Indo-American filmmaker Ben Rekhi’s new film Watch List throws light on the Filipino drug mafia
Ben Rekhi, the Indian-American filmmaker who shot to fame with his 2018 film The Ashram starring Academy Awardwinning actress Melissa Leo, Kal Penn and Radhika Apte, is once again in the news for his new film Watch List. Based on a true story, the film was screened at International Film Festival of India 2019 as it was one of the competitors for the Golden Peacock Award in the Foreign Language Film category.
Set in Philippines, it follows the story of a woman who is left to fend for herself and her three children after her husband is killed by the police. She realises that she is being watched by drug lords and that her life is in danger. So the lady strikes a deal with the cops. She turns into an informer in order to protect her children. Talking about how he came across the story and what pushed him to make this film, the LA-based director says, “The first inspiration came from a photog r a p h (in a newspaper) that I saw of a woman cradling her husband who had just been killed. It was an image that I could not get out of my head. For weeks, I obsessed over it and ended up reaching out to the journalist who had written the story.”
The journalist told him about the drug wars and invited him to Manila to see what was happening on ground. He spent three weeks in Manila, speaking to victims’ families, officers and rehabilitated drug addicts. He also heard the woman’s story. “I was intrigued by the lengths a mother could go to, to protect her children. Here was someone who went from being a victim to becoming a vigilante. So the idea of looking at different perspectives of the drug war seemed like an exciting way to tell the story,” he says.
Captured in a frame
Watch List was shot completely in Manila. Although Ben’s producers suggested it be shot on sets, the filmmaker wanted to be authentic. “It was a challenge to shoot on location in the slums. There was a lot of violence around. There were murders happening at night, and during the day, we were shooting on the same streets,” reveals the director. His 2005 film, Waterborne, was about the fates of three different groups of people after a terror attack pollutes the water supply of Los Angeles. The Ashram was about a person who goes in search of his missing girlfriend in the Himalayas after receiving a cryptic message; it delves into the theme of the conflict of human minds and spirituality. Ben says, “I’m drawn to stories that challenge the way we see ourselves and the world around us. I think we create a lot of illusions as to what reality is. I want to use cinema to break the illusions of what we hold for ourselves,” he signs off.