On ‘Love Goes Through Your Mind:’ An Interview With Filmmaker Ronak Shah

Ronak Shah    Written by: A’nysha Fortenberry

Ronak Shah

Written by: A’nysha Fortenberry

This weekend, #bossbabesATX is supporting a few screenings at the Austin Film Festival, including indie flick “Love Goes Through Your Mind,” directed by Ronak Shah, an independent storyteller based in the United States, with roots in Mumbai, India and New Jersey. In her film, Love Goes Through Your Mind, she explores mental illness, and immigrant family structures, through a story about “a first-generation Indian-American family that is forced to come to terms with the denial of mental illness when their son is diagnosed with bipolar disorder.” With the film, she hopes to break the stigma surrounding mental illness within the Asian American community and provide encouragement to step beyond shame to seek help.

In this Q&A with Shah, we dig into self-funding, bringing awareness toward mental illness and her intentions with filmmaking.

Q: You launched "Love Goes Through Your Mind" on Kickstarter. What led you toward the self-funding route?
Love Goes Through Your Mind is my first feature and there was definitely some doubt. I wondered how it would all get done, what the final film would be like (I had done shorts, but I knew this was a different kind of beast). Kickstarter was actually a way to gauge if there could be interest in this project. If people would support the film even before it was made, then I knew I had an audience that would want to watch it. I felt encouraged and blessed when IndieWire decided to write about our Kickstarter campaign and even more when we met our goal.

Q: Can you talk about getting a team together? How did you incentivize them to join the project, and how did you keep them motivated during rough filming days?
During my time at UCLA, I helped out on many of my classmates’ projects in various different roles. We have a great community there, you develop a network and people support each other—I like to think of it kind of like a barter system. So when it came time to shoot Love Goes Through Your Mind, I reached out to my friends and they came through! This was more of the crew side - like in production, etc. Key department heads were paid (albeit low), but feature credit helped with that as they were all starting out as well. What also helped was that a lot of them enjoyed the script/story. It always starts from there. I would tell them right off the bat, “Hey, I don’t have much money, but please consider reading the script before making a decision”. I think it spoke to people at a deeper level. And that’s what helped during rough filming days—that everyone was on board with the story. We made a point to try and not go past 12-hour days. There were times when it got really hot (as we shot during summertime in LA) or were in cramped spaces in the house. Four words, cold water and popsicles.

Q: Walk us through some of your inspirations for "Love Goes Through Your Mind." What are you encouraging the viewer to explore?
My parents moved from Mumbai, India to New Jersey when I was 14 years old and it was as if time froze for them once we moved. I grew up in a time capsule of 1990s India. In retrospect, I understand what was underneath it—the fear of being so far away from home. This led to my parents trying even harder to preserve the culture after we moved here. Not only me, this was very common amongst my American-born Indian friends as well, whose parents were stuck even further back, in 1980s, sometimes 1970s India. Regrettably, this led to the immigrant generation taking the stance that physical illnesses are legit because that’s something that can be seen. But a mental illness isn't possible. Accepting one would mean that they did something wrong/failed their child somehow. And since they sacrificed so much—left behind their lives in India to come here and secure a better future for us, failure wasn’t an option. Hence, many mental illnesses go untreated or are brushed underneath the rug in hopes that it is just a phase that will pass. Love Goes Through Your Mind was made to challenge this stigma in the Asian American community and provide encouragement to step beyond the shame/denial and seek help before it’s too late.

Q: What is the biggest change you’ve noticed in yourself, and your filmmaking style, between your first film, and "Love Goes Through Your Mind”?
Great question. I would have to say confidence. The first film was a short made to see if filmmaking is really what I want to do. I’ve always told people that if you can picture yourself doing anything else besides filmmaking, do it. If not, then go ahead and make movies. So I made one to see if I could picture myself doing anything else. I couldn’t.

Q: What’s your advice for fellow indie filmmakers?
A lot of patience. Especially when one doesn’t have a ton of money and is juggling a lot of different roles. It’s easy to simply write something off during the process, justify to yourself and say, “Oh, it’ll just work.” Even when that little voice called your gut/intuition is saying, no, screaming—something’s off! I’d say take a breath and pay attention, listen to it. If you can’t while you’re at your desk, step outside, go for a walk, smell a rose. I don’t know, do your laundry. Just make sure to say hello to it. It has saved me multiple times during writing, during casting, during editing. I try to make a point not to live without it.

Q: Any self-care routines or things you live by to share?
Oh yes, these are so important. I’m a meditator, hiker and painter. I think this goes back to the gut/intuition point from the previous answer. It’s so important to have that pause, a moment when needed, through the process. There is so much going on during all the different stages while making a movie that it can easily clutter the mind and create a lot of mind noise. This makes it harder to hear what it is you want to tell—what is the core of your story? Those are the times, take that break, create that pause. Ironically, it might seem like the hardest thing to do in the moment because all you want to do is figure out the answer. But the self-care routines will help it come naturally. Organically. Also, get in touch with what is going on underneath—what is your subtext? What is your truth? After all, what we are doing through storytelling is conveying emotions and it’s harder to effectively do so if you don’t allow your own to breathe. Try to make space and hold all of them, the positive alongside the more difficult ones because one cannot exist without the other.

Want to see Shah’s film? Head to the Austin Film Festival this weekend and catch a screening on Friday, Oct. 26 at 6:30 PM at the Alamo Drafthouse Village. You can also hear Shah speak at the Austin Film Festival on Saturday, Oct. 27.

About Ronak Shah: Ronak moved between Mumbai, India, and New Jersey, USA, until she was fourteen years old. Because of this, she considers herself as much of an immigrant as American. While pursuing an art degree at Parsons School of Design, Ronak unexpectedly discovered her love for storytelling, so she proceeded to work in the film industry in New York City before moving to Los Angeles to get her MFA in Writing/Directing at UCLA. As a labor of love over a period of five years, Ronak wrote and directed her first feature film, ‘Love Goes Through Your Mind’, which is about an Indian-American family and its implosion under the pressures of one of their member's untreated mental illness. With this film, she aims to challenge the stigma toward mental illnesses in the Asian American community while providing encouragement to step beyond the shame and seek help before it's too late. Ronak is ecstatic to have its world premiere at the 25th Austin Film Festival 2018. Amongst many other things, the film made Ronak realize her passion to tell character-driven stories about the psychological struggles of immigrants and their children as they survive in a land far away from home. Staying true to that, she is currently in production on her second feature, 'Fountain of Youth', a dramedy about a brilliant Korean-American lesbian post-doctoral researcher's journey through a human clinical trial to find a cure for Alzheimer's. When one of the patients turns out to be her estranged mother who now doesn't remember her, she has to choose between curing her while reliving their past and the possibility of losing her mom all over again. This film has been made possible by partial funding from the Sloan Foundation. As a minority, female independent storyteller, Ronak is proud to make poignant films that move, challenge and inspire audiences to reflect on their unyielding beliefs. When she isn’t spending time making movies, Ronak lives to hike, meditate and paint.

Jane Claire HerveyComment