Wednesday, June 14, 2006
He may not be a household name in India but his directorial debut Samsara has created waves internationally releasing in over 60 countries and raking in a whopping 100 crores. Critically acclaimed and commercially successful, we spoke to director Pal Nalin over the Indian release of his film Samsara, after a hiatus of 5 years of being released globally.
Samsara was made way back in 2001. What took it so long to reach India?
It is an Indo-German production and got completed in 2002 but no Indian distributors were ready to buy the film as it had no stars or songs. No one expected the film to do well but it met with immense success abroad. It has been released in over 60 countries. It was only after this that Indian distributors started making enquiries on this film that made more money than Lagaan and Devdas. In India it had censor problems too. The producers then refused to stoop to them saying that why should we go begging when the whole world is coming to us? Universal distributed the film in Canada and Disney in U.S. The film has won 30 awards internationally and I am looking forward for an Indian release since 80% of my crew is from India.
In which country is the movie set? India or some other place?
The film is set in Ladakh, India. It is in a remote place and is true to its spiritual existence.
Is it a period film set in a particular era or is it contemporary cinema?
It is totally contemporary cinema. It starts like a timeless film but it is not. Even when you go to Ladakh, you will think that you are in a different era until you see a military truck. So the place is that beautiful.
What does Samsara mean?
Samsara is a Sanskrit word and means 'the World we live in'. In a way, it is the opposite of Nirvana.
What was the basic idea that initiated Samsara?
I had seen quite a few documentaries. I was also going through some personal chaos in my life. That all initiated it but that is not shown in the film. I was not willing to compromise on this film and was hunting for producers no matter what. It is the first film to be shot entirely at 13000 feet.
Word is that many industry people like Ramesh Sippy and Ram Gopal Varma have seen your movie and in fact RGV was quite impressed by your work. How does it feel?
It really feels good. I haven't seen all his films but his praising me is a big recognition. Even Govind Nihlani appreciated my work. I loved his Ardh Satya. Even Pravin Nischol and Manmohan Shetty complimented my work and when all this praise came from the industry icons it really felt good.
Has any Indian filmmaker offered you to make any movie for them?
Lots of them! I can't say anything at the moment because some of this may not materialize. But the best thing is that none of them want me to compromise on my work. I love the kind of cinema that I am doing and the producers are backing me up 100%.
What prospects does Samsara have in India? Is there an audience for offbeat cinema like this in India?
No cinema can cater to one interest. Today even the smallest town has Lebanese and Italian food joints which was unheard of years ago. The audience is also willing to feel different things. That is why regional cinema is working today. However monopolization does create problems as big movies take up most of the screens.
Despite being an Indian, you have made all your movies so far in foreign countries. Why so?
That is because most of my films are financed abroad. I have done BBC documentaries in Karnataka on Devdasis. I believe in telling good stories. My films have an Indian soul but a global look and are universally accessible.
What do you have to say about commercial Bollywood films?
I grew up watching Bollywood films, especially Manmohan Desai films. After that came Hollywood films and then documentaries and then international films like Philipino, Afghani, etc.
Which is your favorite Indian film?
Amar Akbar Anthony and the Rajnikant starrer Muthu are my all time favourites.
Tell us something about your background. As in how did you start in the film industry? With which filmmakers have you worked earlier?
I studied Fine Arts and Visual Communication. I always understood cinema but I was self taught. I wanted to study film-making but I did not have finances. Durga Khote helped me. She had an old camera and she gifted it to me which I still have. I did not want to assist anybody as I felt the originality and purity in me would get influenced.
You also made some documentaries before Samsara.
NFDC had refused a couple of my scripts but since I had a camera I went all over India and shot them myself. Some 10-20 minutes long as I had all the freedom. Few of my films got financed in Europe. My documentary film Ayurveda - Art of Being will soon have a theatrical release.
Is it true that as a teenager, you ran a film club in India and had the biggest collection of world cinema?
Yes, that is true. It started in Baroda and then moved to Ahmedabad. I used to go to the Hungarian Embassy and buy some films and have them screened. Since all the theatres were booked, I only used to get the early 8 am show only on Sundays. But still over 1000 people used to come for the film. I believe in honest movies. I have collected so many movies now. Some of them are in VHS. Some African films are really difficult to get as they really don't keep stock of them but I try my best to get some really honest films even from unknown film-makers.
You write scripts in English but have made films in Japanese, Tibetan, Manipuri, Hindi and English. How do you manage to do that? Do you know all these languages?
I know Gujrati, Hindi, English, French and a bit of Sanskrit. I have no fear of language in cinema. I don't think that is important. What I like to use is colors and just paint them. I would love to make an Italian and a French film one day.
Do you try to incorporate a lot of cultural aspects of these countries in your films?
It is important that I understand the culture and aspects of society. If I don't understand that then I won't make it. I tend to do a lot of research on my films right down to my most basic character.
Your next film Valley of Flowers has Indian actors Naseeruddin Shah and Milind Soman. How was it working with these people?
It was great pleasure working with Naseeruddin Shah. He is a wonderful actor. Milind Soman was good as well. He speaks great Japanese and 30% of his role is Japanese. I don't know what will happen of me once the film is released but Milind will make a name for himself for sure.
Tell us something about Valley of Flowers.
It is a simple concept. It is like a Romeo and Juliet story in Asia. It is made on an epic scale. It starts from the early 19th century and end in modern day Tokyo. It has a supernatural element.
Valley of Flowers has a Himalayan touch. Samsara was about monks. What is it about these things that inspires or fascinates you so much?
Valley of flowers starts in the Himalayas and ends in modern day Tokyo. Two lovers cross their supernatural boundaries. Milind practices Euthanasia and is immortal. The heroine is reincarnated and their love story blossoms again. This film is at a different setting and a different pace compared to Samsara. It celebrates the true spirit of an Indian love story and is not westernized in any way.
Will the film have a proper commercial Indian release?
The film will release in 225 countries and will also have a proper release in India. It will be the opening attraction of a film festival held in Delhi.
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