Director, screenwriter and documentary maker Pan Nalin, who is best known for directing award-winning films like Samsara, Valley of Flowers, and Ayurveda: Art of Being, is coming up with Angry Indian Goddesses, which is being hailed as India’s first chick flick and in a candid chat with Movie Talkies, Nalin talks about himself, his film and his upcoming projects…
You graduated from NID. What made you become a filmmaker?
Long before NID, as a kid, the moment I saw my first film, there and then I told my father ‘I want to do nothing but make movies.’ He had no idea what was I talking about -but he was not the only one, I had no idea at all what was I talking about!
As a kid I liked drawing, but was hard to find paper, so I used to draw on the newspapers, railway tickets and cigarette boxes. Later I started collecting matchbox images, I will often line them up, like a storyboard and make up a story. The village kids were suckers for my stories. I only saw my first movie when I was eight or nine years of age. Over the years I had fallen in love with the art of storytelling.
I was studying Graphic Design at NID, but long before that I had decided to become a self-taught filmmaker. I did dozens of odd jobs, printing press, photography, design and some fifty odd wedding videos to finance my passion.
What is Angry Indian Goddesses all about?
Angry Indian Goddesses is a power-packed comic drama about Indian women finding their hearts and losing their heads! A riotous roller-coaster ride of girl bonding: friendships- break ups- make ups- f**k ups- passion- devastation- hesitation- terrorization- realization- boom explosion… Among the fun and frenzy, heart break and heart ache, passion and obsession, youth and innocence, hidden secrets tumble out of the closet, emotions run high and dry; oblivious of the impending doom upon them, AIG is about how these girls go on living life like there is no tomorrow.
What was the trigger behind the story?
Maybe it is right to say that AIG is my debut Hindi film but I have made it on my own terms. Like any other idea, AIG was triggered from a certain restlessness within me -and the world we live in. 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.
How was the casting decided? You have not taken mainstream actresses…
As we have seven lead roles, it would have been impossible to cast forget seven, even four-five mainstream actresses in a single film! The most important factor for the casting was that it has to look and feel ‘real’ and the cast must be multi-talented. From the start I knew that if we go wrong in casting this film, it would be a disaster. Thus began a Herculean task of casting. For AIG we had got interest from 800 girls from all over India and abroad. Casting director Dilip Shankar and I auditioned 200 of them. And I am very proud to have discovered talents like Pavleen Gujral, Rajshri Deshpande and Amrit Maghera -all three natural born brilliant performers. We are also introducing pop Diva Anushka Manchanda in her first lead role in a movie. These four talents unite with brilliant Sandhya Mridul and Tannishtha Chatterjee. Then there is Sarah-Jane Dias who will surprise everyone in her new make-up-less avatar!
How was it having an all-female cast? Lots of cat-fights?
Surprisingly, no cat-fights at all. I had to think like a woman to work with seven of them! It is a difficult task to constantly keep you mind (and heart) open to what if-I-was-a-woman moment? But I had to do it. I surrounded myself with women one and off the set. I allowed my actresses to show and share their lives. When I direct a movie, I do not see it in light of seven women or dozen men or hundred extras or special-effects… But as director it’s my job to be as much insightful as possible about the talent I am working with. I need to understand them as human beings, I need to comprehend what makes them tick, how much fire and fear they have and so on. Then comes the most important part –winning their trust. Unless your talent does not trust you as a director they will never surrender. If they do not surrender, then they can never be emotional vehicle of your story. It’s hard for me to put in words what I do on the set. But must say it was a life changing experience!
Elaborate on the Censor trouble that the film faced.
I do not have any details yet. But it does seem many of their objections seem unfair and unnecessary. We live in 21stcentury, it’s digital age, I can consume porn on a click, I can see all kind of violence on the web, who are we trying to protect? Who are we censoring for? And above all, four-five people seating in a dark room decide what the entire population of 1.2 billion should watch –or not!? I thought that the institution was in charge of ‘certification’ then why do they have rights to ‘censor?’ Angry Indian Goddesses have been appreciated world over for its positive portrayal of women and inspiring storytelling. It will be released almost all over the globe early next year. Not one country wants to censor anything from the film, so back at home we have a problem with the film because it gives voice to women.
The film has got a great response at international film festivals but such films are dismissed as art films in India. What do you have to say about this?
Frankly I have no idea what is an ‘art film?’ Personally I have never differentiated between Bollywood, Hollywood, Art House, indie movies… 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 success; I remained surprised till today the way those films travelled, the way they are being liked and loved all over the world. When I made SAMSARA it was in Ladakhi language, so right away it was labeled as a ‘regional film.’ Few weeks later it was an official selection at Sundance and Toronto, so it became a ‘festival film’ then it went on to win thirty awards, so SAMSARA became "art house film." Then Miramax acquired it and its worldwide box office collection crossed 25 million dollars there and then SAMSARA became a "commercial film"! I have seen all sides of this business. Thirteen years ago I joined that famous 100 crores club, when SAMSARA crossed 130 crores box-office worldwide. We have to admit that cinema is business often disguised as art, or sometime it is art, which does not do much business!
Independent films are getting theatrical releases nowadays. Is this a major game changer for Indian cinema?
Things are changing but far from being ‘major game changer." 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. The day we will have great talent in distribution and exhibition, like we have now in production, then that would be a major game changer. Till then it’s a distant dream.
What would you say is the USP of the film?
India’s first female bonding film that works!
What challenges were faced while making the film?
I guess same as any other film, funds. But with Angry Indian Goddesses we faced even more obstacles; that of industry’s belief system that "women cannot open a box office." OR "India is not ready to watch such films yet" and so on. However the biggest hurdles are distribution. It is very hard to release films in India because people love labeling filmmakers. Distributors and Exhibitors have their own idea of what are a commercial film, Hollywood or Bollywood and so on. Add to that they behave as if they know everything and judge the audience’ taste. That precisely is the reason we have seen so many big budget movies bomb one after another.
Any specific reason why the film was set in Goa?
One of the main character of AIG is Frieda (Sarah Jane Dias) is from Goa in the film. She lives in her ancestral home, and decides to invite her close friends to Goa for a surprise announcement. So Goa became a natural choice.
Do you ever see yourself making a commercial masala entertainer?
Absolutely yes. I am a storyteller, for me all movies are stories first. If they touch my heart I will go for it. Also as I said earlier I do not believe in ‘commercial’ or art house’ "Hollywood or Bollywood" these are just terms to organize industry maybe. But as a filmmaker I only see films; films that we like and films that we dislike –there is nothing beyond that, you may call it commercial, masala, mainstream… but at the end it has to please viewers. Sad part of this is that actually today’s Masala films have no real masalas!
What are your upcoming projects?
A first India-New Zealand co-production titled BEYOND THE KNOWN WORLD; it is a Spiritual Thriller set in Manali, Parvati Valley, Lahaul and Spiti. The shooting is over and I’m currently in post-production in New Zealand. I have been working on an epic high-voltage action movie SATORI; it would be made in Hindi. But it is an expensive film to mount, and it will need a star and big budget. If not, I have dozens of screenplays and treatments ready, whatever gets financed will follow -and I will flow with that.