The soul of Angry Indian Goddesses rests in its characters
Some conversations are supposed to be cherished forever. Just exactly the way the audience closer home and internationally have felt for his films. A dialogue with the self-taught filmmaker, writer and documentary maker Pan Nalin unveils different meanings of cinema and life. He chats up with us about his much-awaited film Angry Indian Goddesses and what can be expected from ‘India’s first female buddy movie’.
What is Angry Indian Goddesses about?
Angry Indian Goddesses (AIG) 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, fuck ups, passion, devastation, hesitation, terrorization, realization and 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. Until…
What lead to the idea behind this film which is being touted as India’s first female buddy movie?
Since many years I’ve been longing to do a film with firebrand Indian women in lead roles; I made several attempts to find financing for it but…
I love great stories. I was attracted to the stories of many modern women and also great heroic women of the past. 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. To move on with time or stay with traditional values or both? So I wanted to make a film which shows a reflection of that state of affairs, which Indian women are experiencing – career, society, love, family and sex. So while researching and writing Angry Indian Goddesses, it naturally transformed into one of the first films to put the ‘buddyhood’ of Indian women at the heart of the story.
And how did such an unconventional cast come into place?
AIG is an unconventional story and its soul rests in its characters. From the start I knew that if we go wrong in casting, this film would be a disaster. Thus began a phenomenal task of searching talents. For AIG, 800 girls from all over India and abroad showed interest. My co-writer Subhadra Mahajan prepared a folder, which short-listed from well-known stars to non-professional actresses. We wanted to explore women across all milieus – business, sports, music and so on. Casting director Dilip Shankar and I selected about 200 potential candidates and auditioned them, maybe audition is not the right word. It was a more like Rastafarian “reasoning” sessions where we encouraged talents to open their heart and share their life journey with us over 60 to 90 minutes each. And we are 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 the brilliant Sandhya Mridul and Tannishtha Chatterjee. Then there is Sarah-Jane Dias who will surprise everyone in her new make-up-less avatar.
All my previous movies always had strong women characters. Also when I direct a movie, I do not see it in the 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 – to comprehend what makes them tick, how much fire and fear they have and so on. Then comes the most important part of 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 vehicles of your story. It’s hard for me to put in words what I do on the set. And bigger difficulties are constantly seeing them as part of whole. But it is certainly easier when your casting is right. And for AIG the casting is nearly perfect.
Are the film’s characters a bit feminist?
AIG’s characters are not at all feminist; they live in a world where their views and acts are interpreted as feminist.
How did you go about briefing your actors?
Well, this is a huge question and to answer it in few lines would not be correct. The briefs were given at several levels – information, emotional, practical, life-lessons involving meditation and yoga, through writing, through music and dancing. Once all that was achieved then we started working on their characters.
All those character briefs are inspired from real-life characters. Each character was a story in itself. We did a workshop with them with the help of Dilip Shankar where each one of them worked days and night in building their persona and bringing their character to life. Each of the actresses was encouraged to influence the script and characters and I really wanted that. Together with Subhadra and Dilip, we devised a system where the actresses will be transforming their characters and dialogues but without being aware. Their influence had to be so natural and organic that they did not even know that they were affecting the narrative.
While you were making the film, did you have a particular audience in mind?
Growing up as a kid in my remote village, my mother used to tell me; when you tell a story if everyone in our tiny village listens, then the whole world will listen. Everyone in the entertainment business knows that you can’t keep ‘a particular audience’ in mind while making a movie, because you cannot always expect ‘that’ audience to show up when the film is released. Yes, this might be valid when you are doing a studio movie like Ironman 15 or Fast & Furious 25! But if that’s not the case, I prefer making the film for myself first because if I am not pleased with what I am making then the audience will never be pleased. Mankind’s history is a living proof that all great stories have always found their audience and continues to do so. With money and media muscles we constantly strive to cheat that truth, and thus allure ‘a particular audience’ to halls but we all know in the end what prevails is a story that entertains.
What kind of a reaction do you hope to elicit from your film?
As a filmmaker I always hope to be loved by my viewers, if that was not the case I would not be making movies. So first I hope that viewers will be entertained and enlightened. If they do so, then they will certainly be inspired to talk about what they have just watched. As I have always said there is no message, but yes we all have our own way of consuming stories. It’s not about men or women but each individual who opens up to stories. Each one of us interacts and receives stories differently and thank goddess for that. If we all received and interacted it in exactly the same manner, what a boring place this earth would be?! So I do want the viewers to react differently. I want them to agree and disagree – and that alone can start a dialogue.
Let’s talk about its title. Why Angry Indian Goddesses?
Birth of the title was totally organic. As I was researching with Dilip way back in 2009 while talking to women, we were witnessing their frustration and anger over many serious and not-so-serious concerns. I soon started addressing them as ‘Angry Indian Goddesses’. It became a working title first. Everyone was certain that the film would never ever be called ‘Angry Indian Goddesses’. Because it’s not in Hindi, not commercial enough and so on. Later I went trough a tsunami of opposition and pressure to change the title. I did give it in as there was lots of money involved and the title has to make commercial sense. But my heart was in pain as it had embraced AIG as title long ago. After several attempts, not even one title came close to ‘Angry Indian Goddesses’. Also I like the lightness and the humor in this title. Besides that it evokes beauty, Goddess Kali and Kali’s ferocious avatar – to destroy to create a new world. Above all I just love the way it sounds, I love how people’s expressions change when they hear it for the first time.
With this film, has the filmmaker in you also grown in some way?
Of course, I grow with every film. Each film is a journey for me, never the destination. Each film for me is my debut film. Here I am with a bunch of women making a movie about them being a man. Also each story is born with its own cinematic treatment, as a director I constantly search and seek the most appropriate way to bring it to screen. I also realized that however silly it may sound but life is my biggest source of inspiration. That flow of life on earth has never failed to astonish me, amaze me and inspire me.
Angry Indian Goddesses has been getting a phenomenal response at film festivals and even online. But bridging the gap between the distributor and exhibitor was not an easy task for you. Tell us about it.
Yes AIG has garnered a phenomenal reception across many countries and continues to do so. In fact that too prior to its theatrical release! I’ve tasted such worldwide response with my earlier movies Samsara, Valley of Flowers and Faith Connections. But in India the real battle is marketing and distribution. And probably the best person to answer this is brilliant producer Gaurav Dhingra of Jungle Book Entertainment. 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 marketing, distribution and exhibition sector gets as much talent as there is in production, we will witness a true dawn of new wave of Indian Cinema. Till then it’s a distant dream.
Was it also one of the reasons that you wanted the film to make some noise at the festivals before it gets released?
Once I complete the film, I believe in throwing it into the ocean of humanities; wherever it may be – India, abroad, festivals, theatrical release. All I want is that it should go out and breathe. We would have loved to release the film in India before showing it anywhere, but as I said it’s a dream to make a film in India but then you soon wake up to the reality and that reality is a nightmare called ‘distribution’.
If you have to describe Angry Indian Goddesses in one word or line, what would you say?
They find hearts and lose heads but what holds them back, is what will set them free.