UBEROI, SAFINA: MY MOTHER INDIA
FROM TEARS TO TEMPTATIONS
Tears of joy and tears of pain went into the making of My Mother India, Safina Uberoiís much acclaimed documentary about her mother, as she confides to Louise Keller. And now, Uberoiís next project is The Last Temptation With Rice - full of love, sex and good food.
What motivated you to make the film?
Initially I began to make a film about my two grandmothers Ė one Australian and one Indian. I was interested in the fact that here were two women, both staunch advocates of their own culture and both very strong. They were both pioneering women in their worlds. Both had different histories and I was also interested in the fact that they had never met. Despite having grandchildren in common, neither of them could leave their cultures and actually meet. The film was an imaginary place of meeting between the two cultural poles that these women represented to me. But as I began to make the film, one of them fell ill. We had the funding, but the film had literally fallen down the stairs Ė my grandmother had fallen and hurt her hip. So I asked myself what is the essence of the film. If the essence is cultural confluence, rather than cultural conflict, the most adventurous person is my mother. Thatís what led me to tell her story. And of course any personal story comes full circle, so when I went into her story, I ended up with my own.
What did you learn about yourself in the process?
In everybodyís life there is a moment when your nationís history and your own come together. Itís when decisions youíre making in your personal life as well as whatís happening in the political world are strongly together - 1984 was that moment for me. Because it was such a painful time, I found it hard to face as well as all the associated anguish that my family experienced. I found it very difficult to go back to that time.
Was going back to that time the most emotionally difficult part of making the film?
Good point. No, the hardest point was tearing away the veil that separates parents and children. Parents donít talk to you about sex. You donít talk to parents about sex or your desires. So thereís this little separation between parents and children, and in the film I had to actively tear it away. This was a very painful process because I was putting people I loved through a great deal of pain.†
Has your relationship with your parents and in particular with your mother changed as a result?
Completely. Every time I would interview her, we would both weep. It wasnít always from sadness, it was sometimes from joy. But it was always from that intense place of going to the truth.†
Has it brought you very close to your mother?
Yes, to my mother and also to my father I think. My mother is actually really a very private person. So while the film is a tribute to her, it was very much her gift to me. My tribute to her and her gift of honesty to me are like another bond. Itís like when she was there at the time I had a baby. Itís really the same thing. Youíve looked into each otherís eyes at that moment of knowledge in a wayÖ
And itís like an exchange of something extremely personal . . .
Extremely personal Ė itís like looking into each otherís eyes and saying Ďoh my god, that really hurt.í Things she didnít know hurt her. For example, she had never told me about what it felt like to give up her Australian citizenship. I had been living with my parents at the time and saw the dramas over several years as paperwork got lost. But in the end when the passport actually came through, I didnít know that was something really painful for her. She had never told me how she felt. It was a moment for her to realise that she had done something that was irreconcilably painful. It was a real moment of loss.†
How did your family and in particular your mother react when they saw the film for the first time?
I was determined to do the ethical thing and didnít want to ask my mother to sign the release form until she had seen the film. But I worried in case she wanted changes, because we couldnít afford themÖ She came to Australia for a reunion with friends she hadnít seen since college 20 years ago. So there were six or seven women who hadnít met since, watching the film for the first time. My sister too, was there. They all started laughing and giggling at the beginning and then as the screening went on, there were sniffles and I realised they were all weeping. I thought, thatís it! Itís a flopÖ they hated it! She will never sign the release form. But when the film finished, she gave me a big hug while still crying, and said ĎIím glad you made what you needed to make.í Iím really grateful to her for her courage.
Itís a very personal film. Do you feel vulnerable as a result?
Oh yeah! (laughs) Take any piece of art, a painting, a piece of music, a film. You put it up there, and you feel very naked. When you put a film up there and you are in it, you feel doubly naked. Sitting in the audience, I feel totally stripped. I have strangers coming up to me who feel they know me after seeing the film.†
My Mother India has won numerous awards and has been very successful. Why do you think this is?†
If you really try to tell something as truthfully as possible, I believe it speaks to everybody. I canít explain it any other way. People write to me about their mothers, about growing up in another culture, about having lived in India, or having lived here. It doesnít seem to matter. It seems to be about telling the truth about life being complicated. People tell me about the story of their marriage and how it fell apart. They think it is a film about a marriage and I guess in some ways it is a film about a marriage.
What is your next project? Is it true youíre going to make a musical?
Yes, itís called The Last Temptation With Rice and itís a musical set a mythical Indian restaurant in Sydney called Neruís North Indiaís Diner. Itís about the inmates of the restaurant and how they create a world within a world. But they also have to learn to work in the world where they live which, of course, is Australia. Itís full of love, sex and good food. And of course some wonderful music from various different bands. It will be another year yet in the making and once again, Iím interested in cultural confluence and the business of the melting pot.
Published August 15, 2002
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My Mother India Ė selected awards
WINNER: The Rouben Mamoulian Award & CRC Award, Dendy Awards SFF 2002
WINNER: Script Writing Award - NSW Premiere's Literary Awards 2002†
WINNER: Best Long Form Documentary - Australian Teachers of Media Awards†
WINNER: Odyssey Award for Best Documentary, Real - Life On Film Festival
WINNER: Jury Prize for Best Australian Documentary- Australian Film Critics
WINNER: Special Jury Award - Hawaii International Film Festival 2001
WINNER: Best Video Production, Melbourne International Film Festival 2001
WINNER: Best Pitch, Heidtman / AFTRS Award 1998
SPECIAL COMMENDATION: Mill Valley International Film Festival 2001