KOLKATA: Ian Grillot, who was injured while trying to intervene during a racially-motivated shooting in Kansas in which an Indian techie was killed, was honoured on the CBS talk show titled ‘The Doctors’. After the incident, producer Boat Angel Films of Trisha Ray‘s ‘Orphan Train’ presented a cheque of USD 10,000 to help Ian buy a car. The film starring Bollywood actress Mahie Gill and San Banarje talks about how one always has the choice to help or hurt their country. Excerpts from an interview with the Kolkata-born director on the immigrant experience in Houston now:

What prompted you to make this gesture of presenting a cheque to Ian Grillot?

The very generous gesture was from our long-time producing partners Boat Angel Outreach and Boat Angel Family Films (‘Sugarbaby’, ‘Federal Case’, ‘Orphan Train’ etc). Boat Angel is a Christian non-profit foundation that helps the lesser-fortunate people and children all over the world and has been instrumental in changing the lives of several. When he heard about Ian Grillot’s heroics, Brian (Stewart), the founder of Boat Angel, immediately wanted to do something to help. The Emmy-winning show ‘The Doctors’ provided that opportunity for him. About this gesture, Brian had said: “All during the filming of ‘Orphan Train’, I was upset that our crew was being profiled simply because they were from India/Mexico and other places. We had done three others films in Texas and it had never happened before in the last ten years that we have been working together. At first, it seemed surreal but it was affecting the mood and the joy of the crew. We had come together to make a statement to stand against those who wanted to terrorize and hurt our citizens and call on God for protection. Trisha and I discussed about Ian (Grillot) and how he stood up for good people working for our companies, adding value and being unjustly hurt by those who did not look at the content of a man’s heart but the colour of their skin. When the opportunity came to help Ian out as he was hurt and could not work and needed a vehicle, we were glad to help him. We want to send a message. We welcome those who come to America to help us build a great country where you can come, achieve your dreams, practice your beliefs and raise your children free from hate and oppression.”

Being a Bengali living in Houston for years, have you noticed any change in the experience of being an immigrant in the recent years?

Proper Houston actually is a very liberal city with a large number of immigrants. So, the shift in an immigrant experience is noticeable only in pockets- mainly among those who come from suburbs. During the filming of the exterior shots of ‘Orphan Train’ outside the city, we were always stopped by cops or concerned neighbours/passers-by.

Racial profiling and immigrant problem that were not so overt before, now seem to be an accepted norm. We had to be very careful because Texas is an open-carry state (where guns can be publicly flaunted), and we didn’t want someone trying to be a hero and shooting at us. Once while filming in the Mexico-US border, a nearby business owner warned us that there could be snipers who would try to take down our ‘terrorists’ and border patrols might take into custody our ‘orphan’ actors (who by the way, are all Americans of Mexican descent).

In fact, a week after elections, in November, while waiting for my actress near a military base, a random stranger started taping me with his phone. When he saw San coming out of the car to my defence, he got so scared that he called the authorities. Usually, I don’t mind people getting scared of San when he is in character because he does look like the stereotypical terrorist. But on that particular day, San was not shooting and was in his natural self!

This guy reported us to the FBI. Two weeks later, Homeland Security and Anti-Terror Joint Task Force visited us and interrogated him before closing the case. They were very apologetic.

But our entire neighbourhood came to know of their visit (as they had parked their FBI truck right in front of our place). Since then, we have noticed different attitude from different neighbours. Some have been super nice to us, and some others have been terrified of us, including our very talkative next-door neighbour, who always used to mock us that we would be ‘deported to Mexico’ once Trump put the wall up.

What’s ‘Orphan Train’ about?

‘Orphan Train’ is an action-packed commercial film and TV series in Spanish, English and Hindi language, about an evil kingpin Yatze (San Banarje) who runs the clan named ‘Guerreros’ (Warriors) that is responsible for terrorizing the neighbourhoods of Mexico with kidnappings, killings, drug cartels, extortion etc. His clan’s current mission is to expand his kingdom into USA by using young kidnapped orphans to carry his weapons of mass destruction across the border. Concerned with the recent news that Yatze is preparing his new orphan trainees to attack USA, FBI turns to Environmental Protection Agency Investigator Helen Prost (Mahie Gill) to help track down his whereabouts, which he has managed to keep secret with his sophisticated equipment. Meantime, the four orphan trainees, led by David (Romario Solis), escape from Yatze’s ranch, strapped with the bags full of bombs, praying to find someone trustworthy who is not purchased by the villains and can help them reach to safety. However, they are unaware that the bombs inside the bags can be remotely triggered and be used to kill them all. While chasing David and his friends, Yatze’s men spot Helen and her K9 partner Max (Gablu Banarje) and go after them, thus starting an action-packed adventure.

What’s your next film about?

It is called ‘9 July, Buenos Aires’. This is a father-daughter story about young Medical College Professor Nicolas Romagnoli and his eight-year old daughter Yanina, who plan to open a bold anti-government play at a time when President Videla imposed a hard censorship over media and expressive artform. They planned to do it so that they could expose the holocaust in Argentina to the international media and pressurize USA to cut aids to a country involved in human rights violation and thereby forcing the atrocities to end. Aware that if they get caught, they will ‘disappear’, Nicolas keeps the details of the play heavily guarded. But General Giraldi has already placed his mole in the troupe in the form of the stunning Luisa, who must decide whether to protect Nicolas or to give him up for her own safety. Nicolas will be played by Javier Godino, the lead actor of the Oscar-winning Argentine film titled ‘A Secret in their Eyes’.

I’ve been working on this screenplay (earlier titled ‘Regression’) since 2010. I have scouted locations, made a short in Buenos Aires as a prelude in 2011, with an intention to shoot it in 2013. But, then we got busy with the production of three other movies that had financing in place (all three are now released), and when we were ready again to shoot it in 2015, we got busy with two other projects – ‘A Curry on an American Plate’ and ‘Orphan Train’. I have now decided not to take up any other production until we are done with this film which I consider my bucket list. It will be shot in English mainly so we could cater to an International audience who don’t like subtitles and some Spanish (Castellano).

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