A WORK OF ARTi — obliterating excuses, following dreams

A WORK OF ARTi — obliterating excuses, following dreams

I met ARTI SHAH on the set of Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows.

An inspirational woman of note — her CV is sprinkled with blockbuster titles, like Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Rogue One, Fantastic Beasts… (the list goes on) — Arti successfully eradicates all excuses for not following one’s dream.

I hope you’ll be as inspired & motivated as I am by this peek into her life.

Photo credit: Libby Christensen Photography

Arti, what’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced and overcome?

I was diagnosed with pseudoachondroplasia at the age of two, as my parents noticed I was growing slowly. I was never told that I was different; I was never bubble-wrapped. I was so grateful for my parents and my extended family who showed me so much love and instilled in me a desire to be independent and a belief that anything can be possible.

You could say that my life was ‘normal’, but what is normal? I knew I couldn’t run as fast as the other kids and I couldn’t reach many things, but I adapted and did whatever I could do. I never felt different. Not until I was 13 or 14, when I was walking home from school and a bunch of boys called me a ‘midget’ and threw stones at me. That was when I realised how different I was and how difficult my life was going to be. That was when I began to dislike the way I looked, who I was, and just being alive.

During this time I came across a magazine article about a young girl who was having a leg-lengthening operation, and I thought that this would be perfect for me to gain six inches in height. I spoke to my parents about this, and they were so supportive. They helped me to arrange a meeting with the surgeon and discuss the impact of the surgery on me. I was so excited, even though it meant taking a year out of school, which also meant that I would be behind by a year. But it didn’t matter. All I cared about was becoming taller. I would be accepted by society.

A week before I was due to go ahead with the operation, I realised that I wasn’t doing it for me; I was doing it to fit into society, what I believed society expected of me. I concluded that if I did not love myself, how could anybody else love me for who I am.

Cancelling the operation was the best decision I ever made.


Has acting always been your no. 1 dream?

When I was younger, I always enjoyed role play; and when drama was introduced to me in school, I absolutely loved it. And I’ve always loved the escapism of films. However, I didn’t pursue this in further education. It wasn’t until I graduated, when my year tutor mentioned that he could see me working in the entertainment world (maybe due to my big personality), that I actually seriously considered it. This prompted my move to London.

Ally grins

ATTACK THE BLOCK photo courtesy of Big Talk Productions

Tell us about your journey from media sales & recruitment to acting.

Before I could move to London to pursue acting, I needed to find a job, which wasn’t easy. Back in 2000 I met with so many recruiters who all said that they would help me find work. I knew I was employable: I was educated, well-spoken, and always got on well with people. But deep down I knew it was going to be a challenge. How would a recruiter be able to ‘sell’ a four-foot-tall person to the corporate world?

So I started applying directly to organisations. Which lead me to my first interview, for Media Sales. And I was hired on the spot. They said they liked me and had faith in me, and I cannot explain just how grateful I was.

This allowed me to move to London. While I settled into London living and learning about my new job, I also embarked on research into the acting world. I discovered I needed headshots and acting experience. I also needed money to spend on a good acting course. Which meant I had to leave my media sales job and look for one with a higher-earning potential.

A role in recruitment seemed like a good opportunity. Not only could I earn a little more but I could also recruit differently. I could make a difference. I had so often been judged on my appearance, and I was determined to not be judgmental about others’ physicality. And that’s what I did. I got a job in recruitment, and I recruited differently.

I spent the extra earnings on a method acting course and had headshots taken, and I started sending my CV out to agencies. I received a lot of rejections. But through one agent I got to audition for Blue Peter as a presenter. This was amazing! I didn’t get the job, but to audition in the Blue Peter Garden was phenomenal.

I then worked on a children’s show for a couple of episodes, which was great! I would use my work holidays to attend auditions and to film the episodes. It was a wonderful experience. But I found that there were a lot of stereotypical roles coming my way. For example: an elf during Christmastime. I knew I wasn’t in the entertainment industry to take on stereotypical roles; this was when I realised just how challenging the acting industry was. Even though I needed the experience, I was turning work down to stand up for what I believed in.

It took almost nine years for my film career to take off. And the timing could not have been better. As it turned out, I wasn’t the best recruiter, due to my strong belief in ethical recruiting rather than playing a numbers game. So in early 2009, due to the recession, I was made redundant. But things always happen for a reason. In that same year, I was chosen to be a Goblin in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

But this industry is fickle. I learnt very quickly that, for most actors, paid work isn’t regular. You could have a fantastic role one day, and the next few months could be extremely lean. Yet again, the timing could not have been better. A company I used to recruit for (in an ethical way) asked me to do some work for them. That’s when I set up my own recruitment business. And with every placement, I donated to charity.

Alongside my recruitment business, I continued to work in TV, theatre, commercials and movies like Guardians of the Galaxy, Attack the Block and World War Z.

STAR WARS: The Force Awakens photo credit: see TinyArti.com

Most memorable movie moment?

Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Working with such an amazing cast from the original films, I had to pinch myself to believe it was real. And holding a lightsaber was definitely a highlight!

You’re a wife, a mum, a motivational speaker, an actress, a corporate model, a creature performer… and now you’re writing a book! How do you find time to do everything? 

Ohh, I honestly don’t know. You could say I love to keep busy. I do know that I need to make more time for myself, which I am trying to do. But I think I just manage to fit things in week by week and spread my time accordingly.

When, how & why did you become a motivational speaker?

I have always said I have a voice and I should use it. And I’ve always been motivated to try and change perceptions due to my four-foot-tall frame. In 2016, I got my first opportunity to do just that! A well-known university contacted my husband, Rutvig, and asked for me to come in and talk about how I started off in the film industry and what challenges I had to overcome. That was the beginning of my motivational speaking career.

The timing was just right: I was expecting my son, Zavian, and, without my realising it, he was the main purpose for my motivational speaking. I am passionate about helping society become more understanding with regard to how unique we all are — and how our differences should be embraced.


Photo credit: see TinyArti.com

What’s your motto?

Hard work, sheer determination and self-belief. I believe that with this in mind, anything is possible.

What has been your lowest moment?

When I had stones thrown at me and was called a midget, which is a word I absolutely hate. It’s so derogatory. I actually don’t know which hurt more: the name calling or the stones.

Who has been your greatest support?

My parents, my husband, my son, my brother, extended family, and friends. I am so grateful for the love and support of those around me.

Who is your greatest inspiration?

My son. He inspires me every day to do everything I can to change perceptions.


PARALYMPICS OPENING CEREMONY photo credit: see TinyArti.com

Steepest learning curve?

Accepting who I am and just going with it. It’s actually liberating.

Best nugget of advice you’ve been given?

My parents have always told me: ‘Look after your body, enjoy life to the fullest and don’t give up on your dreams.’

Do you have any words of wisdom or encouragement for those who perhaps see themselves as ‘less than’ — or are too insecure about following their dreams – because of a physical or mental ‘uniqueness’?

We are all different for a reason. Imagine if we all looked the same, how dull society would be. Love who you are, believe in yourself. You have a purpose. Do what you can to make your life your own. Celebrate you, celebrate your differences.

Photo credit: see TinyArti.com

Now I know that you’re currently working on getting your book published. What motivated you to share your life story?

When I moved to London, I had so many strange things happen to me. Often I would laugh about them with my aunt, and she suggested I write a book. So that’s what I started doing. I started writing about all of the situations I was faced with in London; and then I continued to write about my childhood, the hurdles, the fun things, my career, my family life and much more. During the writing process I realised that I needed to share my story with so many people, especially those who don’t like who they are and are suffering. I want to reach out and say it’s okay to be different; don’t suffer in silence.

Arti, what an inspiration you are. Here’s to you, and to your book! Looking forward to reading it one day soon.

READERS: I hope you enjoyed this interview. If you have any comments — or suggestions for the TITLE OF ARTI’S BOOK — please comment below. If you want to know more about Arti, pop over to her website or connect with her on Facebook, TikTok, Insta & Twitter.

Thank you, as always, for reading and subscribing. I am grateful for you all.

Tweetable TAKEAWAYS:

Be Bold. Stand up for what you believe in.

You can make a difference. Yes, YOU.

Embrace & celebrate your differences!

Look after your body, enjoy life to the fullest and don’t give up on your dreams.

You have a PURPOSE.


Just so you know…

I don’t receive any reward or commission for promoting any of the people or businesses on my blog. I just want to inspire & motivate as many people as possible to fulfil their purpose & potential.

 If any other key points stood out for you, or you just want to let me know what you thought about this interview, feel free to comment below.

Did you enjoy my blog? Please Share the Sunshine. 🙂

EMBRACING CHANGE… as if you chose it

EMBRACING CHANGE… as if you chose it

What a crazy notion: embracing change as if you chose it.

Unless your circumstances are dire – or you’ve just won the lottery – change is the last thing you want, right? When everything and everyone in your life remains the same or at least similar to what you’ve come to expect, there are no nasty surprises, no disappointments.

But nothing and no one on earth remains constant.

Change is all around us: seasons, jobs, circumstances, health, moods… Everything changes!

So why not embrace change. Just try it. It’s a mindset – an attitude that says I’m going to try my darndest to make the absolute best of every circumstance.

Our last 3 Christmases have been very different from all the previous ones.

Something unthinkable (to me, anyway) happened at the end of 2020; something that caused a deep sorrow that still lingers. And that something caused a major change in my life.

The change was completely out of my control. I tried everything I could think of to reverse matters, but nothing worked. This ‘something’ is still here, clinging to me like slimy black seaweed.

So for the last two years I’ve had to work on embracing this circumstance: on searching for, and finding, the positives – even in a seemingly hopeless situation. And you know what? It helps me get through the day.

Not only that, this attitude has opened my eyes to possibilities and opportunities I never ever would have considered or imagined!

Now, listen. I am a hopeaholic by nature. A cockeyed optimist, sure. Absolutely. Always will be. No matter what happens to me, I am keenly aware that there are countless others who have it much, much worse. It’s all about perspective. Right?

No matter how bad things are in my life, even in the midst of the most awful sadness and grief, I have always had a deep, indescribable, unending joy. And hope. And peace. I absolutely believe things will turn out for the best. Even when I can’t fathom how that will come about.

But for a lot of people (creatives especially) negativity, depression and, oftentimes, hopelessness, are the norm; and seeing things from a different perspective seems impossible.

That’s why I’m encouraging – nay, urging – you to embrace your circumstances! Whatever they are! You might be surprised at what you’ll discover.

For example, look at all the Creatives who embraced their new circumstances and came into their own during the pandemic! They were either made redundant, or they realised life is short and so they quit the 9-to-5. But because they still had to make a living, and forced to remain at home, they made the decision to do something they loved. They worked their passion, started earning money from it, and were fulfilled.

Now I know there are those whose circumstances are a lot different; for whom grief is a daily part of life at the moment. I’m not trying to diminish your feelings in any way. I’m just trying to say: this is a season you need to go through, and it’s OK to feel. Don’t try and suppress these deep-seated feelings. Just know: it’s temporary. You will make it through. Just hold on a little longer. Take things moment by moment…

I’m obviously no psychologist; I’m just sharing with you how I’m coping, and thriving. And I hope it helps you in some way.

It’s so easy for us to be self-focused, self-centred. But if we realise that no matter what we’re going through, there are always others, many others, who are having to endure much worse circumstances, and maybe there’s some way we can help them – well, that could be the reason you’re alive.

This ‘situation’ I’m in: at times it feels unbearable. Grief threatens to overwhelm me. But I know: ‘this too shall pass’. And I have a choice. We always have a choice. Do or die. Sink or float. Or swim! Drown in depression or sing through the pain. Wallow in sadness or decide to be grateful for every single thing, every single person, in your life, past and present. It’s your choice.

Gratitude is my attitude. And hope is my Kung Fu.

I choose to believe there’s a reason I’m going through whatever it is – so I can come alongside someone who’s going through a similar circumstance, and let them know they’re not alone. Let them know: there’s always hope.

I hope I’ve made a difference today, at least in one person’s life. Thank you for joining me. I hope you’re inspired and motivated!

If you liked this post, please share it far and wide.

If you have any comments, or a short, inspirational story to share, pop these in the COMMENTS box below.

If it’s a long story, I’d love to hear it too. Get in touch with me – pop over to my Contact page – and send me an email.

Until next time, take care of yourself, be kind to each other, and consider embracing change!

With Love,


NEXT TIME on The Hopeaholic blog: 

More uplifting content!

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Does your child/nephew/niece/grandchild think they’re special, amazing, unique?

Do they truly know their worth?

Wherein does their IDENTITY lie?

Meet Lynette Snyman. This South African has made it her mission to positively impact the lives of as many children as possible. And testimonies like this one are irrefutable proof that she’s accomplishing her goal:

One children’s pastor from a church using the syllabus Lynette created forwarded a voice note from a parent about how a lesson had impacted her family. The lesson was about how God has made each of us in an amazing and wonderful way, and that He has great plans for our life. Each child was given a mirror and they had to decorate it with stickers, and write I AM AMAZING on the bottom. This pastor gave each child a mirror to give away to someone else.

The voice note from the mom said: ‘My younger daughter gave the mirror to her friend during school. She told me that at aftercare her friend kept taking the mirror out of her bag and saying over and over: “I am amazing.” She said she could see the excitement in her eyes.’ The mom went on to say: ‘This material that you have sourced carries so much power and it’s so amazing to see the children doing what they have learnt at children’s church.’ 

Want to know more? Read on…

Corporate look

Lynette, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I always wanted to be a Year 1-3 teacher.

Did you realise that dream?

Yes. However, after teaching for six years, I became restless. So I prayed and asked God what to do. I was at a real crossroads. I asked Him to send someone to offer me a job in the next ten days. A few days later my pastor asked me to come and ‘sort out the children’s ministry’. I nearly fainted!

I love how God answered your specific prayer! And you’ve been in children’s ministry ever since. Tell us about your work.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have been teaching children for more than 20 years about Father God who loves them. At my church, where I’m a children’s pastor, we provide a place for 3- to 13-year-olds to encounter Jesus and experience His love and presence.

Part of my role as a children’s pastor is to source appropriate material to use in our children’s church. Because we live in South Africa, buying anything from the UK or USA is very expensive; and often, especially with the USA material, it has to be rewritten because our culture is very different. A few years ago I decided to write my own syllabus — without the help of Google. I wanted to make sure that it was all my own work, because I knew that I had to make it as a resource for not only my church but other churches too, across the world.

Ally grins

What was your LIGHTBULB moment?

Over the last 15 years I have had several prophetic words about writing material. So I knew it was in the pipeline. There are so many great, free children’s ministry resources available, but most of them teach children about God. Very few enable and encourage children to have a relationship with God.

I was looking for material that taught children about how God speaks to us, and then made listening to Him part of the lesson. I also wanted something that would work in a South African context, with a South African budget, and internationally. I remembered all the prophetic words and, encouraged and supported by my husband and son, decided to write my own.

Fit and fab

How did you know this was your calling, part of your purpose?

Besides all the prophetic words that I’d had over the years about writing, it is something that I enjoy, and it comes relatively easily to me.

How did you make the time in your busy schedule to create and write your unique, inspired syllabus?

The best thing I did was set aside one morning a week for writing. I would sit down after spending time with God and tackle whatever lessons I had to write for that day. I wasn’t allowed to pack up for the day until I had written my allotted number of lessons. When I got stuck, I prayed. And Holy Spirit always gave me ideas of what to write.

How do you promote your syllabus?

On my Living Clay website, which my very talented son built for me. I also promote it at conferences and workshops that a friend and I host. And some people hear about it from others and contact me.

Currently, my syllabus is being used by churches in South Africa, Canada, New Zealand and the USA.



Any journey highlights you’d like to share?

It’s been very humbling to get personal messages and photos from churches who are using my material, saying what a huge impact it is having on their children’s church. To think that something that I have written, with huge help from Holy Spirit, is having an impact not only in our church, but in several other churches, is very surreal.

One of the reviews on my website — a pastor’s recommendation — mentions that ‘kids with attention difficulties have engaged beautifully in this too‘.

Another children’s pastor told me about how initially the children struggled to write in their journals during ‘God Time’ (sitting quietly in God’s presence, listening to Him). One of the children didn’t want to participate at all, so she sat beside him and asked him how he was feeling and whether she could pray with him. After that, he wrote practically an entire page in his journal.

I was at a church recently where I was introduced as the lady who wrote all their lessons, and the children clapped for me. It was very sweet. I explained to the children that I didn’t write it alone — Holy Spirit helped me. I prayed before I planned each lesson set, and before I wrote each lesson. Whenever I got stuck I would say: ‘Holy Spirit, we need an idea here’, and soon enough an idea would pop into my head.

Were there particular moments when you had to take huge steps of faith?

Around the time I started writing the syllabus, another children’s pastor started inviting me to speak at workshops and conferences with her. That really was a huge step of faith for me. Now we plan and run the workshops and conferences together. Working with her has taught me how to jump out of the boat and walk on the water… and keep focussing on Jesus!

My current huge step of faith is trusting God to give me more opportunities to mentor and train others in the area of Children’s ministry. I feel that I have a wealth of experience and I would like to walk alongside and help others who are starting out or feeling a little stuck or overwhelmed. It is a difficult ministry to be in, as often you have to give up attending church with the rest of your family to do it. It can feel very lonely and isolating.


Steepest learning curve?

Let’s just say that there were some very stressful moments when my husband was trying to teach me new computer skills . . . However, my computer skills dramatically increased, so I’m grateful!

My current learning curve is how to market and sell my material. I have no business training, so I am having to figure things out as I go. It’s been really difficult ‘putting myself out there’ and promoting my syllabus. Charging people for my work doesn’t come naturally to me, although I understand that people put more value to something that they have paid for, and to create a good product costs money, because you need to pay for editing and illustrations, etcetera.

Any pearls of wisdom you’d like to share for those who aspire to make a difference or feel called to ministry?

Chat to people who are already doing what you’d like to do. Ask for help or direction when you need it. Pray and spend time with God to get His direction. Do whatever God gives you to do, even if it isn’t exactly what you had in mind to do. You never know what one thing will lead to.

Also, don’t try to be someone else. God has made you you, with your specific gifting and skill set, and even your wacky personality and traits. Work with what you’ve got, not what you wish you had.

As well as being a children’s pastor, syllabus creator/writer, wife, mother, conference and workshop speaker (do you sleep??) — I understand you volunteer with another pretty special ministry?

For the last ten years I have been fortunate enough to be part of a non-profit organisation called I am Special. It is staffed by volunteers who go into schools and tell children that Jesus loves them, and that God has a plan for their lives. We each have a specific school that we visit. Every Monday morning I spend 30 minutes in each of the six Grade 3 classes, and teach them about Jesus.

Many of the children at the school are from disadvantaged backgrounds. It’s always so rewarding when the children are excited to see me and greet me with huge enthusiasm. I say: ‘Good morning, children’, and they reply with: ‘Good morning, I am Special’. The great thing about the name of the programme is that they are speaking the fact that they are special over themselves every time they say the name.

Ally and students

Moments that have ‘made your day’?

I got a voice note from a mom whose children come to our children’s church. She wanted to know which songs we did at church the previous Sunday, because her three-year-old son keeps singing this one song, and she doesn’t recognise it. After several messages back and forth, we finally found the right one. It’s good to know that what we do on a Sunday doesn’t stay at church, but goes home with the children.

One of my highlights is spending time with my ‘children’ when they are all grown up. Many of the children I ministered to when I first started are adults now, and some have started families of their own. I’m still ‘Aunty Lynette’ to them, and I feel honoured that they still want to connect with me.

Lynette, you are a dollop of pure sunshine and I’m honoured to know you and call you my good friend. May God continue to bless you mightily in this powerful work you do.

For anyone interested in Lynette’s amazing syllabus for children’s church, there’s a 3 for 2 SPECIAL on her Living Clay website — only until the end of November!

Tweetable TAKEAWAYS:

Work with what you’ve got, not what you wish you had.

Pursue your passion, follow your heart.

You are unique, special, amazing!


Just so you know…

I don’t receive any reward or commission for promoting any of the people or businesses on my blog. I just want to inspire & motivate as many people as possible to fulfil their purpose & potential.

 If any other key points stood out for you, or you just want to let me know what you thought about this interview, feel free to comment below.

NEXT TIME on The Hopeaholic blog. . .

More inspiration, motivation & hope.

If you subscribe to my monthly news blurb (it’s brief, honest!) you’ll be in the know. wink

Did you enjoy my blog? Please Share the Sunshine. 🙂

The Maverick Moviemaker

The Maverick Moviemaker

Rule-breaker.  Moviemaker.  Maverick.


For 12 years, Bhavan Rajagopalan (39) from Chennai, India, has relentlessly pursued his dream of making a feature film.

After a few false starts with his first two original screenplays, Bhavan finally achieved his goal. This year, following almost four years of intense graft, his third feature screenplay – VIVESINI – will see the light. All because Bhavan made the decision to never give up.

I caught up with this intrepid writer/director/producer in August, shortly after his private screening at the Conway Hall in London. What follows is an in-depth interview that I’ve been breathlessly waiting to release. (It’s all about timing, darlings!) So brew a cuppa or grab a glass of what you fancy and settle into your sofa.

For ease of navigation, I’ve divided this interview into sections. If your time is limited, just click on a bulletpoint below to go directly to the subject of your choice.

Alternatively, to read the FULL INTERVIEW, just scroll down…


– Convincing The Investors

– Breaking The Rules

– Pushing Through

– The Release!

– Why This Story?

TV Interview (no English subtitles, sorry! But it does include BEHIND-THE-SCENES CLIPS of acclaimed actor, NASSAR, as well as yours truly.)


– How It All Began

– First Big Break 

– Paying His Dues

Corporate look


Bhavan, how many potential investors did you approach?

Around 400-500. Out of which I got less than 20 people to put money in.

Wow. Your passion for this movie shines through. It’s clear that the people who have invested believe not just in the film but in you. Not only have you put a ton of your own money into Vivesini, but you’re a man of your word; you have made this movie despite Covid, a lack of funds and many stumbling blocks. And now you’re about to release it, ensuring that investors get their money back plus, hopefully, sizeable returns.

See that’s the tricky point here. Every filmmaker believes that they are going to make their film. But to convince another person – especially an investor – that they are going to see the end of the tunnel is the toughest part. I feel proud in that regard: that I was able to convince these 15 people to invest money – especially for a film that doesn’t have ‘stars’.

This is an independent film; and most indie films – not just in India but all over the world – don’t get completed. They’re shelved halfway through – mostly due to lack of funds, although there are other reasons. They don’t have someone who is willing to see the project through to the end over a few years if necessary, because nothing is holding them to it. They get bored, their passion for the project fizzles out, they lose interest.

Also: indie films are usually easy on budget, whereas Vivesini’s canvas is so big to be an indie film, it was even tougher to get investors. And most of them didn’t even believe that I could actually finish this extravagant script within the projected budget.

At the end of the day, there has to be some binding factor. I think I should be proud of that: I was that binding factor. Despite a lack of funds and no big names, I was able to transfer this confidence to my whole crew and cast.

What you’ve done, and what you’re accomplishing, is incredible. Did people tell you along the way: ‘It’s impossible. You shouldn’t even bother carrying on.’?

Yeah, sure. Mostly they said: ‘I don’t think this will work out.’

Because they saw other indie producers shelving their films?

Yes, sure. See, the way films are marketed in India is like this. The first and foremost thing potential investors ask is: who are the actors and who is the director? They want big names. Box Office names. So that they’re assured they’ll make a profit even before the film is released. They don’t even need to wait for box office returns, because the sale of the film to a distributor will usually give them a profit; the producers become ‘safe’. As soon as you sign a contract with an A-list actor, you’re good to go. But you have to finish the film. There are some directors who don’t manage to finish the film (after convincing the producer with these A-list actors in their project). Mainly because they haven’t budgeted correctly. As a result, they go way over budget and can’t afford to carry on. So that’s a problem with producers; they get carried away with A-list actors and end up spending more than what they were actually told.

But when you talk about a film without A-listers, or any kind of stars, then it’s going to be a big task – because you don’t know when it’s going to be released. There are hundreds and hundreds of unfinished Indie films just lying on shelves all over the world.

That’s very sad…

How did you manage to raise the crucial funding for post-production?

For five or six months I spent almost all my time looking for ‘closing’ funds (to complete post-production and produce the first full copy of the film, ready for distribution/exhibition). As I was getting nowhere, I had to slow down post-production work. During this time I was trying to get someone to be the Tamil voice of the British character, Alice, for dubbing. One of the audio engineers had been great in recommending other people for character dubbing, but the person for Alice was eluding us. Incidentally, there is a small role in the film, played by a child. His mother is an actress who speaks Tamil, so I thought maybe she would work well for ‘Tamil Alice’. I needed someone whose voice was strong; not a typical feminine voice. So I called this woman, and she was happy to do it – she’s very considerate in that way. She came in and did the dubbing really well.

At that time, I was asking everyone – everyone – for funds to help me complete the film. Without shame. Now, two or three weeks before this woman came into the studio, I’d asked for her help with funds. But she said she wasn’t sure; she didn’t think she wanted to invest in films. So, anyway, this was two or three weeks later, and she was in the studio with me, kindly doing the voice acting. And while she was recording, she was watching the footage pertaining to Alice’s scenes. Once she’d finished recording, she looked at me: her expression told me she was impressed with what she’d seen. And she told me that she would be speaking with her husband that night about funding for the movie. A week later, she came back to me with her husband and they invested the crucial funds.

But that’s not all. When I say ‘closing funds’, this is what I mean: Let’s say I needed 80 lakhs (approximately £87,000) to finish everything – I would not ask for 80 lakhs because it’s too much money to ask for in one go. So I would ask for only 5 lakhs, for example, so I can finish a certain amount.

So when this couple invested their portion, I was able to complete an integral part. Then I required another closing amount. And I found that as soon as people watched the trailer, things changed. People started believing in me. Because it looked like a proper film – an extravagant horror/thriller! Until that moment, they were all thinking: OK, this guy is doing something stupid. Let’s see what he does. But when they saw the trailer, the change in them was incredible. It was like they could see what I saw: a proper movie that you can actually go and watch at the cinema!

So this woman’s husband then put me on to his friend who’s a big shot in East Africa. He’s actually from a film background, but he hated films because his grandfather lost all his money in films – so he moved to a different industry and is doing really well. So I had a conference call with him, with the help of our mutual friend. But what he’d apparently told his friend – the husband who’d invested in my movie – was: ‘Listen, I’m not planning to invest in films. I saw the trailer, it’s very good but I don’t want to have anything to do with films.’

So I got on the call and spoke to this guy… And I told him I didn’t want him to invest in the film – because the moment you say ‘film’, it’s a gamble. I understood that. He did too. I just asked him to hear me out. And I proceeded to give him the same ‘speech’ I’d given hundreds of times already.

At the end of the call, he said he wanted to invest. Everything. Not just a part of the remaining funds, but everything.

I couldn’t believe it. A lot of people say they’ll invest but don’t. But this guy did. And it all happened because my audio engineer couldn’t find me a good option to do the Tamil voice of Alice.

There were several instances in the making of this film where something would elude me… and then I’d end up with something better than I’d hoped for.

Ally grins


I understand your casting decision for the Protagonist/lead female actor breaks all the rules. Tell us how that came about.

I happened to sign a well-known (not A-list but a ‘name’) actor. She loved the script and she was studying anthropology at the time; I was thrilled because she was so close to the character. But a month before filming began, she pulled out. I think it was due to a better offer elsewhere, but I’m not sure. I’d prepared everything; we were almost ready to start filming and the protagonist had disappeared. So I found someone else. But I wasn’t happy, initially.

When I saw Kavya’s headshot, I thought: No. I can’t see this young woman in the role. But she insisted: she wanted to audition. I felt so bad! I told her not to come, because I knew I was going to just reject her; I didn’t want to waste her time. However, when she carried on insisting, I gave in and said she could send in a self tape. So she did.

Well, I was impressed. My co-writer was impressed. I showed the tape to my wife, to get an outside opinion; she was impressed too. But there was a problem. In Tamil cinema, the ‘look’ factor is considered a big thing. There is a certain type of look people expect when they watch a movie. In India, fair skin is a huge thing. Just like Caucasian people tanning themselves to look darker, bleaching over in India is a very big thing. So this particular young woman, Kavya, is not your typical ‘lead actress’ material. Usually dark-skinned female actors would be typecast in certain roles, restricting them to be a servant maid or a mother of a small child in the slums, in the ghetto – because Indian people associate dark skin with this. (They are not cast as higher/middle class, English-speaking, progressive, fashionable, learned women.)

Now hold on. Kavya is stunning! And talented! How could she not be considered a lead actress?

Exactly. It’s just the way people are. I mean, I was quite impressed with the audition, but when I told my team I wanted Kavya as the protagonist, they were not happy. I understand where they’re coming from, but after watching her audition, I’d changed my mind about her. She was phenomenal, and her dark skin perfectly suited my needs. Getting them to change their minds, though… I actually had a make-up man booked, and he did a couple of make-up tests with her. But every time he finished, he moaned: ‘Why do you want to do a film with this girl? Do you want this film to bomb? I have seen people – extras – who look fair and better.’

I wasn’t angry with him; I understood where he was coming from. It’s drummed into you from childhood; it’s part of our education and upbringing. His outlook. But he didn’t understand what I saw in terms of what I was trying to accomplish with the script. So I didn’t say anything. But I had to get a different make-up man because he would’ve remained prejudiced against her. Every time he made her up, he tried to make her look fair – I didn’t want that. (In fact, we actually dropped two shades down to make her look a little darker than she is.)

This film is breaking a lot of rules in a lot of senses. For example: how actresses are projected in the film. If you compare my film with any other Indian film, you’ll immediately see what I mean. In Indian cinema, you will not see a shabby female protagonist. Or a dark one who is from an upper middle class, progressive family. In typecasting, their characters will be found in ghettos.

What made you want to break the rules?

As a filmmaker I want to break clichés. You’ll see a lot of what I mean in Vivesini. I’m not happy with the way fair vs dark skin is being treated in India. Especially in cinema. Especially with women. Male protagonists can be dark and clumsy. They’re considered masculine. Female actors have to be clean, fair-skinned, and neatly dressed. Even if they roll on the ground, they have to look perfect. Especially their hair. I just can’t digest this. So finding this protagonist was a big thing for me because I had to convince a lot of my chief technicians and others that she was right for the part, and I think she did a very good job in the film. She’s believable and she portrayed the lead character, Shakthi, really well.

Why do you believe Vivesini will be considered a benchmark?

Because of the roles I’ve given to two foreign actors. Getting foreign actors to participate has been a highlight. It was a huge task because it involves a lot of processes. The way it usually works is this: when Caucasians are used in Indian cinema, they’re almost always in the roles of ‘puppets’, much like when Asians are used in Hollywood. Mainly because the producers over in India can’t always afford a proper ‘Hollywood’ actor; the cost would be way more than the Indian producer could afford. So what they would do is – because they can’t write a screenplay that has scope for an actual actor of foreign origin (as they won’t be able to afford one) – they will hire extras from Pondicherry. (It’s a French-dominated city, so there are lots of Caucasians – more Eastern Europeans or French people than Americans or Brits, but they work just fine because they’re merely ‘props’.) You’ll never see them portraying a serious role in an Indian film. So that’s why my movie is going to be considered a benchmark.

Would you say Vivesini is a ground-breaking movie?

I can’t say that, as it’s my film. Someone else could say it, but I definitely think my film will stand out as a benchmark film because I can say that with absolute certainty that there aren’t any films in India with foreign actors playing important, defining roles. I’m not only talking about ‘stars’; there aren’t any foreign actors. Because the films don’t allow them to have an additional language. The moment you bring in a foreign actor, the script has to have space for whatever language that actor speaks. (For example, I cannot have a Chinese or eastern European or African actor in the film unless the script demands it). Whereas Vivesini’s screenplay accommodates foreign actors – making it a transnational film.

I’ve borrowed that term from a professor: the head of the film department in the University of Michigan. He saw the film and really liked it. He said it’s the first transnational film from India.

What made you decide to make a transnational film? Wasn’t your task of producing your first feature film ‘impossible’ enough?

I wouldn’t consider this an impossible task. I’ve always known there would be hurdles. My approach to almost everything is to add additional challenges to it. So it seems impossible for someone from outside – getting foreign actors on board, with all the visa issues, etc. – but the script demanded it. Once you see the movie, you’ll understand. The influence of British progressive thinkers – their ideas – on India… There is a huge political debate happening in India, especially about the post-colonial effect. After watching the film, you’ll understand why I had to create an American character and an English character. It’s not just ‘for show’; they have distinct importance and meaning.

So you didn’t mean to go out and make a transnational film. You just intended to write a script, create a story, that meant something to you?

Correct. The script and the research work took me to these places; these characters were born out of the Journey I took while writing Vivesini.

Making Vivesini: PUSHING THROUGH

When you started producing Vivesini, what were your ‘release’ expectations?

We were planning for a December 2020 release. Production began in November 2019, and we’d planned to complete production by April/May 2020 and then spend five or six months on post-production. But Covid hit and messed with our plans, and we had to close down in March 2020. Those 1½ years were complete hell.

What were your lowest moments?

Although there were low moments, I never had the feeling that it was over, that I couldn’t complete the film, because I have always been very hopeful about this movie – positive I’d be able to see it through to completion and distribution. Even during times when I didn’t see solutions in front of me, I just kept telling myself: OK, it’ll be OK; just a few more days, or a few more months… and then eventually everything will ease out.

The lowest point was during Covid. It’s not like I’m on the cusp of the industry, swinging between theatre projection and OTT (streaming services like Netflix, etc.). Initially I was orthodox about the movie: I wanted it to be showcased in the cinema rather than go straight to TV. So I was taken aback with the situation where movies were moving from being released in the cinema to going straight to OTT. At one point I remember (this was at the beginning of Covid, mid-2020), I was talking about this with my friend, my co-writer, and I told him that even if I don’t make enough profit – even if I make a loss – I think I’m going to wait for theatres (cinemas) to open, so I can release Vivesini the ‘traditional’ way. I’m not planning to release this in OTT.

By the end of 2021 I’d jumped to the OTT side of the fence. I told myself, ‘Bloody hell, I’m not going to care about whether this film is released in cinemas or OTT, because investors are at my back and I have invested a great deal in this film myself (time and cash), and I have to recoup the money.’ So I started thinking like a producer.

But my co-writer, who knows me well, wasn’t convinced. Two months ago, I was frustrated and told him: ‘I’m so tired; I just want to sell this film and get the money back; I don’t even care if the film is released or not.’ And he said nothing. He just looked at me knowingly. Then, two weeks back, I repeated my statement but I added: ‘I don’t care if I get the money back – but I do want the recognition.’

He smiled at that and said he was going to tell me that two months ago, when I told him all I cared about was the money. ‘This is you, Bhavan,’ he said. ‘I don’t think you’ll be happy with just the money because you have been starving for this for the past twelve years!’ (I’ve been trying to make a feature film for the past twelve years.) So I think this moment is probably about receiving recognition, or about communicating with the people. You feel happy when your communication with people – getting your message across – is successful, isn’t it?

That makes sense, that you’re looking for recognition. Because the exciting part about completing your first movie – besides getting to be creative and doing what you love, of course – is that it makes producing your next movie easier. Right? Once you’ve been recognised in the industry – once you’ve made a name for yourself as someone who’s written, produced, directed, and got distribution for, a high-quality, commercial feature film – people realise they can rely on you. This means they’ll give their money to you to make another movie. And you’ll no longer have to spend months or years raising funds. Right?


Who has been your biggest support throughout all of this?

There are a couple of people who have practically supported me. One of them is my co-writer and mentor, Gajendran Kannan. He’s known me since I was 20/21. He’s been instrumental in a lot of instances in my life. Emotionally, intellectually, he’s been very supportive. And my wife. Without Saya, I would not have been able to finish this project. She took care of our child by sacrificing her corporate career to enable me to chase my dream. And she’s a huge encouragement to me.

Bhavan’s Journey: HOW IT ALL BEGAN

Now, Bhavan, I understand that you completed your Masters in Film Production at Canterbury Christchurch University in the UK in 2010 – where you wrote, produced and directed the short, powerful sci-fi drama, The Grey Area. Then your long, uphill journey began. You worked your way up from the bottom in the movie and ad industry, producing short films, corporate documentaries and commercials until you founded Laburnum Productions in 2019. But what I want to know is: has filmmaking always been your dream?

No. In India, when I was a child, I didn’t even know what a camera was. It wasn’t until I was 20 that I developed the secret ambition of doing something in cinema. Not out of a passion for moviemaking – but because it was flashy. It took me quite a few years, and Gajendran’s intervention, I would say, after I told him what I thought I was good at. At the age of twenty, it all started for me. It was then that I started making films.

So before that, what did you want to be?

I started writing stories when I was a young child, around ten years old. But they weren’t original. I mostly wrote down a film that I’d watched – and I’d make some small changes, like I would give the films different endings that suited me better.

I didn’t even know at the time that this thing existed in life where you had to achieve something. I was in my own world. Before this, I used to delude myself that I would be a cricketer.

Were you good at cricket?

I was not. That’s the sad part. I was so deluded. Ignorant. I actually believed that I would play for India. Without any practise. I enjoyed it, though. But looking back at it now, I think I must have been a complete hypocrite. I knew I couldn’t do certain things but I acted like I could; I acted like I could somehow circumvent things and achieve what I wanted. You can’t do that.

I think that’s part of my Indian upbringing: that you believe you can circumvent anything and reach the top – not in an honest way.

I’m laughing because that doesn’t sound like the Bhavan I know. That sounds very rose-tinted.

I was. I broke my rose-tinted glasses a long while back.

How did you meet your mentor – and co-writer of Vivesini – Gajendran Kannan?

As soon as I finished my college years and got my filmmaking/visual effects diploma, I started working for an advertising agency, taking care of the marketing. That’s where I met Gajendran. He was a part-time writer there. A lot of things opened up after talking to him. Just for someone to understand they’ve been deluding themselves about their skillset – you need some sort of suspended observation, some kind of intervention to see yourself from a different perspective.

Whenever some part of my brain would ask me: Are you really good at…? I would just lie to myself. To give an honest answer (No) would mean I had some sort of understanding about myself, which I didn’t. Once that’s opened up, you will start giving yourself honest answers. This makes your life much easier.

How did you and Gajendran end up working together?

I wouldn’t use that term. It’s always been a mentor/student relationship, but I don’t think he ever thought about it that way. He’s an amazing guy. He can mentor anyone. I’m not his only ‘student’. We have a similar wavelength and he’s seen so many people in his life who were similar to me. He has a way – he will kindle your abilities, your skillset. That’s what mentors do.

Bhavan’s Journey: FIRST BIG BREAK

After the ad agency and before CCCU in 2010, what were you doing?

I became assistant to the late K.V. Anand, an important, award-winning cinematographer and director in India. Apart from Tamil films, he did notable Bollywood films too.

How did that happen?

Gajendran had interviewed K.V. Anand, and – realising the man’s love of literature – thought he and I would be a good fit. He said I should make a short film; that was sure to impress K.V. Anand. (At that time, doing a short film was a big thing; not many people were doing it.) So I did, and I approached this great cinematographer and gave it to him to watch. He was just about to start work on his first feature film as a director, so the timing was great.

Well, he loved my film; he told me it’s very good. But he said: ‘I’m sorry but I can’t take you on. I already have five assistants. I really like your film but I just can’t take you on. I have no space for you. Why don’t you try other directors?’

I told him, ‘I really just want to work with you.’

So you killed one of the five assistants and took his place?

Oh the truth is much more interesting – and legal. At this point in my life, I was broke. And I’d lost hope because K.V. Anand had told me several times that he’s not going to take me on. So I took a job in a law firm, doing graphic design. I’d worked there for just five days when I received a call from my previous employer at the ad agency. His grandmother had passed away and he asked if I wanted to pay my respects. All my friends would be there.

So I got permission from the law firm, which was only three streets away from the house where I would need to go to pay my respects, and I started walking. I was just a few steps away from the entrance when I got a call. From K.V. Anand. He told me his film had need of a visual effects person, so if I was willing to start as his assistant – with low pay – I could have the job. And I could start that afternoon.

I was so excited! Too excited, in fact, to be going to a funeral. I entered the home, where everyone was sad and I could barely contain my exhilaration. My previous employer asked me what I was doing as a job, and I proudly answered: ‘Oh you don’t know? I’m K.V. Anand’s assistant.’

After paying my respects, I had to return to the law firm and apologetically resign. But they were so impressed with who my new employer was going to be, they were happy. I left there and went straight to K.V. Anand’s office and started on my first feature film.

How did you find working with K.V. Anand?

He was primarily a cinematographer, so I learnt a lot. See, I believe that you don’t actually really learn anything from a director. Because direction is more like a curating job. You need to have it in you. It’s a style. In those days people arrived with a clean slate. They’ll work for seven or eight films with the same director and then you will see similarities in the films they make because they would have got everything they learned from the director. But it doesn’t work that way nowadays. Basically, you now work with a director for contacts. If any person comes to work for me in the future as my assistant, I don’t believe he’ll learn anything from me. He’s just coming to me because I have a name, so he’ll get some contacts and that’s how he’ll grow. Whereas cinematography isn’t like that. You learn from them. It’s a process, a technique. So, with K.V. Anand I learned a lot with respect to cinematography, stylised lighting and aesthetics. Not directly from him but from his assistants; that’s how it works with these stalwarts. So I’m strong in that regard.

Bhavan’s Journey: PAYING HIS DUES

What part-time jobs have you had throughout your life?

I liked doing part-time jobs because I liked having cash in my hand and I didn’t like to ask my father for money. But for each part-time job I did, I would have to bunk college. So I would do it discreetly. I didn’t want my father – who was paying my tuition fees – to know that I was missing some studies because I was working part-time so I could get a couple hundred bucks.

After finishing my under graduation, I started at the ad agency; and I worked there for less than a year. That’s when I made my first short film and screened it at a few local festivals. That’s when I found my path. I realised my content was completely different to other short films. This was back in 2003/4. At that time, ‘short film’ meant: ‘give a social message’. That’s what short films were all about. Complicated emotions don’t come into it at all. My film was about a complex point in a guy’s life and I’d added a huge sexual taboo in one scene. It all started there. That’s why I was not able to get too excited about my first two feature film scripts – because they’re too conventional.

What made you decide to go to CCCU to do a one-year post-graduate degree?

I always wanted to pursue higher studies in films, ever since I finished my digital filmmaking diploma back in 2003. But it didn’t happen. I tried going to Australia in 2005, but it didn’t happen. Then, eventually, in 2008, I made a 60-minute film. That film got me a scholarship to CCCU.

That was a turning point in my life. Until then I’d always considered myself as someone useless with academics. I thought I could never step into an academic life because I don’t have the skillset. I have a lot of difficulty in understanding a lot of things. So, getting a scholarship from a prestigious university greatly boosted my confidence.

Did you make the 60-minute film in order to apply for a scholarship?

No. I’d already made the film when I decided to make my application. When they asked me to submit what I’d already done, I submitted this 60-minute film. And I got in. I was one of only eleven international scholarships. For me, that’s something I cannot digest.

Wow, that’s huge. Congratulations. What a validation. No one at CCCU knew who you were; you had no contacts or connections there. You simply got in on the merit of something you had created.

Yes! It gave me the assurance I needed to know that I’m not deluding myself about being a filmmaker. Because remember, I deluded myself about being a cricketer. That part always plays on my mind and makes me doubt my abilities. But this achievement gave me what I needed to realise I’m actually capable of making films.

How did you gather the funds to make the 60-minute film?

A little portion was funded by a friend. Another portion was crowd-funded. And I put in my own money for the rest.

After CCCU, upon returning to India, what was your plan?

I was not planning to immediately make films. I knew it would be tough and I had to earn money straight away. So I started a production house and created TV commercials and corporate videos. That was a win-win. I earned money and I built a showreel I could show to potential producers.

How did you land such prestigious clients? I see two or three big names among your ads.

It was a struggle. Especially since I was in Chennai, not Mumbai or Bangalore – where all the big shoots (films and ads) take place. Chennai is a very conventional, orthodox market. They don’t spend a lot of money. But I was not willing to move. I wanted to eventually make a film in Chennai, so I stayed there. And it ended up being a blessing in disguise because I was able to make some really big films for peanuts.

Every time I attempt something big, I tell myself I’m learning something: something is going to come out of this. And that’s actually what helped me finish Vivesini.

When people watch Vivesini, they will see the scale of the production. It does not look like an independent film; it appears to be a studio film. I got this practise – perseverance and stamina – from several years of doing small films. It has become second nature for me, like muscle memory. If I don’t have money, I won’t think: I can’t do it. I will find alternative ways to do it.

I have trained my crew like that over the past few years. My crew understands that I will push them. Someone who has worked with me will not work in the same way with another director because he knows how I work. We have shot in idiotic conditions and in unconventional ways, but we have done it.

Making Vivesini: THE RELEASE!

Bhavan, how are you feeling right now?

Relieved! After almost four years of struggle. We all took an unwelcome break during Covid – even though I filled my time with post-production work and editing on the film, as well as fundraising. But I’m relieved the movie is now ready to be exhibited. I can see how people react. I’ve already received fantastic feedback, so I’m positive about distribution.

Fantastic! When are you hoping to release Vivesini in India?

I’m aiming for November this year.

I understand you’re looking at film festivals, but they’re secondary. Your priority is releasing the film, right?

You know, just like a lot of plans changed due to Covid, my initial plan was different. In 2018, we were planning on going down the traditional Indian marketing route. i.e. You make an independent film, you take it to festivals, you get laurels on your poster (if your movie wins anything), and then you start selling your film. But what I realised is: festivals are a huge commercial industry now. Especially over the last five/six years. There are hundreds of film festivals across the globe. So even if you make a terrible film, you just have to literally pay some money and you’ll get laurels from quite a few of them. So that rang a bell for me. I decided I’d never get into that. If I submit my film to festivals, it will only be prestigious ones – ones where winning or even just being nominated matters. But even if I get a screening at one of these, I won’t use it for promoting my movie. Because people have become so diluted. Filmmakers can now say that their film got into the Cannes or Venice film festival. But if you look a little harder, you’ll see it’s not the Cannes, etc. festival – it’s the Cannes Tamil film festival, for example. For these reasons I decided to stay away from the general film festival circuit and market this film like a typical commercial film. And my marketing tactics are interesting ones.

So you’re marketing it in India first, but you have English subtitles throughout the movie – does this mean you aim to market it outside of India as well?

I am planning to market it outside of India, but that’s not a priority. The reason the English subtitles are there is: India has close to thirty languages; at least ten of these are used in the film industry. People living in Delhi don’t speak Tamil, so they won’t be able to understand my film. But in southern and northern parts of India, people speak English – so even though Tamil is not their language, they’ll be able to understand my film. And of course, film festivals need subtitles for foreign films.

OK, so India aside, what are your next steps? Will you take Vivesini to Netflix or Amazon Prime, for example, or do you want an international cinema release in another country, or worldwide?

That all depends on the offers that come in.

Making Vivesini: WHY THIS STORY?

This isn’t the first feature film you’ve written. What made you choose to produce your third screenplay, rather than the first two?

I strongly believe the story transports you somewhere. Whereas the other two screenplays didn’t have the energy to ‘pull’ me, to keep me committed to them, this one did. I’ve pitched all three scripts to several investors, but this one had a different energy. I just knew that with this one, even if no one decided to put money in, I would make it. It’s a story that can’t just sleep. It has to see the light. It’s probably the Vivesini energy that the films speaks of that has awakened.

Do you think, of the three screenplays, Vivesini has the best ‘draw’ to give you acclaim? Whereas the other two will definitely get: ‘Wow, what a fantastic writer, director… What great entertainment!’ But this one might afford you the recognition, the acclaim, you deserve?

Maybe. I really don’t think about acclaim, to be honest. I’m just happy I made the film. But let’s assume this film affords me some acclaim – I’m pretty sure the other two films would not. If I look at the three screenplays from a commercial standpoint, this one is the riskiest to make. By far. The other two are also commercial, but superficial. They would have given me a very safe ‘landing’. A safe footing. Especially being the first film. But fortunately it didn’t happen, and they didn’t have the energy to pull me in. Whereas this, being so deep – that’s probably why I put in so much effort.

Why did you choose to make a film about rationality?

Rationalism is important to me because I am a perfect example of what happens without it. See, until I was 33/34, I was a strong ‘believer’; I would do the most irrational things. I made horrible life decisions because I believed in such irrational things.

Because of the religion you were brought up in?

Religion is a fundamental reason, but I wouldn’t blame it completely. As a character I had a lot of beliefs in irrational things. For example I would take life decisions on irrational things, believing something would happen. It stemmed out of religious beliefs, yes, that’s the root of it.

This film is like a catharsis for me. I want to show people that if you start going behind rationality, you’ll end up on the better side.

From the age of 22/23 until I was 34, my only aim in life was to make a film. So each of my decisions in life would move towards that. ‘If I do this, then I think I will make a film.’ It doesn’t have any rational connection. It’s a belief.

Let’s say: ‘If I move from a house that’s not auspicious for me to a new house that is, things will click into place and I will probably make a film.’ That’s one of the reasons I moved house. Because I believed silly things like that would propel me to do a film.

Is it like superstition?

Yes, but no one tells you that. I was in a state of madness. When you’re a child, for example, you tell yourself you mustn’t walk on the cracks in the pavement. If you succeed in this, you will have a better chance of passing your exam. See? The only problem is: I believed this sort of thing as an adult. As a result, I ruined my life.

I’m looking at you, Bhavan, and I don’t see a life ruined. You have a beautiful, loving wife and a gorgeous daughter, and you’ve achieved your dream of making a movie. You’re fulfilling your passion. You may have taken a longer route than you would have liked, but I think there’s always a reason. Some people, and I’m including myself here, take a bit longer to get to success – because if they’d got to it sooner, they wouldn’t have been able to handle it. Do you think you’re one of those people?

You can say that. But I wouldn’t give that as a reason. I would just say: one should not be so irrational in life. And in India it’s partly because of the upbringing, the social pressure that’s been put on you. For example, in India you can tell your child: ‘Go pray to god that you’ll do well in your exams. And if you do, you’ll pay god ten bucks.’ That’s where it starts. And it just gets worse. Every decision you make in life: marriage, children, moving house, buying a car, taking your parent to the hospital or not taking them to the hospital… You become a mentally ill person.

I can see that this movie is not just a life achievement or a career achievement for you. It’s a mental achievement, an emotional and psychological achievement.

Yes, that’s the right way to put it. It is an emotional achievement. It has cleared away a lot of clogs in my head.

The fact that Vivesini got screened in the prestigious Conway Hall in front of the members of The Freethinker magazine, as well as The NSS and other academics and intellectuals, was really a defining moment for me in this journey. The reception and the feedback I received really gave that morale boost that I was searching for.

Emma Park  (Editor of The Freethinker) & Bhavan in conversation with the audience during the Vivesini private screening at the Conway Hall, London.

Watch Bhavan’s TV Interview below. (No English subtitles, sorry! But it does include BEHIND-THE-SCENES CLIPS of acclaimed actor, NASSAR, as well as yours truly.)

Bhavan, I see why so many people have been willing – are willing – to support you. Because they see who you are: a beautiful, talented, lovely human being who has created something, and they want to be a part of it. Wishing you every success with Vivesini and for everything that comes after.

Tweetable TAKEAWAYS:

Never give up on your dream. Find a way to make it happen.

Break the rules!

BELIEVE you can do it.

Pursue your passion! 

 If any other key points stood out for you, or you just want to let me know what you thought about this interview, feel free to comment below.

NEXT MONTH on The Hopeaholic blog. . . 

Inspiration, motivation, hope. You’ll find it all here.

If you subscribe to my monthly news blurb (it’s brief, honest!) you’ll be in the know. wink

Did you enjoy my blog? Please Share the Sunshine. 🙂

WIND BENEATH MY WINGS: it’s never too late to follow your dream.

WIND BENEATH MY WINGS: it’s never too late to follow your dream.

MARK PILE, a consultant, has a Foundation Arts Degree in Security & Risk Management, and a background in counter-intelligence. His talents and hobbies include singing, playing guitar, dancing and acting. He’s been told he has a natural golf swing; and he enjoys photography and loves sailing and travelling. But he chose aviation as his dream.

A dream he only actively began to pursue a few months ago, at the age of 53.

Corporate look

Mark, how long have you been waiting for this dream to happen?

I’ve been waiting since my 30s. When I was in the South African Navy, I had the opportunity to do some flying with the air force pilots in a helicopter and I got to sit in the co-pilot’s seat. I knew then: this is what I want to do.

You were conscripted – you had to join the armed forces – and you initially chose the air force, right?

Yes, I was nineteen. Even back then I wanted to be in the air: I wanted to fly jets. But I was short-sighted and they only took people with twenty-twenty vision. So I chose the navy.

When you were growing up, what did you want to be?

At one stage I wanted to be a lawyer. Mercantile law. Because it had to do with the sea, and sailing. I’ve always loved sailing.

Why did your dream of being a lawyer end?

My parents couldn’t afford to send me to university.

So, now that you’ve got the money to pursue your passion, why aren’t you pursuing a law career?

Because it’s not my passion. It was of great interest to me in my teens, but the moment I realised it wasn’t achievable, I put it aside, and I’ve not regretted it. A huge part of it comes from knowing your purpose, and I’ve always felt I’m called to do something other than a corporate job. I’ve never wanted a day-to-day ‘office’ job – something that’s the same every single day. With flying, I get to go up into the clouds, 3,000 feet, and that’s my office.

As this dream of yours is still in progress – you’re currently training for your private pilot licence (PPL) – what do you currently do for a job?

I’m a consultant, working for a large construction/engineering/facilities management company, Vinci Facilities, on a Ministry of Defence contract. That’s all I can say about that.

Ah. Or you’ll have to kill me.

Yes. (Haha.)

When do you pursue your passion for flying?

On weekends and the occasional off day during the week. I have an amazing instructor – Iona Morris – and I’m just so blessed by her. I won’t fly with anyone else. She knows what she’s doing; her way of teaching is so effortless and flawless, it makes you understand clearly what you need to do.

And here’s a great example of how God puts you with people who will support your dream: I was chatting with Iona one day and I told her my plan – my big dream to fly aid into war-torn countries – and she was taken aback. ‘That’s what I wanted to do!’ she replied. ‘That’s exactly what I’ve wanted to do, but for whatever reason, I’ve never been able to achieve it.’ And then she floored me. She said: ‘You know, in a way, I’m achieving my dream through you. By getting you qualified and training you up in the most excellent way, I’m helping you to achieve your dream.’ I just think that’s amazing.

Ally grins

Serendipitous. What else do you want to do once you’ve got your ‘wings’?

I would love to fly seaplanes, island hopping, taking tourists around.

Sounds like an idyllic life. How long will this PPL take you?

It all depends. I have to get 45 hours in the air. Part of that is doing two solos, flying with an examiner, doing four touchdowns… The time I’ll take to achieve all this will depend on a number of factors: aeroplane and instructor availability, my availability, finances, my ability to study and pass nine extremely difficult ground exams…

I’ve given myself 24 months to complete my PPL because I’m taking the advice of some wise people who’ve gone before me, people who’ve achieved this dream. They say: take your time. Don’t rush it. Enjoy every moment. And that’s what I intend to do.

Have you completed any of the ground exams yet?

Yes, three of the nine. For the first two, I got 100%, and the third one: 87%, which I’m proud of. But I wouldn’t have been able to achieve any of this without the ground school I’m training with: Ash Holding, the PPL Groundschool owner, is an incredible trainer. He’s got 20+ years of experience, and I’m so grateful to him because I’m not a natural academic; I struggle with theory and the textbooks are thick. He’s a Godsend, just like Iona.

Once you’ve completed your PPL, what are your next steps?

I want to do an airline transport pilot licence (ATPL) – because only with an ATPL can I fly logistics, piloting various aircraft. I also want to get my Night Rating, so I can fly after sunset, and my Instrument Rating, so I can fly above the clouds and in low visibility.​

You’ve had quite a journey so far. You & your wife left South Africa – and everything and everyone you knew – in October 2001, and you came over to the UK and found yourselves at the bottom of the career ladder, right?

Yes, just before leaving SA, I was a full lieutenant in the navy, in the intelligence division – just six months away from being promoted to Lieutenant Commander. When I started over in London, I couldn’t get a job anywhere near my South African salary and had to start over as a security guard, on the night shift.

Why did you leave SA?

Apartheid. Or rather, a sort of reverse Apartheid. The ANC had taken over and they’d stopped all promotions of anyone not in the ANC. So they offered me a choice: leave, or remain in the navy at my current rank and go over to the Congo, where I would be in danger of contracting the Ebola virus, or die at the hand of a 12-year-old with an AK 47. So I left.

Both my wife and I had access to British passports, and we believed emigrating to England was our best option.

At that time, the internet was in its infancy in SA. Having never been to the UK before, and unable to ‘google’ as such, weren’t you fearful or worried about culture shock, or not having enough money, seeing as £1 would cost you about R11?

All of those things played on my mind, sure. But there was no future for me in South Africa. I was a 32-year-old white male. I believed there were better opportunities in England, and I’d contacted, via email, a few recruitment consultants in London who agreed with me. In their minds, I was an exciting candidate and they were sure they could place me in a fantastic job.


What went wrong? What were you hoping for in the UK and why didn’t it happen?

I was hoping to start as a manager, or senior manager, in the security industry – especially since this is what the recruitment consultants indicated I would be ideal for. But apparently I wasn’t skilled enough, according to the ‘powers that be’, and I had to start at the bottom: looking after construction sites at night for minimum wage. It was an extremely challenging time. I remember having to regularly wait outside in the snow at 4am, for a bus…

The first two years were the toughest. I was ready to pack up and go back to South Africa. The only thing that stopped me was that there was nothing to go back to. After that, it became slightly easier, but for the first five or six years in the UK, my wife and I were living hand to mouth. If we took a holiday, it was back to Cape Town, with one or two short-break exceptions – and we paid for every holiday with credit cards. We racked up a lot of debt. It took years for us to completely clear all the debt, but it taught us a valuable lesson: If we can’t pay cash for something now, we don’t get it. ​​

After starting out as a security guard, how did you manage to get to the point where you could afford to start training to be a pilot?

Over the years I proved myself in various jobs, and I was blessed in that I kept on getting headhunted. I moved from job to job in the UK, each time a little higher up the ladder and with a great leap in my salary, until 2016, when I was headhunted again, this time to go to the Middle East. I would be a senior contract manager, running a Ministry of Defence site just outside of Dubai, for a fantastic salary.

Without ever having visited the Middle East, my wife and I packed up our most precious things, and our two cats, gave almost everything else away – furniture, appliances, you name it – and rented out our house (which we’d bought in 2007). Then we got on a flight to Dubai.

We stayed in the Middle East for four years, until the contract ended and I was offered a job back in the UK. During those four years, we managed to get out of debt completely, and we also sold our house. I now had enough money to pursue my dream of flying.​

Ally and students
Ally and students
Ally and students

How does it feel to be pursuing your passion?

Amazing. There was a period of time after we returned from the Middle East where I had a few months off, between contracts. And it was great to not have to be concerned about finances during this time but just to enjoy my holiday – especially since I’d not had a proper long holiday for the four years we were in the Middle East.

I used this time to read/work through a book by Rick Warren: The Purpose Driven Life. For forty days, you read a chapter every day (you can also, optionally, listen to a daily online message, which I devoured). And the whole point/aim is to identify your purpose – the reason you’re alive right now, in this place, on earth.

Everybody’s created uniquely, with different skillsets, personalities, characters, experiences, passions/dreams, talents, gifts, and so on. You’re the only person at this time, in this place, able to do/be what God has planned for you to do/be – to make a difference in the world. This book helps you discover your purpose. It really does! It helps you realise what will get you out of bed in the morning, what drives you.

After the forty days, I realised that the thing that gets me out of bed in the morning – besides being a musician in a worship band – is flying. I decided from that moment on, I would pursue this dream, despite my age. It’s been life changing.

The fact that I’m earning a salary that pays for my dream is great. Because we’ve got no debt (we rent a house and lease a car), we’re not paying any interest on a credit card, and we owe nothing to nobody… so any additional money we have after paying our bills and buying groceries (and after giving to our church and to charities we support, as well as to the odd cause we stumble upon every now and then), goes towards my PPL.

My dream to be a pilot gets me out of bed at 4:15am every day during the week. It drives me to get to work early and to give excellence, because I know my job is paying for my dream. I want to go to work – because it pays for my dream.

Do you ever worry about the fact that you only have about 12 more years until you retire? Do you ever think that maybe you should be putting any extra money into investments instead of into an expensive dream? And isn’t there an age cap on being a pilot?

No. I mean, I’ve got a bit of money in investments, and I’ll continue to keep adding to that investment pot. But my priority is my pilot licence. I’m not interested in traditional retirement, i.e. sitting in a rocking chair in my old age. I want to fly until I can’t fly anymore. I intend to fly until I die. Thankfully, there’s no age limit. As long as I pass my medical every year, I can fly. If I don’t pursue my dream, I’m not really living.

It’s never too late to start pursuing your dream. And the bigger your dream, the better!

The Rick Warren book says that you are the sum total of your talents and gifts, your unique abilities, experiences, etc. – this makes you the only person who can fulfil the purpose God has for your life. Right?


Ally and students

So what do you think is your Ultimate Purpose – your calling?

Flying for Jesus Christ. Flying aid into countries – and telling the world about His love, how much He cares for us, His promises for us…​​​

Ally and students

Photo by Seth Doyle on Unsplash

Is that your ultimate aim – your Big Dream?

Yes. I want to join a group of Christian pilots who transport food, medical supplies, Bibles, etc. into war-torn countries that the UN finds it difficult to get into.

Aren’t you worried about the danger?

When God’s got a purpose for you, that’s it. Everything just falls into place. And it’s only my time to ‘go’ when God says it’s my time.

To be a part of this Christian group, you’ll probably need your own aeroplane, right? How will you afford to buy one?

I have no idea. An aeroplane costs big bucks. But I do know this: When God calls you for something, He’ll equip you; He’ll make a way. If that’s your purpose, He’ll make it happen. And I’m excited to see how God’s going to make it happen. I have no doubt He will because my ultimate goal is to bring people to Jesus.


In Jesus, I have a Best Friend who helps me through every part of life, no matter how difficult it gets. And I want everyone to experience this amazing Love.

I’m not talking about a religion – following a set of rules. I come from a Catholic – very religious – background; it didn’t work for me. This is a totally different thing. It’s about having a relationship with God.

See, Jesus said He came to give us life – in abundance (John 10:10), and I can testify to that: that’s exactly what I have. Making a decision to follow Him was the best decision I have ever made. It’s a night-and-day difference in my life. And I want to share this free gift with everyone.

And there’s another thing: many people are of the mind that Christians should be poor. But that’s not what the Bible preaches. God tells us in His Word (the Bible) that He blesses us so that we can be a blessing to others (Genesis 12:2-3; Zechariah 8:18-23). I’m not rich, not in financial terms, anyway, but I am ‘comfortable’. If we were still financially poor, I would not be able to afford my pilot training. Then how would I fulfil the dream God has placed on my heart?

Ally and students

Also, there are many instances in the Bible where God makes it clear that He provides all our needs. We should lack nothing. He tells us we should be lenders, not borrowers. We shouldn’t be in debt. Etc. I can give you so many examples of how God has used my financial situation (which He has blessed me with) to bless others: charities we support, international churches we’ve financially assisted, an orphanage, a Bible school, helping homeless people and underprivileged families get on their feet…

Being a born-again Christian (or Follower of Christ) is awesome. I’m not ashamed to admit it. It’s changed my life.

I hear you.

Ally and students

Now, you have a lot of talents and interests, as well as a ton of experience in various industries… What made you choose aviation as your dream above everything? How do you know for sure that becoming a pilot is God’s will for you? Part of His plan?

So many reasons. I just know in my heart it’s what I should be doing. It gives me joy; it fulfils me; and it fits into His Big Dream of reaching out to a broken world – which is proof enough. But I’ll give you an example of one of the confirmations I received along the way.

When I started training, I went to a different flight school than the one I’m currently at. After I’d done my research, I’d decided to go to that flight school as it had very good reviews and it was close to home. And that’s where I met my instructor, Iona. If I had started my training just four months later, I would never have met her as she would have already moved on to the flight school she’s currently at (to which I followed her). And as I previously mentioned, the fact that she has the same dream as me with regard to flying aid into countries, that was enough for me.

And you know what? I don’t miss any of those other things as much as I thought I would. I still get to do most of them, things I enjoy; but they’re hobbies that make life fun. Flying is my passion and I’m willing to work harder at this than I was at any of my other talents. Also, I know that I’m part of a fraternity that not anybody can or wants to do. It’s not easy.​​

It’s scary, too, right? Are you afraid whenever you fly – especially since you’re still pretty new at it and still being trained?

If you’re not scared, then there’s something wrong.

So you feel the fear and do it anyway?

Yes, you have to. And it gives you that edge that you need. That heightened awareness. It’s a healthy fear. Healthy nerves. Because if you become over-confident, that’s where mistakes happen.

What are your top three natural abilities that enable you to be a good pilot, in your opinion?

I’m process-driven, and everything is a process when you’re a pilot. Processes you have to follow in every situation. And I believe in excellence. I go over and over things to make sure they’re correct.

I’m a multi-tasker, which is necessary for a pilot. You’ve got to be able to keep an eye on your surroundings, your controls, your route, etc., all while you’re operating the aircraft.

The ability to think quickly, and outside the box. In an emergency situation, this is vital. To be able to think of alternatives and choose the best one.

What would you say to someone who has always had a dream, but they’ve given up on it because they think they’re too old now – and yet they’re feeling unfulfilled? They’re doing a job that doesn’t make them happy; they feel they have no purpose…

It’s never too late. Age is only a number. And if you’re got that drive and that passion… Yes, you are going to hit brick walls and you are going to stumble. It won’t be easy. But if you have that drive, you can do it. Take it from me. Take it from all the people who – for whatever reason – only started pursuing their dreams later in life. If you have been given the passion, the dream, the purpose by God, there is nothing that can stop you.

If it’s a dream and a passion, follow it. Make the necessary changes. Find ways of making it happen. It will be worthwhile. Find a path. Even if that path takes you off course before you can get back on it again, use what you learn along the way. Decide that nothing will stop you, and just go for it. Because you’re always going to be unhappy if you’re not following your dream or fulfilling your purpose; you’re never going to feel fulfilled. And you end up in those dark places where you might not be able to get out of. There are so many stories of people who ended up depressed, committed suicide… At the same time, there are many stories of people hit by Covid who were let go from their jobs, or who gave up their jobs because they decided to follow their passion. Success might take a while to arrive, but the journey is a very fulfilling one.

I believe that the greatest thing that God has put in any human being is the drive to succeed for a purpose that’s been given to you.

Mark, thank you so much! What an inspiration you are. I truly believe you’ll achieve your dream.

Tweetable TAKEAWAYS:

It’s never too late to start pursuing your dream.

Pursue your passion; make a difference.

If you don’t pursue your dream, are you really LIVING?

Better an OOPS than a What If.

If God calls you, He’ll equip you.

Feel the fear and do it anyway!

Just so you know…

I don’t receive any reward or commission for promoting any of the people or businesses on my blog. I just want to inspire & motivate as many people as possible to fulfil their purpose & potential.

 If any other key points stood out for you, or you just want to let me know what you thought about this interview, feel free to comment below.

NEXT TIME on The Hopeaholic blog. . .

Inspiration, motivation, hope. You’ll find it all here.

If you subscribe to my monthly news blurb (it’s brief, honest!) you’ll be in the know. wink

Did you enjoy my blog? Please Share the Sunshine. 🙂