As Sidharth Srinivasan’s ‘Pairon Talle’ prepares for a world premiere in Toronto, we chat with the director about his indie adventure.
The score composed by a German musician living in Bangkok, the poster pieced together by an Icelandic designer, one of India’s best high-definition (HD) professionals wielding the camera and an intrepid film-maker refusing to play by the rules of the game at the helm. All these forces converged to create Pairon Talle, a film that will have its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on 12 September. Quite a triumph for the film’s Delhi-based director, 35-year-old Sidharth Srinivasan, who produced the film with a grant from the International Film Festival Rotterdam’s Hubert Bals Fund. This will ensure the distribution of the film in the Benelux countries (Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg) as well as a European premiere in Rotterdam. Edited excerpts from an interview:
Congratulations for the attention your film is receiving. Tell us about your film.
Pairon Talle aka Soul of Sand is an entirely independent feature shot over a gruelling three-year time period. A labour of love, I like to call it an Indo-Greek tragedy. It is the story of a watchman at an abandoned silica mine whose whole life, being a creature of habit that he is, revolves around his feudal owner and guarding the mine, much to the chagrin of his wife, who considers his efforts futile. One day, an event forces him to choose between duty and conscience and his decision sets off a domino effect of horrible events.
The film talks of caste and land politics, feudalism and the urbanization of NCR (National Capital Region). We showcase a Delhi never seen before. It is a Delhi production from the beginning to the end; my ode to this city.
Having been selected for the Hubert Bals Fund, you now find yourself in the company of major film-makers such as Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Carlos Reygadas and Cristian Mungiu, who have also been recipients of the fund. Tell us about the grant and how it helped your film.
The Hubert Bals Fund is provided by the Rotterdam International Film Festival to film-makers from the developing countries after a highly competitive selection round. I had applied for the grant in the digital production category. Having done that, I continued with my shooting at the end of which I found myself out of money and under a huge debt. It was then that the grant arrived, like manna from heaven. It provided the much needed fillip to the film, for now my film is premiering at Toronto and shall also see a release in the Benelux countries, an added advantage for the fund’s recipients.
You are now three films old, two of them being features. How does this film compare with your other efforts?
I consider Pairon Talle a culmination of all my work yet, and of all my films I’m most satisfied with it. From start to finish, it is representative of my vision and the story that I set out to tell. You see, I have always enjoyed the scripting phase of any film project the most and have always harboured an immense dislike for the editing process, for it is there that you see all your dreams crumble in front of your eyes. But with this film I have finally overcome this fear. This time around, the editing process spanned four-five months, with around 30 hours of footage finally yielding a 99-minute product.
Which Indian film-makers have you been influenced by?
Ritwik Ghatak’s Meghe Dhaka Tara is my favourite Indian film of all time. I really admire Manikda (Satyajit Ray) and Guru Dutt’s body of work too. The films scripted by the Salim-Javed duo have always intrigued me. Among the current crop, I follow Vishal Bhardwaj and Anurag Kashyap’s work closely. I also admire Dibakar Banerjee for his consistency. But when it comes to creating cutting-edge, provocative films, one has to turn his gaze down south, where film-makers like Bala are turning the tide of cinema. I sincerely hope that their content reaches out to a wider audience around the world.
You have created your cinema bypassing the traditional Bollywood system. What, according to you, ails the industry?
For the producer, cinema is fundamentally a profit-making business. For a long period of time, the films have been made solely for the interest of the distributors without paying heed to the audiences. Unlike the cinema cultures of many other countries, the producers here give you return on investment on the basis of the cast of your film.
The problem lies with the film-maker too for he sacrifices his vision and ends up making a film completely different from what he wanted to create. A Sanjay Leela Bhansali or a Farah Khan genuinely believes in the kind of cinema that he or she is creating. Until and unless you are honest with yourself, your film will never showcase even a semblance of the honesty that endears it to audiences.
On a more optimistic note, Peepli (Live) and Udaan indicate that the times are changing. But you still need a godfather and lots of marketing moolah to get eyeballs.
You have made your film on a digital camera. Keeping that in mind, what advice will you give to the horde of aspiring film-makers out there?
I had employed a 35mm camera for Divya Drishti, my last film. After that, using the 24p Sony CineAlta F900R high-definition camera was certainly a liberating experience. You can gauge this by the fact that we had initially planned on a 35-day shoot for the film. But we completed the shoot a week in advance, all thanks to this camera. Not only that, it also gave me the freedom to do 20-25 takes for my scenes, something unimaginable for a film camera. I can safely say that the HD cameras will become as good as 35mm cameras in the next couple of years.
So this sort of camera is highly recommended for the young film-maker because of the freedom it shall afford him. Additionally, I’ll ask the young to be patient, for film-making can be really boring work at times. Since you will be working with many people, most of whom will be working with you out of sheer goodwill, negotiating becomes the name of the game. Most of all though, take the plunge, shoot. Get out there and start shooting. Everything else will then follow. And remember that you need to live with your film for a long time before you see it turn into a finished product.
What are your hopes for an India release?
My film will have three public and two press and industry screenings in Toronto. The world will finally see a purely independent and radical HD film from India. I hope to get good reviews for the film and some awards while it travels across the festival circuit. Only then will I think of screening it here. This is a film made in India, and nothing will make me happier than seeing it watched by audiences here.