Office Space actor makes compelling directorial debut

Ajay Naidu writes, directs and stars in critically acclaimed crime drama Ashes


“My sister was a casualty of mental illness and I grew up around a lot of fake small-time Indian gangsters,” he says. “Ashes is an ode to that time and my sister.”

Having already snagged awards for best actor at the London Asian Film Festival and best-in-fest at the Queens World Film Festival earlier this year, Ashes will make its Vancouver debut on Saturday as part of the Vancouver Asian Film Festival.

Now in its fifteenth year, VAFF has rounded up a new crop of talent that bridges the Pacific in culture, language and politics. Naidu’s film explores the cramped apartments, restaurants and loft spaces where North America’s immigrant community hustles and bustles.

As a first-time director, Naidu embraced the new challenge, but took solace in performing. “Acting as well as directing in something is tough, but the acting was the grace at the end of a hard day as director,” he says. “In the renaissance, they did not have directors – actors came together to tell a story. That’s the approach I used with my cast … I love just being a simple actor and going to work.”

Naidu hopes audiences at VAFF can learn from his personal story. “There is a huge issue with hiding mental illness in our community,” he says. “That needs a loud voice, otherwise we stand to have a lot more casualties.”

Capturing a similarly hyphenated experience, the documentary Big in Bollywood is a mostly lighthearted exploration of the literal and cultural gap between a smalltime L.A. actor and his adoring fans in India. American-born Omi Vaidya unwittingly snags a role in what becomes the most successful Indian film in history. He and his friends travel to Mumbai to track his rise to superstardom.

Both Big in Bollywood and Ashes will be preceded by a pair of film shorts, highlighting the work of up-and-coming Canadian and American filmmakers. Two of the submissions—SixZeroFour and My Vancouver—are part of the festival’s Love Letters to Vancouver series.
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