Filming "Brahmin Bulls" was not a breeze.
Director Mahesh Pailoor valiantly balanced budgetary issues and his cast's schedules while shooting the entire movie out of order. He even faced an unexpected foe — the 85th annual Academy Awards.
"We only had one day to shoot in a hospital and that day happened to be the day of the Oscars, which Mary Steenburgen was presenting at," he recalled. "We were running up against the clock and only had time to do a few takes per shot. Mary and Roshan [Seth] had to act like they had a long history together, even though it was actually the first day that they had met!"
In retrospect, though, Pailoor is glad he made the switch from simply talking about "Brahmin Bulls" to actually making it. The Los Angeles resident began writing his first feature film nearly five years ago with Anu Pradhan, whom he met at the American Film Institute. They married a year and a half later.
The 96-minute drama will screen at the Newport Beach Film Festival on Friday and May 1 — much to the delight of Max Naylor, associate director of programming.
"Film festivals are important because they're where the art form of film is advanced, one way or the other, and every now and then you get the opportunity to program a film that really exemplifies that idea," he remarked. "'Brahmin Bulls' is a great example of that — it's unique, original, and before it bothers trying to prove to you that it's a film, it's already put you through a real experience, and I think that's what the best films are capable of."
From the start, the movie's lead was intended for Sendhil Ramamurthy, seen on NBC's "Heroes" and CWTV's "Beauty and the Beast." He portrays Sid Sharma, an architect trapped in a whirlwind of self-destruction, as evidenced by an impending divorce, a professional demotion and his reliance on alcohol and marijuana. Aware of Ramamurthy's passion for tennis, Pailoor included the sport in the script: The characters play it, watch it on TV and sometimes bicker about strategies.
The two met in New York City in 2000 after Pailoor graduated from New York University. Soon after, they collaborated on a number of short films, one of which was titled "Little India." Having struck up a friendship, they stayed in touch — each in awe of the other's talent — with the plan of one day creating a feature together.
That dream became a reality in 2013.
"It had never happened to me before that something was written with me in mind," Ramamurthy said. "To do that was very cool. Besides being flattering, Mahesh knew me — we'd known each other for years by the time he wrote the script, so he really wrote to my stengths, which has never happened before or since, really. That's something special that I think every actor would love to have and I'd love to do more of."
Ramamurthy — who recalled being utterly exhausted, since he was shooting "The Office" as well as "Brahmin Bulls" — said the lynchpin of the movie, which was filmed in 18 days in East Los Angeles, is Sid's contentious relationship with his father, Ashok, played by Seth.
Pailoor chuckled thinking back to the two requests Seth made after signing on to "Brahmin Bulls." He wanted to reconnect with director Steven Spielberg — with whom he had worked on "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" — as well as a friend he hadn't seen in four decades.
The first didn't pan out, but Seth's long-lost pal, Michael Lerner ("Godzilla," "Elf" and "Barton Fink") had coincidentally already been cast as his best friend.
Although not autobiographical, "Brahmin Bulls" draws on Pailoor's history with his dad.
"In your 30s, you start to relate to your parents in a different way," Pailoor said. "You realize that they're not only your parents but were once just like you."
While that was the genesis of "Brahmin Bulls," the movie also grew to explore the issue of regret, seen in the awkward silences that plague the interactions between Sid and Ashok, who visits Southern California for an academic conference.
While the two attempt to mend their strained relationship, any progess they've made comes to a screeching halt when the junior Sharma happens across the real motivation for his father's trip — Helen West. Steenburgen, an Academy Award winner, was cast as Ashok's former teaching assistant and love interest. The couple parted ways because he was married to Sid's mother, who, as the story unfolds, is represented as deceased and seen only in a faded photograph.
Meanwhile, remorse is equally palpable in Sid's rapport with his colleagues (Monica Raymund and Justin Bartha) and soon-to-be ex-wife Ellie (Cassidy Freeman).
Although Sid and Ellie bicker about Maggie, their housecat, their larger problems stem from being unable to align their priorities. Sid is an adult in "Brahmin Bulls," but he comes of age as the movie progresses and begins to let go of the past and focus on the present only toward the end.
"Relationships are complicated," Pailoor said. "You don't always have these moments where everything comes together perfectly. So, we are still dealing with all the flaws that we have, learning from them and moving on from them."
Today, he gets immense satisfaction from the fact that "Brahmin Bulls" is not another film about ABCDs — American-Born Confused Desis — a term that refers to South Asians born in the United States, in contrast to those who settle here later in life.
"The fact that the two leads are of Indian origin was just a reflection of our makeup, but not the central conflict between them," Pailoor noted. "We didn't want to focus on cultural identity issues, but instead wanted to tell a story that was more universal."
He is especially thrilled with Seth's vote of confidence. After the film was viewed at last year's Mumbai Film Festival, Pailoor traveled to Seth's New Delhi home, where he placed an iPad and a pair of headphones in front of the veteran actor and then left for a few hours. He returned to a proverbial thumbs-up.
"So far, the response from audiences has been amazing, and we are really happy with all the festivals we've been able to get into," Ramamurthy said. "I think all actors have had to talk about things that they're not necessarily that proud of, but it's much easier to talk about something that you care about and take pride in."
If You Go
What: "Brahmin Bulls"
Where: Island Cinema, 999 Newport Center Drive, Newport Beach
When: 7:45 p.m. Friday and May 1
Information: (949) 253-2880 or http://www.newportbeachfilmfest.com