Actor and producer Kaushik Das is aware that his new film is about to make its New York City debut at a particularly timely moment. The new Australian film “ReFraction” tackles the issues of immigration and human rights at a moment where both topics are dominating the headlines in major cities around the world. It will be screened at the New York Indian Film Festival on May 8.
“ReFraction” centers on the moment an Aboriginal Australian man (played by Heath Bergersen) meets a Bangladeshi man who is seeking asylum (Das.) The two are drawn together both by their experiences on the margins of Australian society and their discovery of the connections between their two cultures.
We caught up with Das ahead of his film’s American debut to chat about his film, the Australian immigrant experience and why audiences are connecting with his character.
The Teal Mango: You grew up in the Australian city of Brisbane. Did you know Aboriginal people growing up?
Kaushik Das: Actually, that’s the thing — in Australia, it is so segregated sometimes that I didn’t grow up knowing Aboriginal people. But because I would listen to a lot of world music I would listen to Aboriginal artists and I would hear the similarities between Aboriginal music and Indian classical music. Then I would think, ‘oh, what’s going on here?’
I began doing some research and I saw that there was this ancient connection that has been documented. And I decided to explore that. And I realized if we put these barriers around things but we’re actually the same people.
TTM: This film directly makes that connection between South Asian and Aboriginal cultures. While you were doing this research, what were the most striking similarities to you?
KD: It was more some of the spiritual ideas of the Indigenous people, they might phrase it in a different way, but the concepts are all the same. I should stress that the film is not just a historical look, it is set in the present. It’s about an Aboriginal man that comes in contact with a Bangladeshi asylum seeker. And they think they are different but they remember the past that they share, and they ultimately save each other lives.
TTM: For those of us who aren’t Australian, the stories we hear about the immigration and refugee experience there are usually very painful. We hear and see a lot of stories about asylum seekers that get turned away.
KD: That’s true. Even though there’s a historical context behind the film, it’s very relevant for today. Because it does deal with the asylum seeking issue and it does deal with the treatment of indigenous people in Australia, But it doesn’t point fingers. It presents it or packages it in a mystical way. Because the more you tell people how to think, the less they are going to like it. If you push ideas on people, you just have to give people space to think and that’s what we’re trying to do.
TTM: Talk a little about your film’s cast.
KD: The Bangladeshi asylum seeker in the film is named Rahul, I play him. Heath Bergerson plays the Indigenous character and he’s a very well-known actor in Australia. We were also working with the Quandamooka people, which is a tribe that’s about 40,000 years old.
This is also the first film that produced and this film is a tribute to my mother who passed. The main themes were mother nature, motherland and mothers.
TTM: How have people been responding to “ReFraction” so far?
KD: We believe that people want to know more of this story. It’s a 20 minute short, but people want to learn more about these characters. Their lives are so important. We’re looking into a few crossover projects.
ReFraction screens at the New York Indian Film Festival on May 8 as part of its Dramatic Shorts program. For more information, click here. Be sure to also check out our interview with documentary filmmaker Sam Rega.