I always like it when movies are inspired by real life. There’s this sense of relating your life with what is playing out onscreen that grips viewers and some such real life stories are retold with understated elegance in Athina Tsoulis’ Stars In Her Eyes.
After proving herself to be an ace at indie and low budget films in New Zealand, Tsoulis’ latest project is an ambitious straight to VOD release that includes seasoned and first time actors of the growing Indian community here in Auckland. Unitec’s Performing Arts graduates, got to work both off and onscreen on this project and suffice to say, Stars In Her Eyes was an enjoyable experience that elicited glee and interest in Indian movies that come from this neck of the woods.
The movie starts with an introduction to the Patels and their dysfunctional household in suburban Auckland. As the father of four, Mohinder Anand plays Mr. Patel, the highly expectant and aware patriarch of the family and reminds you of the stereotypical Indian father. The rather comedic father is paired opposite Jyotsana Wallabh, who is silent throughout the movie but emotes just the same. As an ode to their mothers who found themselves in a similar situation in real life, Athina and Jyotsana fashioned the matriarch’s role after their own experiences. Of the four children, the two sons played by popular model Colin Mathura Jeffree and a fairly new actor Mohit Sharma offer insight and comedic value to the expectations of the modern Indian male.
In her first feature film role, Leila Alexander who is also a practicing lawyer, plays the daughter that is responsible for her mother. Lonely and looking for love, Anousha finds solace in offering solutions for love based on astrology as Lady Astrum. A chance meeting with the male lead Raj played by Vijay Chinni, unfolds Anousha’s dalliance with love and her personal equations with the others than complete the cast. A parallel relationship is played out by NZ’s budding comedian Eli Matthewson who, besides his take on love also doubles up as the expert on sex, often educating and guiding Anousha. Straight and gay relationships are formed, existing bonds tested and with a little help from Sanj and another male lead Miten –delightfully played by the effervescent Tarun Mohanbai– Anousha’s journey culminates with the freedom of choice and a renewed thirst for life.
While seasoned actors Tarun, Colin, Vijay, Eli, and Rishi steal the show with their effortless acting, the female leads manage to hold their own, especially considering this is their debut. Leila as Anousha, Jyotsana as Mrs. Patel and the surprisingly show stealing Negin Allahverdi Gorji as Lakshmi back their performances with inspirations from real life and perfectly mirror the transition an Indian woman has undergone in the decades past.
Filmed in Auckland’s suburbs, Unitec’s drama department provided cast members and experience to their final year students pursuing courses in the performing arts. The music by Jyoshna La Trobe deserves mention as does Rewa Harre’s cinematography. While the music is inspired by Bollywood hits from the 60s and 70s, it’s juxtaposition with Harre’s cinematography and visuals of New Zealand suburbia complement each other. While cultural diversity mirrors itself onscreen with Jay and Anousha’s relationship, it is more obvious off it.
Representing New Zealand’s burgeoning cultural diversity by focusing on the Indian community specifically, Athina’s Stars In Her Eyes, is just the perfect example for what New Zealand’s film fraternity has to offer with the right funding and support.
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