Aakash Prabhakar’s English-language Indian film Freddie’s Piano recently made it to the official lineup of North America’s oldest and most prestigious film festival, the New York Indian Film Festival 2021.
Shot in idyllic Pondicherry, the film’s screenplay was written by national award-winning filmmaker Batul Mukhtiar. It is produced by New Hampshire-based independent film producers Somasekhar Kovvuri and Lisa Kovvuri and co-directed by Sudharshan Narayanan who studied filmmaking at the Mindscreen Film School in Chennai.
Prabhakar’s maiden venture in cinema is a music lover’s delight. A young adult film, it is a story about two half-brothers Aden and Freddie. Aden wants to give Freddie a piano to fulfill their father’s dream; Freddie wants to give Aden the freedom he dreamed about when their father was alive. In the end, both brothers learn that what they really need is each other. A simple film about what Aden does to get his younger brother Freddie a grand piano for Christmas, Freddie’s Piano was screened virtually at the Scottsdale International Film Festival last year from November 6 to 15, 2020.
In this exclusive interview, he talks to us among other things about the inspiration behind Freddie’s Piano, his theater background, and star pianist from Rahman’s music conservatory who debuts in the film.
IC: Tell us about the idea/inspiration behind your film Freddie’s Piano.
AP: I always loved listening to classical music as a kid. I started learning keyboards in my early teens. I remember asking my mother to buy me a keyboard, which was way better and expensive than the one I had. She asked me to wait for some time and eventually bought it for me. Later, she told me that she had to take on more work, put in more hours in her business, and save more to get me that keyboard. The incident really stayed with me.
Freddie’s Piano came from there. I have always enjoyed reading O’Henry. One of his popular stories, Gift of the Magi, is one of my favorites. It was also at the back of my mind when I was writing the story for this film. That’s how this story came together. An elder brother wants to gift his younger brother a piano for Christmas when he can’t even pay for his bus fees. The film is about all that Aden does to buy Freddie a piano for Christmas.
IC: Tell us a little about Pranav Mylarassu, a star pianist from A R Rahman’s KM Music Conservatory, who makes his debut as 12-year-old Freddie in the film.
AP: I wanted a kid who can play the piano well, and the head of the Conservatory introduced me to him. When he started playing, we couldn’t take our eyes off him. He knew all the classics—Beethoven, Mozart—inside out and played them with so much poise. I sent him the script, he had his scenes memorized and was very attentive throughout the workshops and the shoot.
This was his first time acting on camera, so he was an empty slate. He really did justice to the part, capturing the innocence and honesty I wanted in Freddie. A very intelligent kid, he loves making origami, practices yoga every day, wants to be an aerospace engineer when he grows up and hopes to make space tourism possible.
IC: Tell us more about your theater background, and some of the plays you have written, acted in, and directed in Mumbai.
AP: I have always been obsessed with telling stories. I acted in plays in school, directed and acted in plays in college. About seven-eight years ago, I started acting in plays professionally. After doing a few workshops, a yearlong course in theater-making, performance arts as well as acting in a lot of plays in Mumbai, I started my own company, Here And Now. My company has produced Crumpled that I co-wrote, directed, and acted in; The Drum Roll that I wrote and directed; Bull by Mike Bartlett that I acted in; and Cock by Mike Bartlett. My latest was Visiting Mr. Green by Jeff Baron, in which M K Raina and I acted.
IC: Which are some of your all-time favorite films? Who or what are your biggest inspirations?
AP: The Shawshank Redemption, Children of Heaven by Majid Majidi, Life is Beautiful by Roberto Benigni, Salaam Bombay! by Mira Nair, Nayakan by Mani Ratnam, Bicycle Thieves, The Pianist, The Marriage Story, and A Separation by Asghar Farhadi.
What are you working on next?
AP: I am probably going to jump back on stage with Visiting Mr. Green and Cock by Mike Bartlett as soon as things open up. I am also working on Stephen Belber’s Tape, a really well-written script that also became a film directed by Richard Linklater.
I am constantly reading and auditioning for parts in films and web series. I am also developing a couple of film and web show projects. One explores relationships, mental health, and complicated love stories in urban cities and the other is a feature about the labor migration crisis that happened last year due to Covid.
View the film from June 4-13 here: https://www.moviesaints.com/movie/freddies-piano
Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer based in Delhi. She is the author of Wanderlust for the Soul, an e-book collection of short stories based on travel in different parts of the world.