Barnali Ray Shukla’s Once Upon A Sky is a touching portrait of Gurpreet Dhindsa from TheVibe Original series Way Back Home, a pioneer of the Indian paragliding community. With over 24 passionate years in the sky, Gurpreet has taken to the podium on many an occasion, wearing the Indian jersey proud, and standing tall as both a member of a burgeoning community, and a man of the skies.
“Filmmaking is perhaps one of the very few arts which harnesses the talent of multipronged disciplines,” Barnali says as we talk, “it’s a final address of all the little things that get ignored, the aesthetics of life, the fabrics, the humanity of language- all of it is an aesthetic republic, demanding control and yet, the intrinsic need to be invisible.”
A microbiologist by education, Barnali made the decision to step away from the dreams expected of her by well-meaning figures in her life, when she was confronted by the sad reality of bioethical testing in America and third-world nations such as our own. Having made an entrance into the glitz of Bollywood at a time when doing so was unheard of for an outsider, Barnali’s creative trajectory took a sudden turn when she had a close brush with death, after being misdiagnosed with a disease in the year 2008. Having been afforded a new lease on life, Barnali made the switch to writing non-fiction, a path she felt drawn to for her life-changing experience.
“In this new birth, I don’t waste time on anything untruthful, on anything that is not life-loving,” Barnali explains, “There was a side of me that had grown, and didn’t want Bollywood escapism anymore, I needed the real thing.”
As fate would have it, Barnali first met Gurpreet in the skies, 30,000 feet above sea level, in an in-flight magazine feature on the Bir Village of Himachal Pradesh. After contacting Gurpreet over email, the two met over a coffee at a Barista outside the Domestic airport in Santacruz to discuss the paragliding community, the focus of Barnali’s latest project. A brief conversation was enough to capture the imagination of the filmmaker, who resonated with Gurpreet’s tale of passion, and of sacrifice, in pursuit of personal truth.
Filmed over the course of over 4 years, Once Upon A Sky is a chronicle of the many sacrifices, trials, challenges and successes of a life spent chasing a dream. Written, directed, and produced by Barnali, the film has been making the rounds of film festivals and awards ceremonies all across the globe to great critical acclaim, garnering the attention of such institutions as the White Unicorn International Film Festival, LIFFT India, Rome Independent Prisma Awards, Golden Tree International Documentary Film Festival, and more.
Aportrait of a man, of a community, of life and of dreams, Once Upon A Sky is poignant and inspiring all at once. When asked what message she hopes to convey to audiences of her film, Barnali leaves us with a powerful statement on dreaming, and determination.
“Between you and your dreams, there’s only your fear standing in the way.” Barnali says, “You could be shaking hands with death every day. When you jump off that cliff, it’s just near crazy, but feel the fear, and do it anyway.”
We at TheVibe salute the incredible drive and passion of these dream-chasers, who are charting the way for others to follow in their footsteps. We wish both Barnali and Gurpreet the very best and look forward to their next great adventures.
All images used in this article are courtesy of Barnali Ray Shukla and TheVibe Content Labs, and belong rightfully to their original owners.
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