Actor-director Vinod Rawat plays the lead character Bhuppi in the film
Actor-director Vinod Rawat plays the lead character Bhuppi in the film

Actor-Director Vinod Rawat Talks About His Debut Film 'Pushtaini' And His Love For Uttarakhand

With Hrithik Roshan presenting the film and a special cameo by Rajkummar Rao, Pushtaini is a story of overcoming your fears. In an exclusive interview with Outlook Traveller, Rawat talks about the making of the film and how travelling is his medicine

When actor-director Vinod Rawat found himself back in the mountains of Uttarakhand during the pandemic, self-reflections and the longing for home were thoughts that didn't leave his mind. Having been an acting coach to Bollywood A-listers like Hrithik Roshan and Sushmita Sen, Rawat decided to overcome his fear and nurture the seed of an idea that was planted in his head for years and turn it into a movie. The result is his new release, Pushtaini.

In Rawat's own words, Pushtaini is a "deeply personal" film that follows a struggling actor Bhuppi (played by Rawat), who is forced to return to his hometown in the mountains after a scandal. The slice-of-life drama set in Rawat's ancestral village amidst the pristine hills of Uttarakhand and also features a special cameo by Rajkummar Rao whom he has been friends with since their FTII days. The film is a story of self-discovery and fighting your fears with faith and resilience.

Rawat, born in Delhi's Kidwai Nagar, has roots in Uttarakhand. He shot to fame as the co-director of the Sushmita Sen-starrer International Emmy Awards nominated series Aarya. With his debut film hitting theatres on June 21st, he has added new feathers to his cap as actor and producer. In an exclusive interview with Outlook Traveller, Rawat talks about the making of the film, his working relationship with Hrithik Roshan, who also presented his debut movie, and how travelling is his medicine. Here are the excerpts from the interview.

Q

Pushtaini is your feature directorial debut. What or who finally motivated you to make this film happen?

A

I always used to think that making a feature-length film on my own wasn't something I was equipped to do. It requires so many things to work; you have to have a lot of resources. But then I realised that was my fear talking. We working-class folks are so driven by fear, and it reflects on the way we lead our lives. I just decided to squash that fear and go ahead and make a film. I got a lot of support from my friends and peers, who believed in my vision, and I just took the leap of faith.

So here you have it. Pushtaini is my journey from being fearful to fearless.

Q

Tell us what the film is about and what audiences should expect.

A

Pushtaini is the story of a struggling actor called Bhuppi and his journey of overcoming his fears. At its core, Pushtaini is also a film that explores the complexities of a father-son relationship and how, at times, it is challenging to navigate the bond. The beautiful shooting location of Uttarakhand adds another layer of charm to the film. As I said, people from middle-class and lower-class backgrounds are so governed by fear that it takes over their lives and all the decisions they make. Everyone who relates to that sentiment should give this film a watch.

'Pushtaini' is shot in Uttarakhand
'Pushtaini' is shot in Uttarakhand

I have to talk about all the miracles that made this film possible. There are parts that audiences would see and realise just what made those moments. We were shooting it during the pandemic, and we had a modest budget to begin with, which added to the pressure. We knew that if anyone fell sick, that would be the end of the movie. But things have a peculiar way of working out in your favour. There was one scene where I thought a deer was required, but the place we were shooting at didn't give us any hope of a sighting. On the day of the shoot, I arrived on the set, and there, 10 feet from me, I saw a lone deer standing. We had a two-hour window to complete the scene, and throughout, the deer was just there. We were able to complete the shoot; the animal didn't panic, didn't run away, and its eyes looked almost as if it were asking me if I needed anything else before slowly leaving.

This is a film that is meant to inspire and instil the confidence people lack and reassure them that if they put in the work and believe in themselves, things are possible.

Q

What was your inspiration behind the story, and how long did it take you to write it?

A

My father is my primary inspiration, and my ancestral house made me bring this story to life and present it to a larger audience. Writing and shaping the story was a swift process. I wrote it in three months with my co-writer Rita Heer. The process was fast because I had this idea in my mind for two years and knew what I was doing.

Q

The movie was shot in Uttarakhand, in your ancestral village. Please tell us a little about your village and some of your experiences/anecdotes there.

A

Growing up, every summer vacation, we used to take a bus from Delhi to reach Uttarakhand and begin our holidays there. Houses in small hill towns are so beautiful, and my pushtaini (ancestral) home was as well. There is a fruit endemic to Uttarakhand called dadim. It belongs to the pomegranate family, and I remember how that fruit was used as decoration around the houses. There were no artificial ornaments or fancy hoopla, but all things natural were used to bring out the beauty of the place and these houses. Today, all of those houses, including my ancestral home, are abandoned and lie in ruins. People from hill towns migrate to big cities in search of employment opportunities to have a better life. My film, Pushtaini, is an attempt to reunite those who left their homes in the hills and reacquaint them back with their roots.

Uttarakhand is a magical place. While shooting, we were helped along the way by the gods and the powers that reside there. Just like with the deer incident, another hiccup presented itself for one of the other scenes we were shooting. There is a scene in the movie where the lead character, Bhuppi, has to push a big hunk of rock. Now, finding and then carrying the rock to place it at the perfect spot for the scene was an arduous task. After much effort, we were able to put it where we wanted. When we set up the camera, we realised there was a big, white hill behind the stone. The placement is such that when the character pushes the stone, it looks as if he is actually moving the majestic mountain. It was symbolic in a way and beyond anything I had envisioned for that scene.

The film sees members of Rawat's family playing pivotal characters
The film sees members of Rawat's family playing pivotal characters
Q

The cast of the film includes your family members. How was the process of convincing them to be on camera?

A

It wasn't easy, of course, to convince members of my family because none of them are actors by a long shot. My sister is an accountant, my brother-in-law works in LIC, and my niece is a student, but I knew that with their life experiences and backgrounds, if they were in the film, it would come across as more authentic than if professional actors did it. But I believe I hit the jackpot with my bua (aunt). She lives in a jungle in Bageshwar where there is nothing for kilometres except her house, her animals and her farm. She isn't even well-versed in Hindi, and convincing her was the hardest part. I used as much of my emotional arsenal as I could manage, and the reward is her performance, which you will see in the film.

Q

Hrithik Roshan is presenting the film. How has your experience working with a superstar like him been?

A

Working with Hrithik Roshan is not just a job but a learning experience. I have been working as his acting coach for so many years, and it feels like I am getting paid to learn. He isn't only an actor but a complete filmmaker, and that's what makes him a superstar. He has such a deep understanding of his craft and is one of the most knowledgeable people when it comes to knowing about the ins and outs of filmmaking.

He told me that he wanted to present my film not because I was his acting coach but because he believed in it and wanted this film to have a larger audience. I am continuously humbled and grateful to have the opportunity to work with him.

Q

The movie revolves around the lead character's journey of self-discovery. Have you had any profound experiences on any of your trips that have impacted you?

A

I genuinely believe that travelling can heal a person. Whenever I travel, I know for a fact that with every step of my journey, I let go of so much negativity and unexpressed emotions that are in me that I don't even realise and that do me no good. Those little voices of insecurity, cries of judgement and grudges that you cling to in your everyday life all cease to exist when you travel. It is a balm for the soul, and I strongly think everyone should travel as much as possible and experience the purity and positivity it can bring to their lives.

Rawat has been the acting coach of Hrithik Roshan since his 2017 film 'Kaabil'
Rawat has been the acting coach of Hrithik Roshan since his 2017 film 'Kaabil'
Q

If someone is travelling to Uttarakhand for the first time, which places would you recommend as must-visit and which experiences are must-haves?

A

Uttarakhand is called devbhoomi (God's abode) because of the many temples and religious sites that adorn the state. Travellers visiting Uttarakhand should definitely explore these spiritual spots. These days, many people are visiting the sacred Kainchi Dham, where your prayers are said to come true. Besides that, explore beautiful little hamlets and towns like Bageshwar, Almora, Ranikhet, and Nainital, where there are still so many undiscovered things to see and experience. Uttarakhand has so much to offer, and one should make an individual itinerary and explore the stunning state at one's own pace.

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