The National Capital Region (NCR) is often in the news for the wrong reasons. The collection of rapidly transforming towns encircling the Capital is a regular source of grisly rapes, murders and honour killings. Does the NCR represent hope or horror? It depends on which channel you’re tuning in to—or which movie you’re watching.
Nithari, Aarushi Talwar and the Gurgaon toll-booth worker’s murder are not name-checked in Sidharth Srinivasan’s Pairon Talle, but there is an unmistakable trail leading from these cases to the carnage in which the movie culminates.
Pairon Talle (its English title is Soul of Sand) packs murder, rape, sexual slavery, casteist violence and honour killings into 99 minutes. A low-caste watchman (played by Dibyendu Bhattacharya) guards an abandoned mine owned by a crooked businessman (Avtar Sahani) who has pledged his young daughter to an elderly prospective buyer of the property. The businessman also happens to be sexually exploiting the watchman’s wife. Meanwhile, a masked man is on the prowl. If there is a hell on earth, Srinivasan suggests, it is this, it is this, it is this.
Srinivasan has previously directed short films and the feature Divya Drishti (2002). He grew up in Delhi, lived in Mumbai from 1999-2005, and returned home to find his city transformed beyond recognition. Pairon Talle will be shown at the Director’s Rare screening slot at PVR multiplexes from 5 October. Edited excerpts from an interview:
What inspired ‘Pairon Talle’?
When I returned home in 2005, I noticed a big change in Delhi. Everybody was talking about the changes on the outskirts of the city. I saw a subtext in the text—there was a lot of crime and conflict in these regions, property disputes and illegal mining. Some of the cases became sensational, like the Aarushi Talwar murder case, the Gurgaon toll-booth worker killing, the Nithari murders. The cases whet my appetite, for want of a better phrase.
Several movies have been set in Delhi in the recent past. Would you classify ‘Pairon Talle’ as a Delhi film?
The debate in Pairon Talle is between tradition and modernity. Communities that owned ancestral land are now multimillionaires, but their mindset is still feudal. But Pairon Talle is not an issue-oriented movie. I don’t want to pass judgement but explore a situation happening under one’s nose. I wanted to make a film that started out as a social—one that pulled the rug from under the feet of the audience and then went into genre film territory but didn’t lose the social message.
Pairon Talle is actually a city film—it’s about tradition versus modernity, urban versus rural, the divide that runs through the NCR. For me, it is very much an urban film about what is happening in the midst of all this greenery under an open sky. In a way, I feel we were ahead of our time. We shot the film in 2008. Only recently in Hisar, a father killed himself after his class XII daughter was gangraped.
The physical landscapes explored in the film complement the barrenness in the lives of the characters.
I wanted to combine brutality with beauty. Some of the landscapes are scarred by violence, but they are also picturesque—we’re talking about the area around the Aravallis. The location of the royal silica mine is an actual abandoned silica mine. The lake you see in the movie is not a natural reservoir but was caused by dynamiting. The writing was influenced by the recces.
One of your characters is a faceless enforcer whose identity we never learn of.
He is symbolic—he emerges out of the landscape and he is the only person to go back to it. He is the only survivor of the carnage. His face was shown in an initial draft, but we felt during the edit that it would be more powerful and ambiguous to show him as masked. I was concerned that people shouldn’t laugh, since he is a stylized character in the midst of social realism.
How did you get the project off the ground? Aruna Vasudev, the former director of Osian’s-Cinefan Festival of Asian & Arab Cinema, is listed as producer.
Aruna Vausdev liked the script. My career has happened in front of her eyes, so I asked her to step on board as executive producer.
The process of making the film was staggered—this is a completely and utterly independent film. We had a tight unit and cast. We completed one phase of the shoot but then ran out of cash. We started again after we got some support from the Hubert Bals Fund. It took us over three years to complete the film. It’s been a long haul—we had no godfather, no industry backing. We made the film for under Rs.1 crore.
‘Pairon Talle’ has had a lengthy international tour before coming to Indian cinemas.
The film has travelled to many festivals, including Toronto and Rotterdam. It has also been screened at the Museum of Modern Art (New York). The Global Film Initiative (an American non-profit organization) acquired the film, and they’re showing it in the US and Canada. The Benelux (Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg) rights for the movie have also been sold.