Places: Sai Selvarajan- Sri Lanka/Nigeria/UK/Texas

By Payal Khandelwal

Filmmaker and editor Sai Selvarajan was born in Sri Lanka, and has lived in the US, the UK and Nigeria. And all these places have greatly influenced his work.

Sai currently works as an editor at the full service post studio, Lucky Post. He has previously worked with the Emmy award-winning Hothaus Creative as lead editor and as senior editor for Brushfire Films. I was first introduced to Sai’s work through his film ‘Sugarless Tea’, a beautiful and poignant short film directly influenced by his travels. Sai believes that he sees the world through the eyes of the people and culture of the places he has lived in. In this interview, we try to learn more about this by talking about all of these places.

You were born in Sri Lanka, and then moved to Nigeria?

My dad was a professor at a University in Nigeria. We used to live in in Nigeria (Mubi and then Suleja), and used to go back to Sri Lanka for the summers. My parents, being Sri Lankan, wanted my sister and I to be born in Sri Lanka. So my mother would go back to deliver, and when we were about three months old, she would go back and join my father in Nigeria.

Sai (1)

Sai Selvarajan

How were your growing up days in Nigeria?

Growing up in Nigeria was amazing. The people really embraced us and we embraced them. The country was in the midst of an oil boom, so everything was flourishing. I remember playing a lot of football and my mom teaching us at home.

Tell us about your move to the UK.

Towards the mid 80’s, the government in Nigeria was becoming unstable. A lot of things that happened in Uganda were starting to happen in Nigeria, so we decided to move to London. It was Christmas in 1985, and we saw the snow for the very first time. We absolutely loved it.

We moved in with my aunt in the Kingsbury neighborhood. I was nine years old then, and my sister and I started school there. It was a time of wonder. We got to ride the tube, and would go sightseeing every weekend. But due to the massive influx of immigrants to the UK, there was a quota on work visas and basically, they weren’t giving any out at that time. So we eventually moved to Dallas, Texas in the US.

You studied at the University of Texas at Arlington. How was that experience?

The University of Texas in Arlington was a great experience. The Fine Arts department was very welcoming to me. I started off as a business major, but soon realized that it wasn’t for me. I then took a graphic design class over the summers and loved it. So I changed my major to graphic design. In the design curriculum, we had to take a video class, and once I picked up a video camera I knew that I had found my true love. I ended up graduating with a degree in graphic design and film.

Any time I travel, I try to completely immerse myself in the culture of that place. I’ve found that just walking around a city for hours and hours is a great way to connect.

You have also been to India. Tell us about that.

Traveling to India is always an adventure. Both my sister and I used to love it when we traveled there as children. The traffic, the food, the people, the temples – it was all a cultural overload in the best possible way.

Your film ‘Sugarless Tea’ is completely inspired by traveling and places. We also featured it on our blog. Please tell us more about it.

‘Sugarless Tea’ came about from a trip I took to India in 2005. It was the first time I saw India through the eyes of an adult. My friends and I flew to Hyderabad and then took a train to Prasanthi Nilayam. It was an eye opening experience. I remembered this quote by Mahatma Gandhi, “Unfortunately we, who learn in colleges, forget that India lives in her villages and not in her towns.” I saw a part of India that I had never seen before, and it was beautiful. I kept a journal on that trip, and that became the starting point for ‘Sugarless Tea’.

Are there any upcoming personal projects that are also inspired by your movements between different places?

I have a short film that I would start shooting in March. However, it doesn’t deal with the places I’ve lived in. I grew up with a stutter, and this film deals with a teenage boy dealing with his stutter. Though fictional, my films will always be personal.

Do you travel a lot in general?

I don’t travel a lot, but I do travel for work three or four times a year, mostly inside the US though. Being an editor, sometimes we’re required to be on the sets. I love traveling, so if there is any chance to travel, I’m in. Last year, I toured around the U.S. screening ‘Sugarless Tea’ at various festivals. Seeing films and meeting filmmakers has definitely influenced me as a filmmaker.

Any time I travel, I try to completely immerse myself in the culture of that place. I’ve found that just walking around a city for hours and hours is a great way to connect.

Where are you currently based? What do you like the most about the city you live in?

Currently, I’m based in Arlington, Texas and work in Dallas, Texas. The best thing I like about my city is the people. Texans are some of the most smart, friendly, and funny people you’ll ever meet.


Last Free Exit from Sai Selvarajan on Vimeo.

Chasing Shakespeare – title sequence from Sai Selvarajan on Vimeo.


Still from Sai Selvarajan’s short film ‘Sugarless Tea’


Sai Selvarajan’s photograph has been provided by him. ©


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