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Spoke to John Cho as a fan on first call: 'Searching' director


IANS Mumbai
It took Aneesh Chaganty, the Indian-American director of Hollywood thriller "Searching", two narrations to get John Cho to say "yes" to the movie as he was overwhelmed as a fan the first time he pitched the film to the Korean-American actor.
Chaganty, who co-wrote the film with Sev Ohanian, started making "Searching" when he was 25. In the beginning, he set out to work on it with some schoolmates and they had no expectation about where the film will reach as a final product -- making it tougher to approach an actor like Cho.
"I remember the first call... When I spoke to him for 15 minutes as a fan and messed up the entire conversation on pitching the story rightly. I faced the problem because there was no reference point of this kind of a film... It was a completely new idea. Without any visual reference, talking about a film was very hard," Chaganty told IANS in an interview.
So, making the film was almost like walking into a dark space, holding each others' hands when everyone put their faith in him.
The first narration to Cho didn't work.
"I knew I failed to give him the narration in the right manner as a director because I was talking to a celebrity for the first time. Therefore, I was overwhelmed. I needed another chance, which was harder to get," said the former Google employee.
Chaganty then sent a text message to Cho asking for a meeting over coffee, in the hope he would change his mind to hear the script properly one more time.
"I remember I told Sev that at the end of the drink, if he doesn't say 'yes', my career is over. I think I pitched the best version of the movie in my life then. He asked me a few questions and I was answering them -- but in my mind, all I wanted is 'yes' as an answer from him. It was a Friday.
"Sev got a call on Monday from John's agent who informed that he agreed to do the film. Later we found out that John had to convince his management to let him act in a film like this which was such a small project by a bunch of college kids," said the 27-year-old director as he recounted the moment of joy.
The story of "Searching" revolves around a father on a search for his missing 16-year-old daughter and how, in that process, he gets introduced to a whole new world of social media and its mysteries.
On the concept of the movie, Chaganty said: "Earlier, the best way for parents to protect their children was to tell them not to talk to strangers. These days, those strangers are in the virtual world and we kids are constantly communicating with them. That is an interesting and scary area for me to explore how the voice of parents has morphed from the older to the newer generation.
"I think that makes the story much more relevant in the present context worldwide... Because the story is otherwise a traditional story of a father looking for his daughter. It is the circumstances that make it different."
The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, and won the NEXT Audience Award.
Sev, the co-writer and one of the producers of the film, won the Sundance Institute/ Amazon Studios Narrative Producer Award.
Chaganty, who is originally from Hyderabad, feels it's the story's universal approach that connected audiences of every part of the world.
"The film is talking about a global phenomena that parents from across the world face."
As a young global citizen, does he feel a misfit among Americans?
"It's funny that I feel more American when I am in India, and I feel more of an Indian when I am in America among those people. In a way, I tried to bridge the gap that was given to me by society between the two worlds, so that I won't feel a misfit. I won't say it is any negative but I know it is hard to remove," he added.
(Arundhuti Banerjee can be contacted at

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First Published: Aug 30 2018 | 12:36 PM IST

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