Oscar shorts: An autobiographical journey in ‘The Road Home’
This post has been corrected. Please see note below for details.
Rahul Gandotra has an American accent, looks Indian and grew up identifying with British culture.
“If you ask me where home is now, that is a very difficult question for me to answer,” the filmmaker said.
Gandotra attended an international boarding school in India for seven years. That experience has now inspired his short, “The Road Home,” his thesis film for his MA at the London Film School. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences shortlisted the film for this year’s live action shorts category.
“I’ve moved around a lot of my life, and a persistent theme has been that people would always meet me and label me as one thing while I felt something completely different inside,” Gandotra, 35, said.
Encountering people in India who expected him to know Hindi fluently and like Indian food developed into scenes in “The Road Home.” The 23-and-a-half-minute short depicts a boy of Indian descent running away from his boarding school in the Himalayas, plane ticket to London in hand.
In one scene, the boy, Pico, meets a French woman who has adopted many practices of Indian culture. She teaches the reluctant Pico how to eat chapati with dal, a traditional stew. Gandotra said his own relationship with Indian food became a running joke while shooting the film.
“I don’t eat any spice whatsoever. I get an upset stomach if I start eating spice,” the filmmaker said.
Gandotra was apprehensive about shooting a movie in a country where he was unaccustomed to the filmmaking culture, but he had a familiar comfort in one of his shooting locations: Woodstock School, which he attended through the 10th grade. In his last year there, his class consisted of 52 students of 26 different nationalities. The director made use of that multicultural student body during the production, as he cast current students and professors as extras and minor characters.
Gandotra may use the location again for the feature version of “The Road Home” he's written. The feature will tell the story of two children running away instead of one -– a British boy and an American girl. (Similarly, another film on the short list is also making the journey to feature film.) The director said the longer format will better enable him to embrace the road movie nature of the story.
“There was a lot of difficulty in trying to find ways of making this story work in [a short],” Gandotra said. “It was easier to explore the gradual transformation of the characters in a feature.”
A place on the Oscar shortlist is an honor Gandotra hopes will help in the search for financing for the feature.
“There’s going to be a lot more attention on us, and I think we’ll be taken a lot more seriously,” he said.
Oscar nominations will be announced on Jan. 24, when the list of 10 live action shorts will be pared down to three to five.
“The Road Home” will be available for online rental later this month on the film’s official website. Watch the trailer for the film below.
[For the Record, 10:37 a.m. Jan. 16: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated there were 52 students in Gandotra's school during his last year at Woodstock School. There were in fact 52 students in his class and about 500 students in the entire school.]
– Emily Rome
Photo: Arrun Harker as Pico in "The Road Home." Credit: Annie Kwan