You’ve got to be a powerhouse of talent to be a part of movie maestro James Cameroon’s projects. Thirty-year-old Aashrita Kamath is just that, as art director for the second part of the phantasmagoric Avatar.
A love for cinema or its technicalities alone will never take you places in Hollywood or Bollywood. A solid grounding in one’s domain, the will to work hard and the drive to stretch oneself to the limits are the pre-requisites before one can even dream of hoping for a chance to work with cinema greats.
It was no cakewalk for this “starry-eyed” young girl from an Andhra village to the portals of Hollywood. But the spark of a dream was ignited while Aashrita was a stay-in student at Rishi Valley School in the state.
Though her walk has been painstaking, the reward is worth every stride. At present, at the peak of a prestigious career in the world’s biggest blockbuster industry, Aashrita, however, found time to go back to her Andhra roots and share her thoughts on how she made it thus far in Hollywood.
“My mom was a graphic designer. My family was the springboard from where I leaped up to see the world through different images. That was my first school, the real school which taught me my art. Today, if I’m someone to reckon with, I owe it to my family," she says.
Aashrita’s life and her exposure to a world of learning was an exception in that she hailed from a state where, girls in Andhra villages could never even dream of education as a due right, the only reason for existence being their use as receptacles for reproduction. The only reality little girls knew was the certainty of a future fraught with pain they would learn to accept.
“I did Fine Arts in Rishi Valley. I also joined the Film Club where my love for cinema was born. After my schooling, I was off to Mumbai where I completed my higher studies. Mumbai is home to Bollywood and it was from here that my career took off. I started with ad films along with a lot of other assignments. This landed me a couple of chances to work for movies, like for example as Prop Master in the superhit Zindagi Na Mile Dobara.”
The movie went on to be a runaway hit, internationally, as well. This experience also taught her that however brilliant you might be academically, without a hands-on experience, it’s impossible to be an art director. Other successful movies like West is West and Susan Kaplan Merwanji spurred her on to bigger dreams.
She went on to work on several well-received commercials for big names like Virgin Mobile, Fiat India and the Suzlon Group. By then, the desire to go for more got deeply ingrained in her. There was a lot more to be learned. Art direction called for a world of infinite possibilities. Not happy to be just an assistant, she found herself Los Angeles-bound, to Hollywood, where dreams are born and made.
“I opted for Hollywood as a part of my thesis. I found that love and goodness are well-touted global concepts. But the ground reality is far from these. I also got to know that production was not as easy as it seemed to be.”
Work inside a grand scale Hollywood studio defied description. It was beyond a lifetime’s experience. For Aashrita, the world of art design was opening up before her.
“Every movie must have the flavor of Hollywood, its dreams, its colors,” says Aashrita talking about her first experience in Los Angeles. Finance was another department to reckon with, but she persevered and overcame all. Her efforts bore fruit when her first thesis film Interstate won a bronze at the 41st Student Academy Awards in June 2014. Her second thesis film, Dustland, was nominated for Best Production and Art Design at the FilmQuest Festival’ 14.
The rest, as they say, is history. Soon, Aashrita became a part of Hollywood’s fantasy world with movies like The BFG, Kong: Skull Island, I see you, Pacific Rim:Uprising and Contrapelo going on to be huge hits.
“That’s how I learned. My work with the best of Hollywood’s art directors taught me a lot … how to work, raise the ceiling and meet challenges.”
Steven Spielberg and James Cameroon are the best-loved names in world cinema. She got a chance to work with Spielberg on The BFG. Art director Aradhana Seth was another big force who encouraged her to take up challenges.
However, the big happening was her chance to work with James Cameroon and his massive, all-time big grossing Avatar series. As an art director, one has to be in total sync with the director, his sensitivity, his shifting visions, and his perceptions. Aashrita is well qualified in all these departments and to be the art director of such a prestigious project is no mean achievement. However, her lips are sealed and she cannot divulge more as the movie is on the roll and she has a contract to keep.
When it comes to cinema, she sees no gender bias. It’s a world where there hardly exists a difference between man and woman. When a film demands your wholehearted commitment, which includes the countless number of hours you put in, it calls for gender parity as seen in other jobs, which call for equal participation. At the same time, you need to pamper yourself and catch up on the what’s and where’s of kith and kin.
She may or may not be a part of Indian cinema in the days to come. But one can be proud of this young Indian presence in the world’s biggest dream industry
Aashrita holds an MFA in Production Design from the American Film Institute Conservatory, the number one ranking film institute in the world.