Film Education


“Liv and Ingmar”: The Journey of the Filmmaker Dheeraj Akolkar – An Interview by Oorvazi Irani

Dheeraj lead image

I met Dheeraj through his film “Liv and Ingmar” and immediately connected, and made him a friend for life. In spite of not  having met him I yet feel that I know him so well. One of the few films in modern times that will remain with me for a lifetime is this film which is in the form of a documentary because of its real life dynamics but goes beyond that in its cinematic and artistic experience.  The tenderness and yearning for truth is at the core of this film and moved me. The theme of Love so precious to human beings is unfolding on screen through the beautiful prism of the lover Liv Ullmann and the filmmaker Dheeraj.  I invited Dheeraj to speak about his journey as a filmmaker, an artist who made this film a reality and what I share with you is an inspiring real life story of deep faith, sincerity,passion and love. …Oorvazi Irani

 

1. Every film has a journey for an artist and the process when reflected upon is a great self realization. Would you like to share with us some of the secrets it revealed to you about yourself and the world, before you started working on this film.

‘Liv & Ingmar’ was very important on many levels. To be able to envisage a film and then to actually make it are both things that can stay on a piece of paper or in the heart of many filmmakers. I was struggling to get the film made.

I wanted very badly to make films. Your question takes me back to those times in London when things got so difficult that for a moment I thought that this world is not going to let me put two pieces of images together with a little sound on it. It got that bad.

I developed and sent out 22 film projects in 18 months to different funding agencies. This could come off as desperation. And it was. I wanted to make films. I met with producers who played with my situation. They came on board and did nothing. Then they left me in lurch. I would write emails and make several phone calls that would all go unanswered.

Do you know this feeling inside your heart, when you have so much to say and so much to give and so much to do, but all you meet are walls… dead, cold walls, that you don’t know where to begin, what doors to knock on and if there are any doors.

But I believe in action. I believe in doing. I also have friends who yank me out when necessary by saying one or two harsh things.

So I kept trying.

I wrote the theme of ‘Liv & Ingmar’ as a poem, then my friend Christina Christensen brought for me Liv’s address from Norway and in complete naivety I wrote her a letter. Then Liv called and expressed her support. That point was a very bright point of hope. I thought to myself – “Liv has said YES, which means I can do this. So I am gonna…”

Then my friend Rocco helped me build a trailer together. We did this sitting in Goldsmiths college library where we both worked in the graveyard shift at the library reception.

Then I started taking the project out in the UK and I went to many people. Most said that this story belonged to Scandinavia and had nothing to do with the UK so I wouldn’t have any support.

Then I met Mr. Uberto Pasolini ( Producer of ‘The Full Monty’, ‘Bel Ami’ etc and Director of ‘Machan’ and ‘Still Life’ ) Uberto suggested I went to Sweden. Sitting in his office he dug out the contact details of Ms. Katinka Farago who worked as Mr. Bergman’s script girl since ‘Wild Strawberries’ and who later produced masterpieces such as ‘Fanny and Alexander’ and Andrei Tarkovsky’s ‘The Sacrifice’.

So I wrote to Katinka, who by then had retired and instead directed me to the Ingmar Bergman Foundation and The Swedish Film Institute in Stockholm.

That year I went to Cannes with my short film and walked up and down that croisette meeting different people, collecting addresses, seeking meetings and failing quite a lot 

I returned to London and wrote to all the contacts I had found. 70 producers in Sweden and 10 producers in Norway and eventually they all said a big NO. In addition to saying NO, they were very keen to inform me that I was not going be able to make this film, that this film had no theatrical future and that it was not a story worth telling because “There was too much Bergman in the Market anyway..”

It kills you slowly. So many rejections. And suddenly the number people directly telling you that “you are a failure” increases rather rapidly. I had people laugh in my face and at times behind my back and that is not a pleasant thing at all.

My friend Marie Bonnel who was my guardian angel in London, used to organize dinners on Monday evenings because that used to be my day off from work, invited me over for one such lovely dinner at her place in South Kensington. There I met someone who had an invitation to the Swedish Ambassador’s house for a Book Release on Mr. Bergman. He could not go, and offered me to go instead. So I pulled out some decent clothes and took a bus to Mr. Ambassador’s residence.

It was a lovely evening and I spoke to the ambassador about my film who kindly asked his secretary to put me in touch with some important people in Stockholm, one of whom turned out to be Professor Maaret Koskinen.

So in 2009 I decided to go to Stockholm. My friend Love Kallmann offered me a place to stay in his house. I got cheap air tickets and went off.

Professor Koskinen was super supportive of the film and she introduced me to The Bergman Foundation and producers of ‘Saraband’ Mrs. Pia and Mr.Torbjorn Ehrnvall, who by then had also retired, but were encouraging.

Then in 2010 I was fired from my Library job due to recession. This whole time I was writing and filming and doing other things, but now I also needed the money.

My friend James Wallace was acting in a play called ‘The Peddler’s Tale’ at Edinburgh Fringe and his director was looking for someone to film the production, so I went to Scotland on the job and the first person James introduced to me was actress Ms. Ragnhild Lund from Oslo, Norway.

Ronnie, as she is called by her friends, offered to take my material to Norway, which she did and got a meeting with Mr. Stein-Roger Bull and Mr. Rune Trondsen of NordicStories who wanted to meet me.

Dheeraj with Producer Rune Trondsen who stood by the film with steadfast determination

Dheeraj with Producer Rune Trondsen who stood by the film with steadfast determination

They came on board as producers and the rest is history. But till the very last moment the struggle to make the film right did not end. Different forms of struggles came up…But now there were amazing collaborators on board and together we made ‘Liv & Ingmar’

To come back to your question, one of the greatest self realizations that this film gifted me was the knowledge that IT IS POSSIBLE !!!!!

Premier Haugesund Red Carpet

Premier Haugesund Red Carpet

It is possible to make a film you believe in making. It is possible to make it the way you believe its aught to be made. It is possible to do it RIGHT. It takes time, but that time helps the film more than anything else.

People can always laugh at you and call you a failure and take great happiness in your pain. But ultimately you are the only one who can fail yourself. And you have a greater responsibility, if you have to make the film.

In the end you realize that It’s not about you. It’s about the film.

 

2. How would you define Love ? When you are tackling a very delicate yet universal subject like Love – did the process enlighten you. Did it change any ideas you had or the film reemphasized your own experiences about love.

One of the main reasons why I wanted to make this film was Love. To have experienced it myself, I recognized what Liv had written in her book ‘Changing’ but I also recognized what she had not written.

 

Liv and Dheeraj

Liv and Dheeraj

‘Liv & Ingmar’ is not ‘Romeo and Juliet’ or ‘Heer Ranjha’ but it is a story of their kind of love, their kind of friendship. I find it real and very worldly. Far from perfect, filled with personal flaws and yet, beautiful and tender and forgiving and enveloping and unrequited on many levels.

I felt that a lot was strewn around in memoirs, scripts, letters, images, sounds and songs that could be woven together to look at a story from a tender point of view.

Our film is not a journalistic, court room account of truth. Our film is a journey of reminiscence with blurred edges, rounded corners and a walk in the woods with a tune to hum.

It certainly reinforced my belief that to love, one does not have to stay under the same roof. One does not have to be in the same city, country or continent. One does not have to be married or in a relationship with the person. Love is about two energies meeting in one single, bright point of truth. The rest of it is survival 

To love it is indeed not necessary to have love in return. One can love because one is capable of loving and giving. Love does not have to be a calculation depending on what you get in the process.

It frees you up, liberates you in a way you never understand. When you take responsibility for your action of love, nothing else affects it. And that is a beautiful feeling…

I don’t define love. I want to quote Gulzar saab’s song from ‘Khamoshi’ where he writes – “Pyaar ko pyaar hi rehene do, koi naam na do…”

Connections are about one point of truth, rest is destiny!

 

3. Do you feel Love is different for the male and female gender and how ? As a filmmaker did you feel you did justice to the two points of view ? And did the absence of Ingmar Bergman affect the film in any particular way.

I don’t think love is different according to genders. Love is human.

My idea was to touch upon the inexplicable, the unsaid. I don’t think ‘Liv & Ingmar’ defines love. But after the film, you may come out having experienced it and more.

At the end of the film that person sitting in front of the camera in a black shirt is not a superstar or a legend. To me it’s a beautiful 73 year old woman and she seems to say – “Yes, I held his hand. I loved.”

Liv and Ingmar's Teddy Bear

Liv and Ingmar’s Teddy Bear

It’s that simple.

That, you cannot challenge. That, you don’t challenge.

I don’t know what would have happened if Mr. Bergman was alive and a part of the film. Perhaps he would have added stories from his side. I would have loved to meet him and in some ways, I felt I did.

Having spoken to those close to him, I do know for sure that he missed Liv in the last days of his life.

In his whole house there is not a single image from his films, except one – In front of his bed, on a bare wall, is a photograph of Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson touching their foreheads in that immortal scene from ‘Saraband’.

That is love.

 

4. I feel an artist is always reflected in his work, do you agree and how do you see that manifesting itself in this film ?

I am not good at analysis of my own self and my work. In fact for many reasons I avoid it. I am sure that a lot of me is in the film. How can it not be? But I would rather leave it there.

Dheeraj's proud Mom and Dad in a beautiful moment with Liv

Dheeraj’s proud Mom and Dad in a beautiful moment with Liv

Making art is also about not knowing everything. Making art is about not having all the control. You make it from a point in yourself that you don’t understand, simply also because its not that concrete.

I felt deeply empty when ‘Liv & Ingmar’ finished. Perhaps that is a sign. And its best to leave it at that. 

 

5. Liv commented that your film was a gift to her ? Could you share with us how and why ?

I will never know what she exactly meant when she said at the dinner before the premier that this film was a gift to her.

But I have my own take on it.

She was always looked at as one of Ingmar’s actresses, as one of the many women in his life. She was criticised heavily for living with him and having a child out of wedlock. Many people believed that she used him and many people said nasty things about her and continue to do that.

Singapore press Conference

Singapore Press Conference

People forget that he went back to her 12 times. What does that say? People forget that he could have made these films with any other actress – why did he keep going back to Liv? People forget her contribution to those films and how much she brought to those roles. He himself writes in his autobiography that it would have been impossible to make these films without her.

She is the only woman to have ever directed an Ingmar Bergman script for cinema and she has directed two. They have a child together. The place where he declared his love for her, he built a home for her – a home that he lived and died in. They worked together for 42 years. She is in the last frame of his last film.

This kind of association does not happen in everybody’s life.

I am sure she must have been tremendously hurt by critical remarks from people, I am sure she must have felt insulted and humiliated. To such an extent that before his funeral a priest from the church in Faro island specially called her to inform her that she was not allowed to walk behind his coffin, because she was not married to him!!!

What must she have felt?

This world builds squares and if you don’t fit in, it is very quick to point fingers at you, to inform you that you are a failure in life because you did not follow the pretty squares…

Then comes someone wanting to make a film to celebrate what you had with the man. Someone recognises your contribution. Someone puts a camera on you and listens to your side of the story. Someone finally says, that what Liv and Ingmar had together, was something beyond that this world understands.

Perhaps there is no term yet coined for every emotion we feel. Perhaps there are things we don’t fully understand. Art allows us to experience that.

May be, that is why Liv felt that this film is a gift to her, not a critical whip-loving analysis, but a tender space that allowed a story to be told.

We were showing the film in Singapore at IIFA 2012. After the film, there was a question-answer session when a reporter asked Liv as to why she agreed to do this film with an unknown, young director from India and this is what she said,

“Sometimes you are 73 and you are standing on a bridge and you meet a stranger. He is a whole new generation than yours, he comes from a different country, from a different continent. He speaks a different language even and then he offers you his hand…”

“Sometimes you should take that hand and jump…”

I am happy Liv took my hand and jumped.

On behalf of everyone who made the film, I want to say that making ‘Liv & Ingmar’ was a gift to US 

"Liv and Ingmar" film team at Faro Island

“Liv and Ingmar” film team at Faro Island

Here is the official film website

http://www.livandingmar.com

 

 

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