Humans of Harker: Finding purpose through filmmaking

Ajay Madala captures stories and exhibits his individuality in movies

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Sabrina Zhu

“Everyone is a unique individual person, and you can’t shift someone else into another person’s mold. That just won’t work. If you do, you’ll feel even more unfulfilled. And then you’ll feel sadder because you’re not living up to be that other person,” Ajay Madala (12) said.

A young third grader sits eagerly on a couch beside his mother, staring at the TV in front of him. Dressed in an all yellow suit, a woman appears on the screen, and she grips tightly to a long, metallic sword. She’s surrounded by people with black suits and sharp knives. The nine-year-old Ajay Madala (12) watches the characters fascinatedly, his attention completely captivated by the 2009 movie “Kill Bill: Volume 1.”

Ever since he was a young child, Ajay has been drawn to movies. And throughout high school, this passion quickly grew until it became a permanent hobby in Ajay’s life.

“I watched a lot of movies, at least three a week, so I kind of started to know what my abilities were, and I made some short films,” Ajay said. “The first thing I made was a one and a half hour long comedy mockumentary about an Indian rapper named Lil Mango Lassi. It was really dumb …  But I kind of really liked doing that. So I started making more serious short films.”

Over the past few years, he has improved his skills and has made nine movies. Two of his works, “Stay Inside” and “Duality,” were official selections for the All American High School Film Festival, one of the largest high school film festivals in the country. “Stay Inside” was also selected for the Seattle True Independent Film Festival and Mr. Holehead’s Warped Dimension, and another film “Gone” was selected for the NewFilmmakers NY Film Festival.

“I felt better about myself because I think a lot of people who start out in filmmaking have a sort of imposter syndrome,” Ajay said. “The fact that these people who have no idea who I am actually liked my films made me feel a lot better about myself and my work.”

Many of his movies encompass a surrealist theme, which Ajay believes works well to portray emotions. Instead of following a realistic plot, Ajay frequently includes some absurd aspects. He hopes that his films are different from any his audience has seen before.

“I’d rather have something be absolute insanity than make you feel like nothing,” Ajay said. “I want to provoke some emotion in you.”

Jason Lin (12), one of Ajay’s close friends, compares the style of the films to Ajay’s unique personality.

“He comes up with [the plots] completely on his own, so I think it’s just a unique and funny expression of his personality because like Ajay, his films are pretty unpredictable and whimsical,” Jason said.

Ajay, ironically, first truly realized his love for filmmaking when he quit his hobby. When going into high school, he decided to let go of the activity and to focus more on academics, but he quickly noticed that his grades were actually suffering and that he felt directionless.

“I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. So when I started making movies and doing a talk show again, I felt more fulfilled,” Ajay said.

Ajay has lived by this theme of fulfillment, and he’s noticed a change in his mindset and recommends finding and following passions to everyone.

“For anyone: if it’s something that you feel makes you a better person, then just do it,” said Ajay. “It’s good because I felt better [and] more focused because I had a purpose. It’s all about finding a purpose in life.”

Besides searching for fulfillment, Ajay believes that people are best when they are simply themselves. As a teenager, he has experienced times where he wants to do something because it “looks good,” but he now understands the importance of uniqueness and independence. He hopes that people will try to stop comparing themselves to others.

“Everyone is a unique individual person, and you can’t shift someone else into another person’s mold. That just won’t work,” Ajay said. “If you do, you’ll feel even more unfulfilled. And then you’ll feel sadder because you’re not living up to be that other person.”

Ajay’s friend Ethan Choi (12) has listened to the unique perspectives Ajay brings and has watched him follow his passions.

“He just really goes about enjoying life and being who he wants to be without [caring about] other people’s thoughts, and that’s the biggest thing about Ajay,” Ethan said. “He doesn’t care about what other people think. He is here to have fun and discover and learn and explore the things he wants to, with the people he wants to do it with.”

Scott Odekirk, upper school speech and debate teacher and Ajay’s adviser, noticed this trait in Ajay as well.

“When I think about Ajay and his strengths, I think about his courage and his willingness to be himself,” Odekirk said. “He trusts his own instincts and I’ve always thought that made him really special.”

When Ajay leaves Harker, he hopes he will inspire others to be themselves.

“I definitely want to be remembered as someone who kind of lives as themselves and not trying to be other people. Do what you want, do what you’re good at, live life as you want to live your life,” Ajay said.