Pan Nalin On Cinema, Spirituality & 'Angry Indian Goddesses'!

By Yash Thakur. Posted on September 07, 2015

"Image is seen by eyes. Sound is seen by mind. Together the images they form are seen by soul." - Pan Nalin

Internationally acclaimed director, Pan Nalin is back with his next feature Angry Indian Goddesses. For those who aren't aware, Nalin is the winner of 9 international awards and one of the most celebrated Indian filmmaker abroad. He is also the director of one of the highest grossing Indian indies, Samsara, which earned Rs 120 crores globally. Pan Nalin is also probably the only Indian screenwriter to be twice invited to a prestigious Screenwriter’s lab Equinoxe along with top Hollywood screenwriters like Ron Bass (Rain Man), David and Janet People (Unforgiven, Blade Runner) Jim Hart (Dracula, Contact, Lara Croft), and Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang).

Having spent 12 years of his childhood in a small obscure village of Gujarat, Pan Nalin now lives between Mumbai and Paris, and has a story to tell to all those who have a dream (check out his IMDb profile). Nalin Pandya a.k.a. Pan Nalin also has a great interest in religion and spirituality, themes that are recurring in his films. Talking to Jamuura exclusively prior to his departure to Italy for the promotion of his film Faith Connections, Pan Nalin opens up on his life, his beliefs, the festival circuit and his soon-to-release-in-India film Angry Indian Goddesses which is set to have it's world premiere at the 40th Toronto International Film Festival. The film looks exciting, with a storyline unlike any we've seen in India. Check out it's trailer below:

Take us through the inception of Angry Indian Goddesses. Angry Indian Goddesses is quite a change from the rest of your filmography. How did it materialize?

Since decades, We have had our shares of buddy movies; Rang De Basanti, Dil Chahta Hai, Kai Po Che, 3 Idiots, Delhi Belly… all run high on male testosterone, as if women don’t 'buddy' each other! I also realized that there has been very few great movies with woman in lead roles and the gap between Rekha starrer Umrao Jaan and Kangana Ranaut starrer Queen is way too wide.

So about five years ago when I started research with my co-writer Subhadra Mahajan and Dilip Shankar; there was an outcry from women that why there are so few movies about women? Why there are no female buddy films at all? Thus began a close observation; I started observing women like I had never done before. Like Lord Shiva, as if the woman in me had woken up! Women-watching became an obsession; on the streets, in restaurants, at the airports and railway stations, college canteens etc.

I remember, once at a well-known Cafe in Kolkata, I nearly got thrashed by a bunch of girls. I was staring at them, and had totally fallen for their conversation. In order to listen clearly, I was trying to move my chair closer to them or I would cross their table many a times. But I was totally unaware that they have been watching me and they thought I was a lecher... Suddenly that pack of girls stormed at me and started abusing me. I apologized but when I tried to justify that I am researching a film about women and so on. “Such a lame excuse! None of you Indian men have guts to understand what we go through!” screamed one of them. In the end we did end up talking and arguing for about an hour!  Over the years as many stories started unfolding from many women; there was one taking shape in my heart. And it was clear from the start that has to be India’s First Female Buddy Film!

The film comes at a time of change in Indian society vis-à-vis the role of women. Rarely do we see films with female protagonists in India. Your film has 7. What is the movie about and what do you intend to show with the film?

India witnessed rapid economic growth; and crashed right into the conflict of modernity versus traditions. Contemporary Indian women are at the centre of this unfolding torn, troubled and tarnished modern era. To move on with time or stay with traditional values -or both? As a filmmaker I was deeply inspired by the state of affairs, which Indian women are experiencing; career, society, love, family, sex, even rape. And there are great stories to be told. Angry Indian Goddesses is one of the first films to put buddyhood of Indian women at the heart of the story.

Since many years, I was longing to do a film with firebrand Indian women in lead roles because shockingly 96% of women-roles in Indian cinema is only for decoration, or being a lover (means being sexy), or playing a mother, or sister whose 'izzat' hero or big bro must protect. Or she is the ultimate item girl! A guy must have a gun and girl but it will always be a guy’s movie. Girl gets glamour and a ‘gaana’ but still it’s guy’s movie! Be it action, rom-com, thriller, only the man must eat screen time, say the great lines and get the girl in the end.

Thus as a filmmaker who loves women and everything feminine, I was compelled to use their fury as fuel to fire up Angry Indian Goddesses! What I want to show is that fire– I want viewers to feel that heat by way of entertainment.

And I am so thrilled that now it is all changing; we have great talents like Deepika Padukone and Priyanka Chopra they can carry an entire film far better than many male stars. The biggest change that I discovered is, in general, struggling newcomer girls are far more talented than the boys; those girls can act, dance, sing, write, design, travel; meanwhile often the boys do not go beyond their bodies! So women power is coming at full force; and we do need that point-of-view. Sometime, I feel a woman should have made Angry Indian Goddesses.

To conclude: Our modern world today is in a mess, which has been generated mainly by the male humans; they alone created religions, economy, politics, and monstrous wars. It is high time, man should accept the fact that they have f***** it up. So now, we need to give space and chance to women. For those reasons alone we need to tell stories of women, and more so in country like India.

PanNalinShoot

Pan Nalin during a shoot

When can we expect to see Angry Indian Goddesses in India?

At Jungle Book Entertainment, our producer Gaurav Dhingra (also produced Vasan Bala's Peddlers) is currently looking at releasing the film sometime in end October/ November this year. It will be a big release across India.

You have had a ‘spiritual’ upbringing. How did your childhood experiences impact your films, especially films like Samsara and Ayurveda?

I’ve been born and brought up in organic and oral traditions of Suarashtra. I grew up in a remote countryside of Gujarat on the edge of Sasan Gir forest. My parents narrated many mythological epics. There is a great tradition of storytellers in Suarashtra, we would stay awake through the night listening to amazing stories about war, comic drama, conflicts between Gods and Demons, struggle between humans and Gods or simply brave stories of outlaws who reign the desert of Kutchh and arid land of Kathiawar. It took many years for me to realize that all those stories had one element in common; spirituality. This does not mean ‘religious’ but spirituality can also exist without religion.

So ‘that’ spirituality is in my roots regardless of whatever I write, there is always a spiritual layer to it; be it a thriller, action or drama. I also believe that all great stories, films ultimately boil down to something metaphysical, spiritual. I am a great fan of multi-layered stories and if you look at Tarkovsky's cinema, or Bergman's, they all end up joining the spirituality wagon.

Faith Connections is a subtle take on spirituality and materialism. What prompted you to document the Kumbh Mela and the lost & found stories for Faith Connections?

Faith Connections is a personal film very close to my heart. Making Faith Connections in Maha Kumbh Mela was an awakening of a kind because I had gone to Kumbh Mela with no preparations whatsoever. I had no characters in mind. But I knew that each part of my being must crave for the film. It has to be a deeply moving experience first for me and only thereafter I should worry about capturing it on camera. So coming across these stories were driven by my desire to find emotionally engaging personas that are part of the Kumbh. Reach out to macro within the multitudes.

Myself and my associate director Dilip Shankar, walked widespread mela ground, with open eyes and even more open heart; one by one characters started surfacing and floating above the masses like magic! I was lucky to encounter these human beings –without them there was no movie. But capturing their lives amidst the millions of people was a real challenge. We had to invent a cinematic process to confront these masses thronging the place! There were moments where it will take twenty to thirty minutes to cross the road few meters wide! There were times when we would be filming non-stop for seventy-two hours. Logistics were a nightmare, living, sleeping, food –even recharging camera batteries would mean walking twenty miles as no vehicles were allowed within the Mela. Then there are cinematic challenges: how to stay close to characters and at the same time stay invisible?!

Also, I remain fascinated with our quest to worship the unknown. For me that represents some of the most important inner conflicts. To be clear, I’m fascinated with spiritual practices but not really the religions –and I strongly differentiate the two. Because man can certainly survive without religion, but if you take away the faith from humanity –what will be left of us? Because Faith is believing when it is beyond the power of reason to believe.

While your films have garnered both critical acclaim internationally as well returns at the box office, they haven’t found a release in India. Not many have seen those films. What is the biggest stumbling block on that front? How do you feel about that?

It is very hard to release films in India because people love labeling filmmakers. Distributors and exhibitors have their own idea of what is a commercial film, Hollywood or Bollywood and so on. Personally I have never differentiated between Bollywood, Hollywood, Art House. These labels do not interest me at all. Deep in my heart I am a storyteller. When I made Samsara and Valley Of Flowers I had a strong desire to tell those stories. I made them the way I wanted. In some countries they are considered “mainstream,” in others “art-house” or some classify as “cult movies.”  Somehow those films became global successes; I remain surprised till today the way those films traveled, the way they are being liked and loved all over the world. Thirteen years ago I joined that famous 100 Crores club, when Samsara crossed 130 Crores box-office worldwide. So for me that is mainstream already. However I was sad that it had a very small release in India, that too after nearly 70 countries and five years.

When I made Samsara, Faith Connections, Valley Of Flowers, I offered it to distributors for free! But they dumbed it down saying it will not 'suit' Indian mentalities and that it is a 'foreign' film. You see, the distributors are not ready, Indian filmmakers and viewers are more than ready to watch whatever is good cinema. Today our spectators are well informed and educated. Indian audience has woken up to good stories and great content.

Bollywood or so-called mainstream industry has to adapt to changing times and taste buds of Indian moviegoers. The mainstream janta probably had enough of 'Masala Dal' and 'Chicken Tandoori'; they are now craving for delicious sushi, pastas and pizzas! Entertainment must evolve with society and culture. That's the order of things. India is evolving faster than any other country. Add to that Internet and smart phones will totally change how the stories are being told. So the way we consume movies is changing and will continue to change. But there will always be ‘dukaandar’ producers and directors; whose main aim is to make money– at any cost. Worse the film is, bigger would be the publicity stunts! But in the end, great story with great filmmaking skills will prevail.

While most Indian films are template pot-boilers there is an emerging stream of films that are gaining everyone’s attention. What is your view of the independent film scene in India? 

India’s independent scene will only become a ‘scene’ when we see transformation at all levels; film writing, financing, production, distribution, exhibition, film reviews and so on. It is a great time to be a filmmaker in India; there are so many talented directors making wonderful films against all odds. India is one of the toughest countries to make an independent movie. So when filmmakers overcome that obstacle, that itself is an amazing achievement. However producing great cinema in India is still not that serious a problem, it is distribution, which needs a major makeover. Once that is achieved, we will witness a true dawn of new wave. Bollywood will have no choice but make space for those who know how to make movies. And that demand is already being dictated by the janta.

There have been rumors that you have been working on a film (Buddha) for the last seven years. What is happening on that?

Not seven but almost ten years. Buddha: The Inner Warrior is an expensive film, but at the same time it is also one of the most commercially viable film– and that aspect all financiers fails to see. I did get offers to make the film with reduced budget but I preferred to walk away from such deals because it would be a disaster for me and also for the investors. Every story comes with a cost attached; you cannot make Star Wars in Samsara’s budget. So I prefer to wait till the right financier shows up and truly understands the commercial value of a movie project like Buddha: The Inner Warrior. If not, I am happy that I have written the script and thrilled with the end result.

How do festivals like TIFF help films like yours?

All A-list festivals are a great platform to host World Premieres; especially the ones like TIFF have ‘real’ spectators who spend 20 dollars and queue up to watch the movie. It tests your guts and nerves. But in the end if the film works, we know that it can go places. We were lucky to be selected in the Toronto International Film Festival 2013 with Faith Connections. After the successful screening many international distributors acquired the film for theatrical release. We expect the same and much more for AIG because we are heading to Toronto with one of the biggest delegations from India, that too for a single film. We are taking all our seven goddesses and about a dozen crew members. Personally for me TIFF is very important because most of my movies have been released internationally. There will be many distributors from many countries in the TIFF market who have acquired my previous movies. So this is a great opportunity for them to discover my new work –and probably acquire it!!

Also TIFF has the right mix of great Hollywood movies and World Cinema. Besides that it has one of the best Film Market and great cinema-loving population. Toronto has highly prestigious programme called Special Presentation. And this year’s Special Presentation movies include Hollywood star Nathalie Portman’s A Tale Of Love & Darkness, Cate Blanchett starrer Truth, Johnny Depp leads the cast of crime feature London Fields, Sandra Bullock’s Our Brand Is Crisis, among others. So I’m happy beyond words that our sulfurous seven Goddesses will get to rub shoulders with some of the best actors and directors; after all they have worked very hard, and they deserve this platform. These girls will not only make India proud but also women all over the world.

What are you working on next? Is there anything in the pipeline?

 As a filmmaker I remain open to everything. I have been working on an epic high-voltage action movie Satori: The First Warrior, it would be made in Hindi. But it is an expensive film to mount, and it will need a star and big budget. I am also working with a talented writer Radhika Borkar on a very unique rom-com. Then there is also a film adaptation inspired from Manto’s 'Toba Tek Singh'. Since about ten years, we have been developing Toba Tek Singh along with Manto’s daughter Nusrat Jalal. We have also acquired official movie adaptation rights from Sadat Hasan Manto Estate in Pakistan. But for now I am busy completing Beyond The Known World, a “Spiritual Thriller,” a new genre that I’ve invented! It is very first India-New Zealand co-production currently in post-production in the New Zealand.


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