The winner of “Best Director” at the 2021 National Youth Film Awards talks about “Dark Light” and how he worked as a Grab driver to fund his studies at film school.

Dark Light follows the life of Mari, a construction worker from India. On his day off, he goes to a red light district to get acquainted with a sex worker from China. He finds the courage to initiate contact; but, she doesn’t fancy him and immediately rejects him.

After she leaves him for a Caucasian man, Mari hears a commotion and discovers an illegal gambling table nearby. He quietly observes as people play a dice game and realises how easy it is to win money. He decides to join the table and finds himself winning continuously.

Suddenly, someone shouts ‘Police!’ and the game leader grabs all of Mari’s money and flees. Mari runs after him but gets beaten up by his henchmen. Injured and alone, he doesn’t know what to do. He can’t send money to his family back home. So the film is about what he does next.

I was inspired to make Dark Light after witnessing exactly what I had just described. I was walking down an alley after dinner and heard someone shout ‘Mata!’ which means police. Within seconds, the guy wrapped up his gambling table and fled. It was like an action movie!

As a local, I would know what actions to take if that happened to me. But what if the story was told from the perspective of a foreigner? I wanted to explore what someone who’s new to Singapore would do.

Through Mari, I also wanted the audience to gain insight on the background of an Indian migrant worker – where he comes from; what kind of hardships and struggles he goes through in life; and how someone like him would react to an incident of this nature.

I wanted to show that migrant workers are human, too. But while most of us in Singapore have more than what we need, people like Mari are struggling and experiencing hardship to get past survival mode.

Another idea I wanted to explore was how a good person isn’t entirely good, and how a bad person isn’t entirely bad. You can be good but flawed, or bad but have redeeming qualities. That’s why I named the film Dark Light; to contrast the two natures within a person.

I feel blessed to say that the film won Best Director, Best Cinematography and Best Actor at SCAPE’s 2021 National Youth Film Awards (NYFA). But before winning these awards, I have actually done a number of films, although I wasn’t really recognised. I was a nobody.

It was challenging to engage other creatives in the industry and tell them who I was as a filmmaker. People only work with people who have proven themselves. After being part of NYFA, it was easier to get others to work on a project with me.

That’s one important thing about filmmaking that people should know. It’s not just about having talent. Most of the time, it’s about networking. You have to meet people on your own and bring them together to work on something creatively. Winning awards helps with that.

With that being said, don’t make films just because you want to win something. Yes, you want to get recognised; but, tell stories only because you want to. And make stories that you wholeheartedly believe only you can tell. If you don’t tell this story, no one else can.

At the end of the day, you have to be happy. There was a time where I quit being a filmmaker because I wasn’t getting proper jobs in the industry. I did other things like being a financial advisor and a warehouse manager. I even went for an interview at Jamie Oliver Kitchen

The last job I did before returning to filmmaking was financial advising. While I was trying to sell products that I didn’t even care about, I thought to myself, ‘What am I doing? I don’t even enjoy what I’m doing and I’m not doing well.’

So I decided to go back to what I loved. That’s more important than money. I started driving Grab to fund my studies, and with support from my parents, I eventually saved up enough money to attend the MetFilm School in London for my Masters in Directing.

You can’t stop doing what you love because it’s hard or because you keep getting rejected. Keep on doing it. If you work hard enough and show persistence towards your craft, it’s just a matter of time before you get recognised.” Vikneshwaren Silva, 34

Interview by: Arman Shah