‘Don’t worry about things outside of your control’

/Interview by Alika Gasimova/

Neeti Kejriwal and Chase Pottinger are the creators from India and the United States. Their work ‘The Bystander’ is authentic and symbolic. It brings the spirit of wild and the sense of nature. It is a fresh breath in Indian independent cinematography. We talked about their last project, about modern society, and about cinema art in India.

Caption from ‘The Bystander’

The Bystander is the conscience. Who is the Thief?

Neeti Kejriwal: The Thief could be seen as an individual who acts.

How do the relations between our inner Thief and Bystander affect our lives?

Chase Pottinger: Often moral situations are not as simple as they seem to be and are filled with natural nuances. Inner conflicts are also not so black-and-white but a mix of the competing forces inside an individual.

The style of your film is not common in India. It is far from Bollywood ideas. What do you think about the present Indian cinematography?

Neeti Kejriwal: There are some exciting filmmakers emerging in independent Indian cinema. They are expanding the possibilities of filmmaking in India and the results contribute to the world of international cinema. It’s a slow process but it’s happening. Some extremely talented filmmakers like Rima Das are showing life rooted in India with a pure sentiment. Indian filmmaking in general is becoming simpler and more diverse.

What do you find the most interesting about Indian culture that you want to bring up in your films?

Chase Pottinger: There’s an enormous depth to India’s antiquity and mythos. It feels kaleidoscopic, like worlds within worlds, and yet grounded in very natural reality. I hope the films can give a similar feeling.

Neeti Kejriwal: There are massive differences between regions of the subcontinent. The majority of Indians have a strong reliance on the land for their livelihood. Ancestral heritage and familial migrations are extremely significant, fostering a sense of belonging.

What would you call a good film?

Chase Pottinger: A good film gives the audience an experience that is deeply immersive and worth remembering.

Neeti Kejriwal: For me, a good film is emotionally engaging, expands how you see the world, and/or is enjoyable.

I feel that the soundtrack really goes with the story. Tell me how you came up with this idea?

Neeti Kejriwal: We decided to use music in order to determine the pacing and elevate the energy of the action. The rhythms of the tabla drum went well with the running. The instrument also has a woody and natural sound that fits the forest environment.

Why did you want to talk about conscience?

Chase Pottinger: It’s something everyone experiences regardless of culture or other contextual boundaries. 

How would you describe present society from the point of morality?

Neeti Kejriwal: That’s the kind of thing you don’t want to think about because you just get frustrated. But if you keep in mind that everything isn’t so simple, as black-and-white then the world makes more sense. Misfortune is a part of life.

What do you want people to think after they watch the film?

Chase Pottinger: We hope that the audience may understand the Thief’s inner strife.

The nature shown in the film is very beautiful. How was it like to film there? Any challenges?

Neeti Kejriwal: The whole thing was filmed in a private residential garden. The foremost challenge was making sure there weren’t any buildings or other modern things in the frame. The bigger challenge was making sure nature felt like a slightly fantastical environment that was still grounded and realistic.

Captions from ‘The Bystander’

How did this film affect your future plans?

Chase Pottinger: It gave us more confidence to continue doing what we love. Filming in the garden was a last-minute option but we improvised and it ended up being the best setting out of all the other locations. That gave us confidence in our instincts to make the best out of what is available.

Which lessons did you learn throughout the filming process?

Neeti Kejriwal: We learned how to convey a lot of story and action in a very brief amount of time. The pacing in this film is the most concise out of anything else we’ve made so far. It was also further experience in telling a story without dialogue.

Which country does your heart belong to and why?

Chase Pottinger: I love America deeply. I’ve spent much of the last five years traveling internationally so I have a lot of strong feelings for the places I’ve stayed and filmed at, especially India and China. But the feelings I have for America are special, sort of like how you feel differently for a parent than a friend.

Neeti Kejriwal: India is where my family lives so it is a place where my heart will always belong. But I also have a strong urge to explore and expand how I see the world. Exploring also gives you a perspective that you otherwise wouldn’t have if you were too comfortable in one place.

What do you think patriotism is?

Chase Pottinger: I’d say, neutrally, patriotism is simply acting upon your love for your country.

Neeti Kejriwal: For me, patriotism is when you give back to the country you come from.

Captions from ‘The Bystander’

Why are there so many people with mental problems in the present society?

Neeti Kejriwal: I feel like one of the contributing factors is the lack of social interactions that are genuine, friendly, and innocent. There is an increased dependence on social media for validation and shaping one’s worldview as well. However, now we’ve become aware of these mental problems. We are starting to feel comfortable talking about it and so more people are able to address their own troubles.

What are the ways to stay mentally healthy?

Neeti Kejriwal: Giving yourself personal time regularly. Secondly, staying aware of mental health issues will help you know better about how to heal yourself or a friend in need.

favourite directors

 Chase Pottinger: Terrence Malick, Hayao Miyazaki, Akira Kurosawa, Andrei Tarkovsky

Neeti Kejriwal: Julie Taymor, Werner Herzog, Andrei Tarkovsky, Wong

Kar-Wai, Satoshi Kon

favourite musicians

 Chase Pottinger: Richard Wagner, Susumu Hirasawa, Joe Hisaishi

 Neeti Kejriwal: Björk, Kamasi Washington, Ennio Morricone

three rules of life:

Chase Pottinger: Have no preferences;

Don’t worry about things outside of your control;

Think lightly of yourself but deeply of the world

 Neeti Kejriwal: Keep it simple, go with the flow;

Listen to everyone but do what your heart says;

Help out someone in need whenever you can