the power to choose in life and love

A new short film entitled Choices tackles difficult conversations about love and life. Does love really conquer all? Can love really win all the time? The film’s stars Jackie Dallas and Puneet take on some controversial topics that Choices covers in this Q and A. Read on for more.

Puneet and Jackie Dallas in a behind-the-scenes take from their short film Choices [📸 courtesy: Prana Pictures]

With topics that intersect cultures, religion, and worldviews (specifically about the abortion stances: pro-life versus pro-choice), what was the inspiration for the film? 

Puneet: Ever since I arrived in the United States, I’ve found that the matter of abortion inflames passions like nothing else. It has always bothered me that in all the noise no one speaks of the fact that either path is an individual decision that we should respectfully allow for. It should not be a matter of nasty debate. It is frankly very insulting to all women – for anyone to say that they should not, can not, or are incapable of – making such decisions. The other aspect that has always fascinated me is that humans are creatures of convenience – what I mean is that when things get inconvenient their hypocrisy shows and they are liable to change positions.

Jackie: I think one of the recent positive changes in society is finally having the doors open for discussion of controversial topics. We are trying to normalize previously stigmatized things and I think abortion is certainly one of them that has recently become a forefront in conversation by both women, healthcare professionals and law-makers.

Abortion rights have always been politicized which makes it difficult to have effective debates, but with film, you can tell a story that can also carry a message. I thought that this film and it’s opposing viewpoints made it very timely and an effective way to reach audiences who stand on both sides of the issue. I also liked specifically how it addresses it between two characters who come from a background where the topic of abortion is not only stigmatized, but to the extent that it is not even talked about at all. 

How did you two meet and how did you two get to collaborating?

Jackie Dallas and Puneet are Jennifer and Altaf from the short film Choices [📸 courtesy: Prana Pictures]

Jackie: Puneet and I actually first met on another wonderful production, Aarzu-e-Mann directed by the director of this film, Amir Jaffer. It was a series that was on Amazon Prime Video for quite some time. Even though we didn’t actually have any scenes together, it was a very positive experience and we had a collaborative click right away.

Puneet: Jackie and I were both in an Urdu (language spoken predominantly in India and Pakistan) series made in the Bay Area. We had stayed in touch off and on. Amir Jaffer, the director in both instances was our bridge to collaborate on this project. Let me say that he is an unbelievably prolific independent filmmaker in the Bay Area who is also a great connector of people.

Do you think it’s possible for people of two vastly different backgrounds and beliefs to “make it” as a couple? Why or why not?

Puneet and Jackie Dallas with the cast in a scene from the short film Choices [📸 courtesy: Prana Pictures]

Puneet: Short answer: Absolutely. When two people connect beyond the superficial, many of these differences that are an outcome of socialization and human-made conventions fall away. A connection from the heart goes a long way in making couples from different backgrounds endure.

Jackie: I think it is definitely a challenge to be able to compromise or overcome strong religious and cultural backgrounds as there are so many core values that impact people in a relationship: from what holidays to celebrate, food to eat, places of worship to attend, how to raise children and even gender norms.

One particularly difficult aspect is also dealing with social biases that you may receive from your elders or peers in the community, especially if you are not generationally removed from that origin. However, I think that as new generations embrace the melting pot that is the world, we are seeing more and more interracial couples and I think that will continue to be something we see and normalize as time goes on.

SPOILER QUESTION!

What do you both wish audiences would take away from Jennifer and Altaf’s relationship? Is love not enough? Do we all really have a choice and free will still wins in the end?

Puneet: It is my personal belief that love is the answer to all our questions. In the story, I believe Jennifer draws her strength from that core. It doesn’t work out for her and Altaf because he compartmentalized his love and gave more importance to the other needs he wishes to satisfy.

With respect to having a choice, the answer has to be that everyone’s choice must be respected – unless one person’s choice is an existential threat to others. If there’s one thing I’d like people to take away from this film, it will be about respecting personal choices – however, wrong they may seem to us from our own perspective with its own biases.

Jackie: I think that on one hand, love is not always enough. I don’t necessarily think that Altaf loves Jen the same way that she cares about him, and certainly not as much as he cares about his own self-preservation. For Jen, her love is not enough for Altaf to stay which is heartbreaking for her, but an illicit relationship is never something that is built on a solid foundation. However, there are always consequences either way, and when a pregnancy enters the picture, suddenly, there is so much more at stake. For Jen, she has to make a difficult decision about her wants and needs and how that may affect her child’s life.

For Altaf, being unwilling to be a father doesn’t mean that you won’t become one. If there is any one message that I would like for audiences to take away from the film, it is to take a look at your stance on abortion, and then apply it to your own life and see how that makes you feel; consider situations that have happened in your life and honestly evaluate if that may have changed your opinion or decision. I think that it is absolutely fair and your right to take a stance one way or another, but it should be based on honest opinion, rather than hypocrisy because of a political party, misinformation regarding science or a religion if you are the type to pick and choose which parts of scripture you decide to follow. 

Jackie Dallas and Puneet play a couple faced with a dilemma from the short film Choices [📸 courtesy: Prana Pictures]

It’s so rare to see an actor and actress – both of Asian descent – play a couple on-screen let alone as equals. Kudos to you both for making that happen! Moving forward, what do you wish for representation in film and TV when it comes to these kinds of roles?

Puneet: We are Americans and the stories we tell are American but being American has far too long been identified to the exclusion of Asians of any stripe. I am keen to see mainstream stories where the main characters – protagonists and antagonists – are Asian and not just serving a stereotype or checking a “diversity” box. For this to emerge, we also need more Asian Americans in writer’s rooms, as well as members throughout the entire village that it takes to make a good film.

Jackie: It is rare and that was one of the things that made this film so important to me. It not only demonstrates representation, but it does so in a way that doesn’t draw unnecessary attention to it, as if this story could belong to any two people from any ethnicity or background.

Furthermore, as Asian-Americans, it doesn’t fall into your typical stereotypical portrayals of how ethnic characters are expected to behave. Both Jen and Altaf are depicted as complex characters both influenced by their backgrounds and upbringings, but also are grounded in the present day lives they lead and demonstrate a range of humanity and emotions, whether strengths or flaws.

I have to give credit to Puneet who was also the writer of this script for creating such a rich opportunity for an actress to play – where it could’ve just as easily been a story about Altaf with Jen as simply a supporting character that prompts his development. I hope that moving forward filmmakers will continue to advocate for representation through diversity as well as female characters, not only in the casting room, but also in the writers’ room where all stories begin. 

SPOILER QUESTION!

In the beginning of the film, Jennifer is the one who is pro-choice. At what point in their relationship do you think Jennifer and Altaf changed their views? Was it love or something else?

Puneet: This being a short film, we don’t get to explore a lot of these angles. But we are delighted that the film does make one think of these questions. One possibility is that Altaf’s view changed because it suddenly became politically and personally inconvenient to allow this child to come into the world. On the other hand, Jennifer’s championing the right to choose was exactly that – it was not that she was against having children – her love was her north star in this scenario.

Jackie Dallas in a scene from the short film Choices [📸 courtesy: Prana Pictures]

Jackie: I think that the moment for both of them is when the pregnancy event actually happens and becomes personal. It’s easy to argue your opinions and views when it doesn’t directly affect you, but there are always circumstances that make having a child either ideal or more difficult. I think that while Altaf believes that abortion is wrong, he is certainly not the most upstanding moral man, being an adulterer, and when the situation happens to him, he sees that the circumstances are not ideal for him. It’s not so much that he loves or doesn’t love Jen, but he doesn’t want to compromise his career with a scandal.

Jennifer on the other hand decides that she wants to keep the child, despite unideal circumstances of being an (assumingly soon-to-be) single mother, but I wouldn’t say that she changed her view necessarily. I feel that most people who argue pro-choice, aren’t arguing for abortion. They are arguing for choice: a woman’s right to choose, whether for health reasons, traumatic conception reasons or the concern that they would not be able to adequately care for the child for any variety of personal reasons. Jen simply has chosen to keep her child. 

What’s next for you? Anything you’d like to share?

Puneet: Personally, I am very keen to see the success of an upcoming short film (Bobby) about autism. Based on true events, it’s the story of an Indian American family’s struggle with awareness, acceptance and fighting social stigma. We have consciously worked hard to cast with as much diversity as we could, given the challenges of the pandemic conditions it was shot in.

With the past year we just had regarding COVID and hate crimes specifically against Asian Americans, what are your thoughts on #StopAsianHate?

Puneet: It is an absolute travesty and a national disgrace what’s been happening with violence against Asian communities across the nation. I believe it is not sufficient to merely pass laws in Washington D.C, though that is necessary. Every single person, without exception, must engage in introspection and check their behavior – in a civilized society expecting decency should be a given. 

Jackie: I feel very strongly that while the uprising against hate and racism by individuals is important, the catalyst for change needs to come from government authority and policy reform to not only enact changes but enforce protection against hate crimes and discrimination. Two organizations who are making changes are the AAPI Community Fund which is composed of an experienced advisory board to distribute donations to grassroot organizations fighting for equality and Stop AAPI Hate which arose during the COVID-19 pandemic but has quickly established themselves as advocates to track and raise awareness of hate crimes against Asian Americans by working with government and officials to enact policies to stop it. If a financial donation is not something that you can contribute, as it is understandably a trying time for many, simply sharing awareness of these two organizations and raising your voice against hate helps contribute to the collective social movement for equality and change. And get vaccinated. 

Puneet, is there anything you can share about how we can help India right now?

Puneet: With respect to COVID relief in India, a lot needs to be done because of the sheer magnitude of the problem, but I am hoping that some of your audience will look at these links and help support the cause: GiveIndia | Nirmaan | Home of Hope | American India Foundation (AIF) | ARMMAN. And if anyone reading this has not yet been vaccinated, please don’t wait any longer. Get vaccinated now.

Choices is now streaming on Amazon in the US and the UK, and Disney+ Hotstar in India.

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08VS17SCH

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B08VSBZJ78

HotStar: https://www.hotstar.com/in/movies/choices/1610059018

Choices film online: Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Jackie Dallas on IMDb | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter

Puneet on IMDb | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter

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