Prashant Nair’s Indo-French production Tryst With Destiny was all set to be premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City in April. Covid-19 put a stop to that, and almost everything else around the world. However, the entries were judged by a jury online, and Nair’s third feature was named best screenplay. The jury praised the script for being “cleverly conceived and executed” and the movie for being “beautifully made”.

Nair, who shuttles between India and Spain, has previously directed Delhi in a Day, Umrika and two episodes of the web series Made In Heaven. Tryst With Destiny is set in contemporary India and comprises three stories revolving around inequality. The cast includes Viineet Kumar, Palomi Ghosh, Jaideep Ahlawat, Kani Kusruti, Ashish Vidyarthi and Suhasini Maniratnam. Excerpts from an interview.

Has the significance of the Tribeca award been amplified or diluted because of the lockdown?
It’s hard to say as it just happened and this is new territory. But winning an award at a fest like Tribeca is always a huge boost for a film, that’s why the organisers worked so hard to make sure the competition part went ahead, even if the films were sadly never screened for the public. Mostly, it just means a lot to everyone who worked so hard on the film, especially when the future holds so much uncertainty for our industry.

Why a triptych?
It was originally conceived of as four stories but somehow found its way to three, which felt like the right number as the stories deal with the upper, middle and lower classes of society. We also treated each one with an emphasis on a particular colour of the flag – white, saffron, green.

The first one, about a billionaire who finds that not everything can be bought, features Ashish Vidyarthi, Suhasini Maniratnam, Victor Banerjee and Lillete Dubey. The second one, about a lower caste couple attempting to build a new life, is with Viineet Kumar and Kani Kusruti and the third, about a cop who struggles to upgrade his living conditions in order to please his mistress, is with Jaideep Ahlawat and Palomi Ghosh.

Viineet Kumar in Tryst With Destiny (2020).

Where did the stories originate?
I have had these individual stories floating around in my head for a while, but never really knew how to use them. The idea of combining them came about one night when, like so many of us, I was particularly frustrated with what was happening in the country. I decided to revisit what we had set out as goals for ourselves at the time of independence and was moved by the words and promises in [Jawaharlal] Nehru’s speech.

I reframed the three stories to collectively explore the promises made in that speech – that there be “no resting for any of us until we make all the people of India what destiny intended them to be” – and how far we’ve come since. In our film, three sets of characters from widely different backgrounds struggle for control of their destinies and their collective journey is my attempt at a portrait of where we are.

How have you treated these stories?
Tryst has got a little bit of everything – parts of it are definitely satirical and darkly sarcastic but there’s also a love story, there’s some action, fire, arson, car crashes, robbery. It’s a pretty wild ride that takes you through a variety of genres – that’s really the advantage of the format.

Umrika (2015).

Class and aspiration appear to be important subjects for you.
Yes, in many ways I feel like a society is most defined by how it treats its least fortunate. It’s definitely the subject I feel most compelled to explore and what worries me most about the direction the world is taking. The extent of inequality across the globe is simply unfathomable.

Give the impact of Covid-19 on filmmaking, are you concerned about the future of indie cinema this year and the fate of your movie?
Unfortunately, it looks like there might be no year left. We’ll probably all just skip 2020 and head straight into 2021.

The award has been very helpful for our film, so we’re grateful, but we still haven’t had an actual premiere in front of a real audience and our cast and crew. Most festivals don’t know when or if they will be happening, so at the moment, like everyone else, our priority is to figure that out. I’m a full believer in the streaming experience and its inevitability, but it would really be a shame if the cast and crew didn’t get to see the movie on a big screen at least once.

What are you working on these days?
Currently creating, showrunning and directing a web series based on the Uphaar cinema tragedy with Endemol Shine India for a major international OTT platform. It’s still in the early stages.

Prashant Nair.

Also read:

‘The chain is broken’: How film festivals can adapt to the coronavirus pandemic