Tabrez Noorani on 'Love Sonia': It's been a tough journey but worth it

Love Sonia has just released in India and its director Tabrez Noorani is excited to bring the tale of human trafficking to a wider audience.  “It’s like the line from Life of Pi (2012) — ‘The story’s yours now’. This one belongs to the viewers and I am making them a part of the journey that may not be an easy one,” he says. However, the Hollywood producer (Slumdog Millionaire, 2008; Eat Pray Love, 2010 and more) and now debutant director hopes that cinegoers will leave the cinema hall with hope and a ray of light after seeing the courage of the characters and real-life survivors. The filmmaker talks to us about the challenges of making the movie and more.

The idea of Love Sonia believably germinated in 2003 when  you worked towards rehabilitating human trafficking victims. What took the film so long to make?

It’s taken a lot of time for various reasons — the tough topic, money, casting and not having stars attached to the project. We ran into a wall because there was no one to fund a movie about human trafficking at that point of time. We wanted to be in the business with the right people and not someone who would exploit the film. So, I refused to compromise and let someone milk the situation. We also had to be extremely careful that we were respectful to the victims and honest to the subject. After all, these were girls I have known and helped rehabilitate. So, it’s been a tough journey but definitely worth it.

Tell us about casting for the film…

I had to chase Richa Chadha and Manoj Bajpayee both. Richa didn’t know me from Adam and I refused to do a script narration because I don’t know what that means. I sent her a draft and she wanted to make sure that the one she read was the same that I would make. But once we started talking, she became more confident about me as a filmmaker and then she took the script to another level. I just got extremely lucky that everyone came on board.

Didn’t you feel the film was getting too delayed?

I’m glad I didn’t make this earlier because the research continued and I kept developing the characters. After the first season of Sense8, I decided to stop producing and focus on this project.

In spite of having produced a number of big Hollywood flicks, why didn’t you venture into direction earlier?

I wanted to debut with this film. I believe for your first outing you need to make something that you feel passionately about. I had other offers, but I felt anyone else could have directed those films but no one could have done this one.

With realistic cinema, filmmakers can often get self-indulgent. How did you ensure that didn’t happen with your movie?

Yeah, self-indulgence was one of the biggest concerns for me. And that’s why I had members of the NGOs as well as trafficked girls on the sets in Los Angeles, Hong Kong, and India. Survivors were also involved in the scripting and editing processes and we made a conscious effort to not exploit the exploited. Once both parties saw the film, it was a validation that we navigated the land very well.

With many so-called parallel films doing well in India these days, do you think it’s a good time for stories like Love Sonia?

Absolutely! I think the audience here has been more open to different kinds of films of late — more than they were, say, three to five years ago. India is making such fantastic cinema, whether it’s a large film like Padmaavat (2018) or a low-budget one like Titli (2014). People here want to go see Stree and a Gali Guliyan releases at the same time, too.

Which films have impressed you of late?

I thought Titli was an outstanding movie. Udaan (2010), Masaan (2015), Anurag Kashyap’s works, and the Marathi film Fandry (2013) were quite impressive.

What’s next? Would one have to wait too long for another film from you?

Hopefully not. I’m working on two films and they will be very different from this one.

Apart from human trafficking, is there another cause you’d like to make a film on?

That’s an interesting question, but I haven’t thought about it. Anyway, this work won’t end after the release of the project. Trafficking is a massive problem all over the world and I can do anything to help tackle it — even if I have to disguise it in the form of a movie, I would do it because down the line, it will create awareness.