Mirroring reality

Mirroring reality

N Padmakumar, fondly known as Paddy, quit a successful career in advertising to write, direct and shoot a multi-lingual feature film, A Billion Colour Story, on what he sees as the growing intolerance in the country, a subject he feels very strongly about.

The film is narrated by 12-year-old Hari whose parents, Imran and Parvati Aziz, are film-makers. They have relocated from Australia to India so that Hari can be introduced to the many splendid colours of their country. But they discover making a film in India is no easy task, especially when financiers back off, and they are forced to sell their house to proceed with their shooting. Through their search, thereafter, for a rented apartment, Padmakumar reveals unpleasant truths. The inherent religious biases present in both Hindus and Muslims makes house-hunting for a non-practising multi-religious family a Herculean task. Using gentle humour, the writer-director exposes the double standards of both communities.

An agnostic himself, Padmakumar is of the opinion that offensive religious rituals of all religions need to be banned. "Religion is a private matter and dogma must not be thrust upon anybody," he believes. "Basically, the fabric of the country is one of inclusion but when political agendas of various hues sow seeds of divisiveness, it is dangerous, and we need to remind ourselves that we are not born as bigots."

Warm and touching, the film has been appreciated and awarded at numerous film festivals, within and outside India. We catch up with its maker to find out how it evolved:

When did you write this story?

In October 2015, in a 10-day burst.

What triggered the outburst?

It was a desperate need to try and get people to connect with their better, deeper selves. It was born out of a fear about the kind of world my own children would grow up in. All around us, germs of mistrust and intolerance seemed to be spreading, and the din was becoming cacophonic. The film also sprang from my belief that art of any kind must have a purpose beyond mere art, chronicle our times, show a new way perhaps, and explore a new, progressive, humane conversation.

Though you have shown intolerance of various kinds, your underlying tone is an optimistic one.

The need of our times is a new kind of heroism - the heroism of acceptance, forgiveness and tolerance of the 'other', the heroism of optimism in an era of rancour and division. We need stories of peace rather than revenge dramas, more stories of real-life heroes than superhero sagas, stories that reinforce our faith in each other instead of in a mythical messiah who may never arrive to save us. I have always believed in the hero that resides within each of us, and my stories will always reflect this.

What made you narrate the story through a 12-year-old Hari Aziz, who has a non-practising Muslim father and a non-practising Hindu mother?

A child's view of the world is always unprejudiced until it begins to get sullied by adults and their biases. By making this family an example of inclusiveness in its inherent form, I thought Hari Aziz would be symbolic of the India I dream of, but which is threatened by divisive elements. Hari's innocence and uncoloured vision was something I expressed through the choice of shooting a major portion of the film in black and white. The idealism of his parents, who are Indophiles and religion-agnostic, is something I thought would be best conveyed through their child's outlook
towards his country.

Unlike your protagonist, you were fortunate to have actor-producer-director Satish Kaushik offering to come on board as co-producer.

I had already shot the whole film. Satishji, who acted in the last schedule as a stereotypical commercial film producer, came on board after that as a co-financier. It worked beautifully because he is an absolute fount of optimism and positivity. He was able to reach people who knew what we could do with the film.

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