This movie director connects with her audience through heartfelt, honest storytelling


A conversation with Aleya Sen, writer and director of the upcoming Dil Junglee, on creating magic from behind the camera.

Rom-com movies are a bit like the comfort food that mom cooks when you go back home. Familiar and predictable but with such a feel-good factor that the thought of it brings a smile on one’s face.

Aleya Sen, a prolific ad film maker whose debut feature film, Dil Junglee is releasing shortly, loves the romantic comedy genre. She says,

I have always loved reading love stories. Love is so universal, but at the same time, the story has to be depicted in a simple and honest manner or else people will not connect with it.

Lights, camera, action

On the sets

Aleya is still on a high after shooting the movie. Dil Junglee was filmed in two months at two locations – Delhi and London. The London schedule used to start early in the morning and go on till late at night. Aleya says, “In advertising, we finish the shoot in a day or two and move on. Whereas for a movie, we spend so much time together that you can’t help but form a bond with the entire cast and crew. I am not sure if it happens for every film crew, but we still have a WhatsApp group to stay connected.”

The reboot of the 90s classic gazab ka hai din in the movie is on every radio and television channel these days. Aleya says, “The most important part of a romance, is of course, the chemistry between the lead pair. I can only bring two actors together, I cannot manufacture chemistry.”

There is a story behind the casting of Tapsee Pannu and Saqib Saleem. Aleya had directed a music video for T-Series called Tum ho toh, which incidentally has 16 million views on YouTube. When Aleya saw Tapsee and Saqib chatting away between shots, she assumed that they were close friends and was shocked when they told her later that they had met on the sets for the first time.

The Young Turks of Bollywood

While hosting the 2018 Oscars, Jimmy Kimmel had pointed out the gender disparity in the movie world, as just 11 percent of movies are directed by women. This disparity holds true in India too. However, there is no denying the new crop of talented women filmmakers like Zoya Akhtar and Gauri Shinde, who are ushering in steady change.

Aleya says,

I really cannot comment on why so few women take up film making. However things are changing slowly, but surely. My journey has been good and I haven’t personally faced gender discrimination. I think we should stop using labels like 'woman director' and focus on doing good work.

A movie is like an orchestra with hundreds of instruments, where one wrong note can ruin the entire performance. Aleya says, “I am lucky my team just gelled. Whether its casting, production design, costumes, camera angles, music, there are hundreds of little things that have to come together. Since I had a great technical crew, I was ably supported every step of the way.”

Every child has an artist within

Aleya hails from a family of art lovers and grew up in New Delhi. Her father worked with a leading ad agency and her mother worked for the Ministry of Industrial Foreign Trade, while also dabbling in theatre as a hobby. Aleya says, “In Bengali families, music and dance are given as much importance as academics. Ironically, my sister and I were only allowed to watch western classics and Bengali films and I never watched Bollywood films during my childhood.”

Aleya has received formal training in classical music and Odissi dance. After completing her Bachelor’s in Fine Arts, she started her career in advertising in Delhi, before moving to Mumbai in 2001. In 2004, Aleya, along with Amit Sharma and Hemant Bhandari, founded their production house called Chrome Pictures. Aleya and Amit have co-directed several ad campaigns for leading brands.

Aleya has also worked solo on Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC), McDonald’s, 18 Again and Idea, while collaborating with most of the top ad agencies such as Lowe, O&M, and Mudra. In 2011, Aleya co-directed and produced the Silent National Anthem – a public message video featuring students with hearing and speech impairment ‘singing’ the National Anthem in sign language. It won the Bronze medal at the Cannes Lion and Gold in the Goa Film Festival.

A still from the Wagh Bakri advert

An ad film that Aleya shot for Wagh Bakri, a tea brand, which shows the highs and lows in a couple’s life in a span of three minutes received critical acclaim and is one that she is proud of. Besides, she was chosen for the Dada Saheb Phalke Film awards in 2013 for Salaam Bombay Foundation’s Anti-Tobacco campaign.

She is also the co-founder of an NGO, Phool Versha Foundation, which provides medical assistance and sponsorships to children with multiple disabilities in rural areas.

Aleya describes herself as “restless, in a good way!” and feels that travel is the perfect antidote for boredom. Her visit to the Vatican was special since she got to stand in front of works of art that she had studied way back in college. Egypt is next on her wishlist.