Around 1995,I used to spend a lot of time with Imtiaz Ali at St Xaviers College,Mumbai. A band called Greek (now Pralay) performed regularly in the college circuit and I used to hang out with them like a groupie. I wanted to make a film on a rock band and that was the genesis of Paanch. But the idea didnt work out. I tried remodeling the concept around a brass band because I was very impressed with a song in the 1988 film Om-Dar-Ba-Dar. But I could never get beyond a point. (I went back to the idea in Dev.D for the song Emosonal Atyachaar.) Then,when I started working with (television director) Shivam Nair,I came across many criminal files,including the Joshi-Abhyankar serial killings (on which Paanch was based). The key member of that gang,Rajendra Jakkal,was very similar to Luke,the leader of the rock band in my film. He was a prodigy; he worked,topped college and also had very strong views on crime. He was the alpha male. In 1998,I decided to marry the two stories.
But I was a first-timer,and people naturally doubted my ability. So I used a short tele-film,Last Train To Mahakali,to showcase myself and convince them about my ability as a filmmaker. Thats how Paanch almost got ready to be made. Sudhir Mishra came on board as the producer. He had Rs 50 lakh and told me that he would back the project if I stuck to the budget. We started casting for the film and approached Tejaswini Kolhapure. She was filmmaker Tutu Sharmas sister-in-law and he didnt want her to debut in a small film. Tutu then bought the film from Sudhir and upped the budget to Rs 1 crore.
We started casting for the other characters. The first was Kay Kay Menon,who back then used to be a thin,wiry guy. We gave him a months time to beef up. Meanwhile,we started working on each characters look. We signed on Hakim Aalim to do that and it was his first film as well. Our anger with the industry was such that we decided to make the film with newcomers in every department. Not only was Paanch a first for the actors but also for the crew,barring Vishal Bhardwaj. It was Abbas Tyrewalas first as a songwriter,Nataraja Subramanian’s debut as a cinematographer and Vikramaditya Motwane directed the song sequences.
If you go through the credits,the present industry has its roots in Paanch.
Everything about the film was experimental. Because we wanted to do a film on rock music,Vishal had to step out of his comfort zone to work with the genre. Abbas had to write songs with a rock feel to them. Jim Morrison was our take-off point and Abbas wrote accordingly. The song Tamas was shot like Riders On The Storm. It was later re-composed when we realised the rights were too expensive. Main Khuda was written and composed entirely in English and later recomposed and written in Hindi.
For the shoot,we would loan locations from friends. We damaged our own tapes and property in order to give scenes a real feel. Paanch was the first film to be shot on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway. It had just been made and hadnt even opened. We took the actors out in a car,shot the sequence and came back. The police jeep that is chasing us in the sequence is a real police jeep. We went guerilla with Paanch itself.
And then the film didnt release due to a ban by the Censor board. Everyone loved the film so much that we were on a high,thinking we had proven everyone wrong. That we had made a film with first-timers in an industry that is all about stars. So when the film was stalled,the anger went up ten-fold. I thought they were trying to stop us.
What followed was three years of anger at the industry. I watched other people come in,make films and then lose their way this brought in a certain amount of objectivity over a period of time.
But if Paanch had not been stalled,I wouldnt be the filmmaker I am today. Thats because the next film that I was in talks for directing was one that would have had Suniel Shetty and Sanjay Kapoor. It was a non-personal version of No Smoking,based only on Stephen Kings short story Quitters,Inc. I was also in talks for directing other films that I didnt,but which ended up becoming blockbusters. So had it not been for the ban on Paanch,Id have gone into that zone. But there were other things planned for me.
Today,when I see Paanch,I can only see compromises. I see the desperation of a young filmmaker trying to get his film made and ready to change just about anything. There are a number of things in it that I dont agree with now. If I were to do the film again,I wont take the same roundabout structure Id do a linear story which would end with Lukes death. The Paanch that I made back then was too clever by half,it was trying too hard to look cool.
But Paanch is important because it led to Black Friday,my next film. That film brought me a passport because of which I travelled to my first international film festival and my larger exposure to cinema started from there. I have since been a regular at such fests.
Paanch also helped me because the myth of Paanch is much larger than the film itself. Its the forbidden film of this decade. It is that mythical film that some saw,some didnt,but everyone talked about.
(As told to Dipti Nagpaul-DSouza)