Saga of water

Meaningful cinema

Saga of water

Shekhar Kapur’s movies have struck  chord and left an indelible mark cross genres, for he is known to ave delivered films from his heart, writes S Nanda Kumar.

Shekhar Kapur’s much discussed film Paani seems to be finally flowing forward. News of Paani has been bubbling away for years now, with sporadic articles in newspapers appearing now and then about producers interested in backing the project, and about who would be playing the lead roles. Finally, it is official — Kapur told this newspaper that he was doing the project with Yash Raj Films.

During a conversation a few days ago in Bangalore, I asked this quiet and soft-spoken director why there had been such a long delay, and he replied after a thoughtful pause. “I have been wanting to do Paani for a long, long time. I thought of it straight after Bandit Queen (1994). I was sitting in London one day, and I conceived this whole thing.

And I realised that water was going to be a huge problem soon. At that time, nobody believed me. By the time everybody believed me, I had written a script that I wanted to adhere to. A lot of people loved the fundamentals of it, but some of them wanted me to change a few things. In the changing of those things, they were taking the anger away.

There is a fundamental proposition in Paani, which says that the new colonisation will come through the ownership of water. And I want to adhere to that. Because the film assumes corporate ownership of water, the international ownership of water. I didn’t want to lessen the idea of rebellion. And I knew that the moment I gave this to Hollywood, they would start to pat it down. I knew I could not do it until I got independent financing. Otherwise, I would lose the edge of Paani, the edge of the script. And finally I got it. I am doing it with Yash Raj Films.”

About ‘Paani’

He dismissed speculation that Hrithik Roshan was going to play the main lead. “I have not decided the cast yet.” The film is set in the future, and is to be shot in India and abroad. He says the idea of Paani was staring him in the face almost everyday. “Come to Mumbai, to Juhu-Vile Parle scheme where all the stars live, Aishwarya Rai, Amitabh Bachchan, Hrithik Roshan. Across the road, there is this slum called Nehru Nagar. Inside there, all the pictures are of the film stars who live across the road. The only reason that it’s difficult to cross, is because of the traffic. But it could be another country, another nation, and another planet. There is 24-hour water supply in Juhu-Vile Parle scheme. You can stand under a shower for 24 hours and it won’t make any difference. But in this slum, there is no water; one has to fight for it. And here (in this slum), if you look at the lines, it is women and children. So it’s just across the road that the people are fighting over water, and it’s just across the road that people are showering.”

He wondered how long it would be before the anger of those deprived of water spilled out against those who had easy access. “Paani is an angry film. That is the fundamental reason why it has not been made, because for me it’s easy to get financing to make a film, but not for an angry film.”

Our conversation veers towards his pet project, a social media platform called Qyuki that he launched at the end of last year along with music composer A R Rehman, which is headquartered here in Bangalore. Shekhar is excited by the response. The platform is intended to give people a common creative footing to interact and collaborate. It has writers like Chetan Bhagat and Amish Tripathi also on board.

“The next level that we want to get to is that me, Rehman, Chetan, all of us become irrelevant. That the community grows by itself. We are trying to create an eco-system like a rainforest, where you cannot tell which particular tree, parasite or plant the root belongs to, where the community itself throws up its own mentors, their own aspirational icons, in a form that is the form of the future. And it has already started happening.”

Positive messages

Social media has become a major part of people’s lives, and we talk about how so many were becoming addicted to indiscriminately posting their views on the worldwide web. He had a philosophical take on the issue. “I think fundamentally, we live in chaos and there is an illusion of organised behaviour patterns around us. But what this (social media) does is that it takes away structure, it takes away the illusion of control. And when you jump into chaos, you find harmony with chaos. You don’t need the illusion of control, because there is no control. Then you never come back.”

He continues on a more earthy level. “An addiction to something like social media needs to be curtailed. We cannot be addicted to it. It is something you do. Like you speak. I speak, and I speak through social media. But should I be speaking all the time? Of course not.” The filmmaker and actor, who is very active on the social media, candidly agreed that one could get hooked onto the Internet if one was not careful. “It’s a danger.

Addiction to social media is becoming a psychological problem. People have become addicted to responses. I think about that very often. So I will send out a tweet in the morning and one in the evening…Solitude is a very important thing. I think solitude is a very positive state of being. ”

But every thought that is put out, he says, creates ripples. “Sometimes those ripples become tidal waves.” He says many times his tweets are meant for himself. “I want people to be more innovative and follow their dreams. I love saying that. Those are messages to myself every morning, when I tell myself that I am getting tired. So when I put out something that says ‘you have to commit to your dreams and not give up,’ it’s a message to myself!”

Our discussion returns to Kapur’s long and interesting list of films so far, including Masoom, Mr India, Bandit Queen, and Elizabeth. He doesn’t hesitate when I ask him which his favourite film was.

“Bandit Queen. It was my most personal film, my most instinctive film; it was the toughest film for me to do. Elizabeth was easy, Masoom was easy, and Mr India was easy. It was very difficult to do a film like Bandit Queen, to find meaning. Because it did not follow a complete story structure, it didn’t have an Act I, Act II and Act III, it didn’t offer a solution to the problem. But it provoked more than any film I’ve known. It was very provocative, and the idea was to make it provocative. I would like to go back one day and make films like Bandit Queen. That’s where I think I truly belong.”

Shekhar Kapur is not a prolific filmmaker. For those who admire his work, it has been a long wait. But looking ahead, Paani is no longer a distant mirage.

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