“At the end of the day it’s just about people and stories”: Deepa Keshvala on her approach to filmmaking

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Deepa Keshvala discovered her love for storytelling while visiting her family in rural India ten years ago, she told the Nicer Tuesdays audience at the end of last month. The London-based DOP and filmmaker recounted finding her “calling” on the trip when, with a cheap 35mm camera in hand, she “got into the habit of photographing everything and everyone.” Gushing about the moments of closeness and vulnerability she discovered through this process, she said: “I loved that photography allowed me to get close to people in this way that I hadn’t been before. When you take a picture of someone you share this amazing moment between the two of you and you feel like you’ve seen inside their soul for a couple of seconds.”

Ten years on, accessing this powerful sense of connection remains the driving force behind Deepa’s film work. Connecting photography and filmmaking’s capacity for storytelling, Deepa explained how each “satisfies the anthropologist” in her by providing a way to explore messy and fascinating questions about the human condition. “Why do people do what they do?” she asked. “How do people over there live? Why are my family like this?”

Focussing on the release of her recent film Kara, Deepa used her talk to dive deep into the story behind the project and the film’s most important creative decisions. Moving and beautifully shot, Kara reflects on the filmmaker’s relationship with her father by telling the story of a young woman who visits her dad for the first time in 13 years. Recounting the project’s conception years before, Deepa told the audience about a short documentary she had made while reconnecting with her father for the first time since he disappeared when she was a young child. “I knew he was an alcoholic and had destroyed everything around him,” she explained. She turned up to his house, talked very little and documented his life for three days before leaving again.

Years later, Deepa discovered that her father had passed away. She returned to the flat to pick up his belongings and found only a couple of things left: three spiritual guidance books, a cassette player and cassettes and a half-empty bottle of whiskey. These artefacts allowed her to re-approach her relationship with her dad and she made a film telling the story of a girl who goes to make a documentary about her dad she hasn’t seen for years. Making Kara gave Deepa something resembling closure; reflecting on this introspective and cathartic process, she told us: “I really enjoyed using what I found at his flat as a way to get to know him again – even though he wasn’t alive, it was the closest I could get back to putting him into the story.”

Kara is the perfect embodiment of a tender and human-centred approach to storytelling which contains lessons for creative work beyond just film. As she closed the talk, Deepa urged us to remember: “If you can connect with truth and emotion and have empathy then you can tell stories in any medium you want. At the end of the day, it’s just about people and stories.”

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