He hated studying, and even quit his MBA. Today, he's living his dream in New Zealand, working on Avatar 2
“You never know how things turn out”
Dhawal Vora wasn’t an A-grade student in school. He’d refuse to study, a feat that would frighten, if not enrage most Indian parents. Cue cries of, “Hayyeee mera baccha! Padhai nahin karoge toh badhe ho kar kya karoge! (If you don’t study, what will you do when you grow up?)”
Most of us have sweated through late-night study sessions, doing fractions with papa at the dining table, scratching our heads trying to figure out what logarithms are.
But Dhawal had what most hope for — supportive parents who let him pursue his passion. He gave up the stability of an MBA course to take a chance on animation. His first feature was a straight-to-DVD film Barbie in The Pink Shoes. Since then, he’s amassed an envious oeuvre as Senior Motion Editor at Wētā FX in New Zealand, including Black Widow, The Umbrella Academy and Avengers: Endgame.
Perhaps most excitingly for Dhawal, given that his journey began by discovering James Cameron’s blue-tinted world in 3D, he now has his stamp on Avatar: The Way of Water.
So the next time your child expresses they want to do something creative (art appreciation has hordes of benefits for kids) or ‘unconventional’, remember Dhawal’s story. As a parent, your natural and societally conditioned instinct may be to scream “Arts?! Bekar Arts kaun padhta hai? (Arts is useless, who studies this).”
But take a beat. You may not be able to say “Meri beti doctor hai (My daughter is a doctor),” but who knows, you may have given birth to the next Steven Spielberg, Amrita Sher-Gill or AR Rahman. If nothing else, you’ll have a happy child who loves what they do.
I was an average student in school. I didn’t have the patience to sit with a book all day and would try and cram stuff last minute. Ironically, I’m now in a field that requires a lot of patience and an eye for detail.
My brother was a complete bookworm and I was the opposite. Give me anything else to do other than studying and I’d do it happily. Sometimes my mother would compare our report cards and say, “Look at yours and look at his. Why can’t you get these scores?” It was never malicious, in her own way she was trying to motivate me. But I rebelled even more. I’d say, “OK, that’s great for him. You have one kid who’s getting good marks, so be happy!”
I wouldn’t say there was any kind of learning disability, at least I wasn’t diagnosed as such. I was just a very naughty kid.
Growing up, I was drawn to the imaginative worlds of Star Wars, Jurassic Park and Lord of the Rings. But never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would actually someday play a part in making these worlds come to life.
I was inclined towards creative work but honestly, wasn’t great at it. As a kid, I’d open Microsoft Paint or a very early copy of Photoshop and just doodle. I’d have a couple of sketchbooks here and there, but never thought of making a career out of it. It was a hobby, while I got my degree in commerce and began preparing for my MBA. Watching Avatar in 2009 is what kind of cemented my career switch and set me off on this path. And now I’m working on the sequel. You never know how things turn out.
I wanted to be a Formula 1 driver when I was young. I loved cars and I’d watch all the races with my dad. But then reality hit. We had a family business, and I thought, OK at some point I’m going to get into that. But even while prepping for my MBA, the film bug kept buzzing. I signed up for a diploma in animation and continued with my MBA classes on alternate days.
Because I had both of them going on side by side I could make a direct comparison. I realised where my interests lay. I knew where I wanted to go, so I quit the MBA and took a leap of faith. The diploma course gave me a taste of the whole industry and all the different departments and facets that go into creating visual effects. I did another course, then a job, and another, all bringing me to where I am today.
After switching between many jobs, I came here to New Zealand to Wētā FX and worked on many other movies. You never know what you’re working on until you get it. When I actually started on Avatar 2 and realised which film it was… I couldn’t put my excitement into words. I’d come full circle. This was the reason I had changed my life, and now I’m getting to work on its sequel. It’s unreal.
I was fortunate and privileged that I had parents who supported my decision. They did question why I wanted to suddenly change my course, but not my choice, as such. That kind of support plays a big part in your life. If they hadn’t, I probably wouldn’t be here. They didn’t stop me from pursuing my dream and from taking those animation courses.
Everyone has a unique aptitude and set of skills. Parents should support and expose their children to different activities to see what they’re capable of doing. Give them the space and time to develop their skills and pursue them. Don’t pressure them. That ‘this is what you have to do because it’s what everyone else does’. Helping them and encouraging them to pursue their interests and ambitions is a lot more rewarding than seeing them struggling with something they’re lacking in.
I’m lucky that I love my job and I’m passionate about it. It’s a super talented industry of so many artists who create this ‘movie magic’. Then you get the ultimate reward of sharing it with the world. On top of that, you get to see your name on the credit reel, which is a different kind of high.
There are many people like me, who look at movies like I did and think, ‘that’s what I want to do’. It’s encouraging for me. A happy feeling for artists that the work we do is inspiring somebody else in the world to pursue their dreams.