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Meet the 2010 Winners: Payal Sethi
05 Oct 2010

In the short film "Grant St. Shaving Co.", Winner in the BEST OVER 5MIN category of The Smalls Short Film fest 2010, an Indian widower journeys through New York to replace an antique razor given to him by his late wife on their first anniversary trip to the city. Along the way, he relives memories of their trip all those years ago and one, in particular, softens his strained relationship with his daughter.

Filmmaker Payal Sethi effectively uses Grant St. Shaving Co. to turn the lens on a father-daughter relationship, which was truncated when the daughter moved her life to a new country, and then again by the sudden loss of the mother/wife.  The daughter's emotional dislocation is juxtaposed against the father's disorientation as he travels through present day New York with the baggage of his past experiences.

But the film is also Payal's goodbye letter to the city of New York, which has been her home for over a decade.

When it comes to her creative work, Payal’s relationship with writing dates back to age nine, when her eccentric grandmother had her assist in translating James Hadley Chase novels into the Tamil language. She went on to study Creative Writing at Vassar College and twenty days before graduation, crossed paths with filmmaker, Mira Nair, who was to win The Golden Lion at Venice for her masterful oeuvre, MONSOON WEDDING, a few months later.  Payal served as a production and development executive at Nair’s Mirabai Films during several of Nair's productions, including HYSTERICAL BLINDNESS, and THE NAMESAKE.  Following this was a stint of eight years in a variety of roles in the independent film industry in New York working for such prestigious companies as the Tribeca Film Festival.

In 2008, Payal started a production and distribution company, FilmKaravan, which has deepened her understanding of the filmmaking process and brought her to this point of embarking on her own creative journey.  Payal’s next project is a feature entitled “Ooty Queen,” a heartwarming story of female bonding and empowerment told with a heavy dose of humor and a touch of camp.

We asked Payal a couple of questions about herself, Grant St. Shaving Co. and the near future.

If you were to use one word to describe yourself as a filmmaker, what would it be?

Committed.

How long did it take you to make Grant St. Shaving Co.?

I wrote the script in one sitting for a writing group I belonged to, a whole year before I started thinking about making it. Thanks to persistent encouragement from my family, friends and peers I started pre-production in October 2009, and wrapped the 3-day shoot on November 26. So it was really quick once I got into it however, we made no compromises on production values. We finished editing the film in March 2010 in time for the Cannes Short Film Corner and presented it there in May 2010.

What were your biggest challenges in making the film?

You know, I had the best cast and crew and even the elements favored our shoot. Plus, we wrapped on time 2 out of 3 days thanks to my amazing DP, AD and co-producer, James Demetri, Chad Carbone and Pooja Kohli.

In retrospect, casting this film was probably the biggest challenge, since its next to impossible to find a 60 something Indian man in NYC who has the acting chops I was looking for to portray Vimal. I owe a big debt of gratitude to my lead actors, Krishen Mehta and Ankur Bhatia, who transformed the words on the page to powerful screen performances, beyond my best expectations.  I also had two terrific actresses, Pia Shah and Aadya Bedi, in supporting roles. Pia's portrayal of Manya was sublime in the way that she embodied lost love, thereby making Vimal's longing all the more believable.

Who else worked with you on the film? Anyone else you'd like to thank/mention that inspired or helped you?

In addition to the people above, I want to say a huge thanks to my mentor and funder, Mira Nair, with whom I was fortunate to start my journey in this industry as an assistant on many of her films, from Monsoon Wedding to The Namesake. Watching her work on and off set along with the rare access I gained to her interactions with actors taught me so much more than I realized at the time. It was only when I was in the thick of filming that I fully understood my lessons with this incredible and inspiring filmmaker.

My parents have always been my biggest supporters and were part financiers on the film. We also raised over $4,000 towards our post from Mira Nair, Hansdip Bindra, Rahul Srinivasan, Ami Boghani, Anjali Ramachandran and others.

Why did you enter The Smalls Short Film Fest?

I'd like to call it fate, of course. But seriously, I'm very impressed with The Smalls mission of creating a great platform for short form content. In my own personal experience with the fest I'm amazed by the wonderful ways in which they promote our films and provide us with much needed exposure. It seems like a great opportunity for any small film with a big heart and I hope to bring my next here as well.

What next (for your film)?

We premiere in New York City, where the film was conceived and shot, at the South Asian International Film Festival (www.saiff.org) on Oct 29th and then in Florence at River to River Film Festival in December.

Has Grant St. Shaving Co. won any other awards?

Not yet, but right now I'm just focused on riding high on my awesome Smalls Award!

Watch Grant St. Shaving Co now in HD quality  >>