By Nisha Ganatra
Beholder takes place in the biosphere-protected Red Estates, a gated community with a socially conservative political majority. At a clinic where patients can genetically engineer their children, Sasha, the wife of rising political star Bobby Aryana, is informed that her baby carries the genetic marker for homosexuality. By the laws of Red Estates, this is an aberration that must be dealt with immediately, and Sasha must decide between staying faithful to the love of her life or risking everything. Touching on issues of race, sexual orientation, and conformity, Beholder examines the notion of identity and the costs of belonging.
I first came upon the idea for Beholder when Proposition 8 passed in California. Everyone seemed to be in denial over its significance. It was paired with Obama's win, and many of the people I was speaking to were in disbelief that Prop 8 would be anything but a small blip in history. Initially, many were skeptical it would pass in a historically more liberal state like California. Then once it passed, many believed it would be quickly overturned. Its significance on gay civil rights seemed to be lost on people. Even as I began to share the early story outlines for Beholder with others, I was met with disbelief: "This could never happen; surely the future is progressive."
Then the Arizona immigration bill passed. With its draconian emphasis on policing the state's own residents, particularly through the presumptive identification of difference, the measure seemed archaic and wholly in opposition to anything indicative of a progressive American future. An outlying theme in any civil rights struggle is the politics of sameness. When we begin valuing sameness, it results in oppressing that which is different.
I found this to be especially true in the case of minority Republican figures, most directly in the likes of Bobby Jindal, but also in Alan Keyes, (who is not only African-American but also, like Dick Cheney, has a gay daughter). These are men who have made careers out of suppressing what makes them different. One aim in Beholder was to poke holes in their hypocrisy. How do these political figures work to oppress the civil rights of the very groups to which they and their loved ones belong?
I also wanted to give Sasha a dilemma to which viewers could relate; if her husband was just an unthinking homophobe, he would be easy to discard. It is because Bobby himself is a conflicted character that we become more emotionally invested in him and his relationship with Sasha. He's someone who, not unlike his real life conservative counterparts, is desperately trying to conform to the beliefs of the majority to compensate for his difference.
At its core, this theme is what I was trying to communicate with Beholder - what happens to our sense of self when we begin to identify as only the lumbering mass of the majority? What about a world in which everyone is beautiful in the same conventional way?
Indeed the old adage is true; beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But, beauty is also relative ... we discern beauty not only for what it is, but also what it is not. Difference, accepted or not, is the core of the very definition of beauty.
—Nisha Ganatra, Writer/Director
Making Beholder was an incredibly challenging and satisfying experience.
Each person who worked on the film was key to its creation, and each contributed to the final film in a way that came together beautifully.
We had the obvious challenge of creating what the future looked like – even with a limitless budget this is a big task. Our team came together in an inspiring way to use our resources and assemble the proper aesthetic. Red Estates had to look like a futuristic near-Utopia. Everything from the doctor's office to the park had to take on a pristine, sanitized appearance that was nearly oppressive in its perfection.
Costume design was another important factor. When coming up with a design concept, I sat back and thought about what the residents of Red Estates might want to look like. And then it hit me: since the whole philosophy behind the community was centered on a return to "simpler times," a sort of 1950s fashion sense was a natural choice.
Javiera Varas, our designer, helped come up with the palette for the world and for the Health Center. We went full circle from a very empty white space to an old fashioned doctors office in a home to landing back on a white palette with a clean and modern look.
Our cinematographer Eric Koretz was able to change the look of everyday things by using LED ribbon lights; a simple addition to a white desk suddenly took on a futuristic shape. Eric ensured that each frame was its own beautiful picture, lit gorgeously with a soft and perfect glow.
Since we aspired to create a different look for the future and since our story was grounded in political theory, we decided on a futuristic set with retro costumes and design. Also, we made sure Red Estates was clearly removed from nature; all of the natural-seeming things in Red Estates are synthetic. We extended that to the art work in their homes, which were all framed depictions of natural scenes. This all works as set up, so that when Sasha's character does arrive on the coasts there is a contrast to the sterility of Red Estates.
This contrast is central to the film. To me, The Coasts is all about the beauty of imperfection, a pleasure that exists in opposition to assembly-line conformity. The question of which is better: Real or Safe? is explored through the movie.
Finding Sasha was also a challenge. We needed an actress that looked genetically perfect, but also someone that could be sympathetic and win the hearts of our audience. Jessica Pare met those requirements tenfold. She is an incredibly sophisticated actor that can ground her performance in such realism that it becomes impossible to take your eyes off of her.
And for Bobby we needed an actor who could play the love he had for Sasha above and beyond the written arc of his political career and the obvious threat to it that having a gay baby would bring. Rupak Ginn was our man for the incredibly handsome political leader who was ultimately too weak in the face of the majority (and the power he believes they can bestow upon him) to stand up for his own beliefs.
For the role of Evelyn we needed someone that was intimidating, genetically perfect by Red Estates standards and someone that we would believe when she revealed herself to be an ally. Elaine Hendrix was the only person who could pull this twist off without it feeling like a plot trick. Her strength and grace as a performer carried each moment of the scenes to a satisfying conclusion.
We were lucky to have a film full of talented and generous actors. Each part was filled by a truly talented artist that lent their gifts to the making of this film.
—Nisha Ganatra, Writer/Director
Nisha Ganatra’s acclaimed debut feature, Chutney Popcorn, won audience awards at the Berlin International Film Festival, Newport Film Festival, Paris International Film Festival, and Madrid International Film Festival, and Best Feature Film Awards at the Los Angeles Outfest and San Francisco Frameline film festivals. Her sophomore film, Cosmopolitan, premiered at the South by Southwest Film Festival and was selected by INPUT as one of the top 10 films shown on public television. Ganatra also directed Cake with Heather Graham, Sandra Oh, and Taye Diggs. Her work for television includes The Real World New York and The Real World/Road Rules Challenge for MTV and the movie Fast Food High.
Jasmine Jaisinghani is an independent producer in Los Angeles. Her professional background began at historic Capitol Records and George Harrison’s label, Dark Horse Records. Jaisinghani also manages and curates for film festivals ranging from AFI Fest to the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles. While working with the Indian Film Festival she has showcased the talent of the Bombay Dub Orchestra, Cheb i Sabbah, L Shankar of Shakti, Gingger Shankar, and Taal Dance Company. In addition to Beholder, she has also produced Tent City for FUTURESTATES Season One, which made its premiere at the SXSW Film Festival in 2010. She holds a degree from Carnegie Mellon University in drama.
Angela Sostre graduated with an MFA from the UCLA Directing Program. Her passion for producing led her to helm 20 graduate-level productions, including Chaos Theory, for which she won a Student Emmy. Sostre works as a freelance producer/line producer, producing commercials (UCLA/NCAA, Aquafina, CISCO, Svedka Vodka, Specialized), music videos (A.R. Rahman, Thousand Foot Krutch), PSA (Planned Parenthood), as well as several feature films (Journey From the Fall, Blind Ambition, Chasing Tchaikovsky, Deadline, Basement Jack, Dispatch, Spork, Audrey, The Wheeler Boys, and 2009 Slamdance winner A Quiet Little Marriage. She has proudly been involved with two FUTURESTATES projects, Tent City in addition to Beholder.
Surekha first set foot in Los Angeles with two suitcases and a tax refund check. Since then, she has delved voraciously into myriad aspects of the entertainment industry. Surekha has a dual background in film publicity and television programming. Her clients have included AFI Fest, the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles, LA Latino International Film Festival, Vitagraph Films, LIME, MGM International Television, and Universal Studios Television Networks, among others. Over the last year Surekha has focused on content creation as co-producer of Beholder and as associate producer of Tent City for FUTURESTATES. Surekha is a graduate of Tufts University where she earned a B.A. in English and Asian Studies.
Anam Syed's first brush with show business came in the 2nd grade, with a stand-up routine for her elementary school talent show. Finding the ‘90s comedy scene to be brutal and unforgiving, Anam decided to shuttle around the world, spending more than 6 months hopping around Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and her native Pakistan, documenting her adventures on her blog and website. The early failures of her comedy career behind her, Anam was ready to start over in entertainment, this time behind the scenes, at the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles, where she is currently the Marketing Coordinator. Beholder is her first foray into producing. Anam is also a freelance writer who has contributed to publications such as Media & Entertainment Insights and India Abroad.
Jessica Paré — Sasha
Jessica Paré began her acting career in Montréal at the age of 17, working with producer Kevin Tierney on the mini-series Bonnano. Months later, she was handpicked by Denys Arcand to star in his celebrity satire, Stardom. Since that auspicious debut, Paré has starred in a variety of films, series and mini-series throughout Europe, Canada, and the U.S., including Lost and Delirious, Bollywood/Hollywood, Lives of the Saints, and on the critically acclaimed Mad Men, on which she is a recurring character.
Rupak Ginn — Bobby
Rupak Ginn’s love for acting started at a young age and followed him to college at Harvard University where, during his senior year, director Mira Nair offered him a supporting role in The Namesake. Other film work includes supporting roles in Friends With Benefits, starring Justin Timberlake and Just Wright, starring Queen Latifah, as well as a romantic lead role in Disney’s The Cheetah Girls: One World. On television, he has played Raj on the USA Network hit series Royal Pains and guest starred on Private Practice. Ginn is also a writer, and his short screenplay Permeable was the winner of a 2009 grant from the Sloan Foundation.
Elaine Hendrix — Evelyn
With more than 100 film, television, and stage credits, Elaine Hendrix is best known for such films as The Parent Trap, Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2, Inspector Gadget 2, Superstar, and Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion, as well as television projects such as NCIS: LA, Castle, The Mentalist, Criminal Minds, CSI: Miami and two years on the critically acclaimed CBS series Joan of Arcadia. She has been awarded two Telly Awards, two festival Best Actress awards and she is on the advisory board of the Feel Good Film Festival.
Michael McMillian — Dr. Slate
In addition to co-starring on HBO’s hit series True Blood as the evil Reverend Steve Newlin, Michael starred in the TNT series Saved, and played opposite Amanda Bynes as “Henry” on the WB show What I Like About You. He appeared on Big Love, The Mentalist, Without a Trace, 8 Simple Rules, Scrubs, and Veronica Mars and starred in Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes 2. Other film credits include the indie award-winning comedy Dorian Blues and Imagine That with Eddie Murphy. McMillian will be seen in The Whole Truth for ABC, Love Bites on NBC, and in the indie comedy BFF & Baby. He also has been gradually gaining momentum as an emerging writing talent.