Angry Indian Goddesses (AIG) has had a successful run in the international festival circuit, raking in awards, and was recently screened at MAMI Mumbai
Film Festival. How does it feel?
MAMI was absolutely wonderful. It was a full house and I heard spectators queued up for over two hours. After the screening, we were flooded with calls, tweets, and demands to hold other shows, but it’s going to release in India soon. It’s surreal because we were practically non-existent before September, when we were selected for Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). Given AIG’s theme, I was hesitant of its universal appeal. But we got a standing ovation at our first screening, which spoke for the strength of the story, and how far it can travel. Also, distributors came forward to acquire the film and release it in their own territories. It’s grown from Toronto to Rome to Zurich to Los Angeles, where we recently had a screening at the American Film Market.
How did the idea for a ‘female buddy’ film develop?
I’ve always had strong female characters in my films, be it in Samsara (2001) or Valley of Flowers (2006). Honestly, the idea was not to make an all-out female buddy film. I was curious about groups of girl friends — the kind you spot in college canteens and coffee shops. I was sure their conversations are not as mundane as people think, about losing weight and shopping. As we started researching, real issues like fears, judgements, and insecurities came up. My friends, in fact, told me that if I make this, it will be India’s first female buddy film, citing instances of male-centric movies such as Rang De Basanti and Dil Chahta Hai. While filming, we asked our female co-writers and even the actresses to improvise and nourish the script. We didn’t want it to be preachy at any level; it’s not a ‘male-bashing film’. If it opens your heart, and inspires you to start debating among friends and family, that will be a success for us.
You had trouble acquiring distribution for the film.
The distribution network in our country is solely star-driven. Even if a distributor picks up a non-star film for a big release, it’s because the producer or director belongs to a big film family. We didn’t have stars so we decided to have test screenings with regular audiences in Rajkot, Chandigarh, Gurgaon, Pune, and Bangalore. We didn’t tell them that we are filmmakers, and had focus group discussions after the screenings. If they enjoyed AIG, it meant that our film speaks to the common man. Protein Entertainment, a company from Mangalore expressed an interest. They enjoyed the film and wanted to push it. When Anil Thadani of AA films came on board, it was the best combination we could get.
You’ve also done a host of documentaries, like Faith Connections (2013), which was on the Kumbh Mela. What drives your filmmaking?
I’m driven by great stories, whether fiction or non-fiction. The story should be strong and emotional enough to give me energy, because each film is several years of battle. As a filmmaker, you live with these characters for a long time. With Faith Connections, everything was unfolding in front of me and I had no control over the characters. Would the mother who lost her son find him? And what of the child who doesn’t know if he’ll become a sadhu or a mafia don? We kept following them to see where they would end up.
You recently spoke up for equal pay for actresses, at a time when the movement is gaining momentum in Hollywood.
When you value someone’s contribution in a commercial sense, it should be based on talent and not gender. Male stars have acquired a certain pay bracket, but very few female stars have been able to reach that. We should question it. If Johnny Depp’s character in Pirates of the Caribbean was played by a woman, would you pay her $25 million? Though it’s still a new phenomenon in India, we have very few examples to cite. In comparison, actresses in Europe such as Alicia Vikander, Juliette Binoche, Kristin Scott Thomas, Laetitia Casta, and Monica Belluci have been able to command good fees. With the way the industry here functions, with actresses’ shelf life, they should be paying them 10 times more.
You started your career with Wagle Ki Duniya (1988), a TV series in collaboration with RK Laxman. Any plans of returning to television?
I’m developing a project with an American-Canadian producer. It’s an India-centric period drama, so it will have an epic scale. We’ve just finished the research and the first draft. It will be a 13-episode structure and the cast is a mix of Indians and Caucasians. We’re planning to shoot a majority of it in India. The way we are consuming stories is changing so much, the success of web series is an example. There’s great talent and television has a lot of scope.