Monday, July 18, 2016

The man behind the Angry Indian Goddesses

Angry Indian Goddesses, an Indian film, was hailed as one of the most significant films centred around women, in the country. Directed by Pan Nalin, the film struck chords with a massive chunk of people in India and abroad – with the intellectual and relate-able dimension of the film being a major catalyst in achieving this. Pan Nalin shares his story and inspiration behind the film with us.

What inspired Angry Indian Goddesses?
Modern Indian women and their stories inspired me to make an all-out female buddy film. I also realized that the gap between the Rekha-starrer Umrao Jaan and the Kangana Ranaut-starrer Queen is way too wide. About five years ago, when I started research with my co-writer, Subhadra Mahajan and Dilip Shankar, there was an outcry from women. They wanted to know why there were such few movies about women, why there were no female buddy films at all. For decades, we have had our shares of buddy movies: Rang De Basanti, Dil Chahta hai, Kai Po Che, 3 Idiots, Delhi Belly – all great movies, but they all ran high on testosterones, as if women don’t “buddy” each other! The inspiration behind Angry Indian Goddesses was an organic process. I love great stories. Our country 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. Should they move with time or stay with traditional values, or do both? I wanted to make a film which would be a reflection of this state of affairs that Indian women are experiencing: career, society, love, family, sex… so while researching and writing Angry Indian Goddesses, it naturally transformed into one of the first film to put the buddy-hood of Indian women at the heart of the story. That was a kind of an aha moment!

Portrayal requires a lot of effort - one runs the rusk of allowing characters to lapse into caricatures. But Angry Indian Goddesses has been able to steer clear of it. How did you manage that? What went into the casting / preparation for the roles?
I had short-listed about 12-15 characters in an attempt to form a great bunch. All those characters are inspired from real-life characters. Each character was a story in itself. The casting of seven female talents was a big preparation. Auditions shaped the characters and their stories. One day, like magic, there it was! A wild bunch of girls were selected and their photos were pinned to the wall of our office. This was it. The Casting Director, Dilip Shankar, counted them: “..but there are seven of them!” I said that number did not matter. This bunch emanated energy and the aura of womanhood and buddyhood. Once the wild bunch was formed, we did a workshop with them with the help of Dilip Shankar where each of them worked day and night in building their persona and bringing their character to life. Each of the actresses influenced the script and characters heavily. I really wanted that. Together with my co-writers Subhadra Mahajan, Arasala Qureshi and Dilip Shankar, we devised a system where the actresses would transform their characters and dialogues but without being aware of it. Their influence had to be so natural and organic that they did not even know that they were affecting the narrative.

As a fighter for Gender Equality, what are your thoughts on the gains of the movement fighting for Gender Equality, and what needs to be done in the future for it?
It should neither be a movement nor a fight. I believe both are bad for seeking Gender Equality. Like everything else in life, it has to start at a very young age, and continue while growing up. This is the place where mothers play a very big role in raising children equally. But that's not what happens in reality. There are still mothers who serve hot chapattis to her son and cold ones to her daughter! If we change little things like that in our lives, it will shake the whole society.

What has the response for the film been? Has there been an absorption of the messages by different sections?
Angry Indian Goddesses has garnered a phenomenal reception across many countries and continues to do so. And all this prior to its International theatrical release, which will start from June 2016! I’ve tasted such worldwide response with my earlier movies. As a filmmaker I always hope to be loved by my viewers, if that was not the case I will not be making movies. So, first, I hope that viewers will be entertained and enlightened. If they do so, they will certainly be inspired to talk about what they have just watched. As I have always said, there is no message, but we all have our own way of consuming stories. It’s not about men or women but each individual who opens up to stories. When we read a book or watch a movie, the gesture in itself is sign of opening up yourself and positioning your mind in ready-to-receive mode. Each of us interacts and receives stories differently and thank goddess for that! If we received and interacted in exactly the same manner, what a boring place this earth be! I want viewers to react differently, I want them to agree and disagree – and that alone can start a dialogue. I am content with the way different sections of society have absorbed Angry Indian Goddesses and interpreted it from their point-of-view rather than just mine.

Angry Indian Goddesses was unnecessarily censored in parts by the censor board. What are your thoughts on it?
What we were asked to mute or blur in AIG was truly shocking. I was so dumbstruck that for days I had no idea how to react to it. Certainly, to me, many of their objections seem unfair and unnecessary. We live in the 21st Century, it’s a digital era, I can consume porn with a click. I can see all kinds of violence on the net. Who are we trying to protect? Who are we censoring for? Above all, four-five people sitting in a dark room decide what the entire population of 1.2 billion should watch or not! I though that institution was in charge of ‘certification’, but why do they have rights to ‘censor’? Angry Indian Goddesses has been appreciated world over for its positive portrayal of women and inspiring storytelling. It will be released almost all over the world in June 2016. Not one country wants to censor anything in the film. But back home, we have a problem with the film because it gives voice to women. We blur images of Goddesses because it is blasphemy to compare women with Goddesses! Come on! Every politician in the country starts his speech with “Deviyon aur Sajjano!”