Award-winning director and a popular figure in the international film circuit, Nalin Pandya (Pan) started his career with the hit TV series Wagle ki Duniya that aired on Doordarshan in the late eighties. His debut feature Samsara turned out a massive critical and commercial success, winning 30 awards internationally. Nalin’s subsequent films Ayurveda: Art of Being, Valley of Flowers (co-writer Anurag Kashyap) too developed a cult following over the years. In 2015, he regaled us with a brave, little gem Angry Indian Goddesses, his first Indian release. Today, in conversation with Flickside, Pan Nalin discusses how films happened, the possibility of a sequel for AIG, and a brutally honest piece of advice for aspiring filmmakers. Read on!
1. Why films? What draws you to the medium?
I make films because I have this desperate need to be loved. I’ve no message to give, I want to teach nothing to anyone, I’m fighting for no cause. I hate labeling films and their makers indie, arthouse, mainstream, Bollywood, Hollywood. What draws me to the medium is this natural urge inside me to tell stories, entertain and inspire. That burns me so bad, the fire never goes out.
Over the years I have also fallen in love with all the characters of Angry Indian Goddesses. I’m missing them badly and dying to get them in front of my camera!
2. Was there a particular point or event when you knew you wanted to live your life creating films?
When I saw my very first movie. I must have been about 8 or 9. My entire family was well dressed, picnic-dinner was prepared and we left our tiny village, travelled by train to go to a nearby town to watch Jai Mahakali (1979), a mythological drama about goddess Kali at the Jai Hind Theater. When Kali appeared on the screen for the first time, with her tongue out, and skulls hanging around her neck, I had a Lumiere-brothers like sensation. I was so scared that I went under the chair!
That night, on the train ride back home, everyone was dozing but I was wide awake. Next day, I naively told my parents, “I want to become movies.” They laughed, but little did they know, for me that was a kind of spiritual awakening. Since that day I’ve never ever dreamt of doing anything else because in the days that followed, I became movies.
3. Angry Indian Goddesses is a beautiful, rare film. Do you intend to take the story forward with a sequel or spin it into a TV series?
Yes. But for me, such cravings must come from natural and organic inspiration. As the film has reached wide across the globe, and continues to do so even after two years of its releasing; that alone is so inspiring. Over the years I have also fallen in love with all the characters of Angry Indian Goddesses. I’m missing them badly and dying to get them in front of my camera! Then 2017 has been witnessing some super courageous actresses boldly coming out about the sexual harassment. It’s a great time to take AIG to another level.
4. What makes a film great for you?
The ‘way’ you tell me the story. The greatness lies in the ‘way’ and not in the story. These days the entertainment world is going nuts with ‘content.’ And the buzz word of the business is ‘content.’ Wherever you go, filmmakers, film producers, TV producers, OTT producers, social media producers are all living in this dark illusion that the moment they have great content, they’ll make a great movie or TV show. They’re dead wrong. Now don’t ask me why? Because I can not afford to give away all the secrets as I’m actively exploring it for myself.
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5. What’s your take on film censorship in India?
India cannot shine and whine at the same time. Evolution and censorship will never go together. Besides such censorship reflects our country’s lack of confidence in itself. It was a joke, and the punch line has long been passed. We need to laugh it off and move on.
Filmmaking is not a career but a bloodsucking parasite that will challenge you each and every step of the way. It will make you fall so bad, that you might not ever rise again.
6. What is the biggest challenge right now for smaller/indie filmmakers? Have things changed with the infusion of more screens, mediums (Netflix, Amazon) and easier access?
As I said, I firmly do not belive in labelling films or filmmakers. Since the invention of cinema, the challenges are the same. How do I journey from my story to spectators? How do I show my movie, how do I bring my story to the people? How do I bring my most familiar heroes (to me) to the most unfamiliar faces? For me, as a filmmaker the one and only thing that has changed is in the ways people consume stories. It’s no longer the same. That also means images have lost their realm; pictures mean nothing as anyone with a phone can create them. There is easier access but it comes with very cheap payslip. Tendency is still star and glamour driven productions be it big screen, small screen, Netflix or any medium.
7. Do you have a word of advice for someone wanting to make their first film?
Oh! This is going to hurt some people! But I need to be honest. First piece of advice; learn to live a full life; fight, fuck, cheat, eat, travel, pay, play, pray, meet beautiful people and betray them, teach yourself a life. But if your decision to make movies is a career choice then I would suggest move on to some other choices. Filmmaking is not a career but a bloodsucking parasite that will challenge you each and every step of the way. It will make you fall so bad, that you might not ever rise again.
Now, if it’s not a career choice but you think you have it in you, talent and all that bullshit then try telling a joke to your friends and family. If the joke does not land, please don’t waste your time making films. Try and look for something else to do. If the joke lands, try and tell them a story, a story you made up. A few days later, narrate the same story to another group of friends, then a few weeks later repeat the pattern. After about a couple of months, if you feel the story has ‘grown’ since you first narrated it, then for me that is the first sign you’re ready to make a movie. Sadly, no film school can teach you that.
The more honest you will be to your stories – and to yourself, the more chances you have at making an honest, heart-felt film. And such films, the world will not be able to ignore. Then before you know it, you would’ve moved way ahead of your first film!
8. What are you working on next?
Disappearance of Eva Hansen is nearly complete. It’s a modern-day spiritual thriller where a divorced couple is forced to come together to go on a search for their missing daughter.
9. What, besides films, keeps Nalin going?
Life, family and friends. Life encompasses almost everything in the universe!