, Ratna Pathak Shah and Pankaj Tripathi, while the Tamil version has Amala Paul, Samuthirakani and Revathy. Excerpts from an interview with Iyer Tiwary.

What themes do you explore in ‘Nil Battey Sannata’?
It’s a relationship between a mother and daughter and it is about their dreams and interactions. It doesn’t matter what section of society you are from, you can dream big and move upwards. Gender discrimination is still rampant in our country and daughters are still not given the same rights as boys or encouraged to study. This is a simple story about breaking those societal norms, and moving forward.

It’s also about a conflict of ideology. Today’s generation does not want to listen to their parents and the parents don’t want to listen to their children. Parents are rooting in a certain direction while the children feel they need to do something else. This is a film not for women alone; it’s for everyone to see. I want men to cry when they watch my film. Because this is not just about a mother-daughter relationship, it’s a parent and child story.

How did the Tamil version happen?
When Anand L Rai came on board as a co-producer, he showed the trailer to his good friend Dhanush, who liked it and asked me to make it in Tamil. The only changes we have made are in the language, location [from Agra to Chennai] and the cast. The exposure has been amazing and thanks to one tweet from Dhanush, I have become a mini-celebrity in Chennai.

You have cast young actors like Swara Bhaskar and Amala Paul and got them to look older.
My first thing was to have a good actor and someone who would look like she belongs to that place. Swara’s dialect and the strength of her words and language are unbeatable. She’s hardworking and has great acting skills. When I first met her, I said you have to put on weight. Also, she’s more of a mad woman, like her characters in Raanjhana and Tanu Weds Manu Returns, so she really had to calm down to behave like a mature woman and mother. Amala is just 25, but she also put on weight and played the 30 year-old mother who understands the world around her.

From working as a creative director in an advertising agency to making a feature film – where did you learn the craft?
First, the training came from the rigorous work we do in advertising, from shot breakdown to storyboarding. As creative directors, we are present on set and at the edit, and we are responsible to the client. The added advantage is that you are strong in your logical insights. Though the technical knowledge is less, that’s okay because on a film set the best technicians support you. Also I worked on my husband Nitesh’s [Tiwari] films Chillar Party and Bhoothnath Returns.

You have six-year-old twins and both you and Nitesh are filmmakers. How do you balance work with home and family?
Nitesh has been a very big support. He has encouraged me totally. When I was leaving a cushy job at the agency, he said, you need to worry about one thing only: you are going to be working harder because women directors don’t get jobs easily. At home, we manage with the support of my mother and our staff. When we are not shooting we are at home. We love our space and enjoy our little gardening.

Where do you draw your ideas from?
For me, everything comes from life. I don’t look to cinema for inspiration but I like Sai Paranjpye’s work. She’s an amazing writer and director and tells such classic stories like Katha. For years I didn’t even know she is a woman, until I read her book and when I was researching her Marathi movies, I saw her photo online!

Where do you go from here?
My next film is a commercial romcom that Nitesh and I have written together. It’s a studio film, which will be announced soon. I want to work with big stars now. But I want to continue making these kinds of films too. I already have another idea that I will go back to after the romcom.

The trailer of ‘Nil Battey Sannata’.