Pan Nalin on Angry Indian Goddesses, Censorship & What Women Want

Filmmaker Pan Nalin opens up about his new film ‘Angry Indian Goddesses, censorship and lots more

8 min read
Filmmaker Pan Nalin and actress Sandhya Mridul fool around at the Rome Film Festival (Photo courtesy: Facebook/AIGtheFilm)

Filmmaker Nalin Kumar Pandya or Pan Nalin, as he is now popularly known, grew up selling chai at a railway station in Gujarat. Nalin, the son of a tea-stall owner, used to help his father sell chai and farsan, but soon decided that making movies was his true calling.

Today, Nalin shuttles between Paris and Mumbai, after making it as a filmmaker and receiving global recognition with films like Samsara and Valley of Flowers. The 55-year-old is now ready with Angry Indian Goddesses, which is his first Hindi film. I spoke to Nalin about the film, his views on censorship, the Paris attacks and if he finally figured out what women want.

A publicity still from <i>Angry Indian Goddesses</i>
A publicity still from Angry Indian Goddesses

Q. Most filmmakers find it hard to handle two actresses on a set, how did you manage seven in Angry Indian Goddesses?
Pan Nalin: (Laughs) Oh my god... or oh my goddess rather! Before I started, my friends asked me, why are you doing this to yourself? But as the casting process and the workshops, pre-production and production started, we realised that a lot of these notions and pre-conceived ideas were all wrong. We worked really well together.

We did prepare the girls to be as strong as possible and be in their character and treat them as actors, who need to focus on story, emotion and character and somewhere in the process adapt to the cinematic treatment of the film.

Casting played an important role in it. First, we did cast on the basis that they are true to character and second, also because of the nature, the human nature they have and the openness and values they carry. So all of that played in bringing successfully all of them together.

Pan Nalin with Kiran Rao and the team of <i>Angry Indian Goddesses </i>at the MAMI festival in Mumbai (Photo courtesy: Facebook/AIGtheFilm)
Pan Nalin with Kiran Rao and the team of Angry Indian Goddesses at the MAMI festival in Mumbai (Photo courtesy: Facebook/AIGtheFilm)

Q. I know you can turn around and ask, “ why not?” but, why a female-buddy film?
Pan Nalin: It didn’t start as a female buddy film. I always have strong female characters in my movie, so I was writing a story on a group of friends who happen to be girls and during the process of researching, writing and searching for funds, a friend, who is a big film buff pointed out to me – do you know, if you do this, it will be like India’s first female-buddy film?

We were really after a great story about friendship and the heroes of this friendship story happened to be women. But also talking to girls of various ages, we realized that there is a strong desire from them as well, that we always see guys in films, bonding and having a great time, what about us? I think quite a few forces shaped it into a female-buddy film.
The cast of <i>Angry Indian Goddesses </i>at the Toronto International Film Festival 2015. (Photo: TIFF)
The cast of Angry Indian Goddesses at the Toronto International Film Festival 2015. (Photo: TIFF)

Q: Angry Indian Goddesses picked up the first runner-up for the People’s Choice Awards at the Toronto International Film Festival, the Audience Choice Award at the Rome Film Festival, what’s the best compliment you’ve received for the film till now?
Pan Nalin: I think there were many, but a few of them stay.

After the screening at TIFF there was one American guy who came out, a young, , handsome guy, you don’t expect him to have a tear in his eye, he literally had red eyes. He said – hey man I just want to tell you one thing, after watching that fucking movie, I wanted to leave my dick in the hall. (Laughs)

That was the most awesome compliment… and he just walked away.

A still from <i>Angry Indian Goddesses</i>
A still from Angry Indian Goddesses

Q. Your previous films, Samsara and Valley Of Flowers, were of a different scale, they had a wide canvas, landscapes, an epic sort of mounting, while Angry Indian Goddesses is a much more personal and intimate film. Was there a conscious decision to change and do something different?
Pan Nalin: All stories are born with a natural cinematic treatment, Samsara, the way I made it, I could never make Angry Indian Goddesses in a similar cinematic treatment, or Valley Of Flowers was a manga like anime epic, spanning across two centuries, it was very different.

On Angry Indian Goddesses, the more we researched, I realised that we have to get away from big, epic, slick cinema, if I want to be very real and organic and want touch people’s hearts. Once the cinematic goals were set, one had to find a treatment which was true to the story and its characters. I needed to stay close to these girls and the bond they share and feel the energy which they share.
Pan Nalin (Photo courtesy: Facebook/AIGtheFilm)
Pan Nalin (Photo courtesy: Facebook/AIGtheFilm)

Q. With Angry Indian Goddesses are you also trying to purposefully look at the desi box-office, something you’ve not consciously tried to do with your earlier films? It’s your first Hindi film.
Pan Nalin: For a long time I’ve wanted to make a Hindi film, I toyed with the idea, but I always thought one million filmmakers are already doing it, why get into that? When I started writing this 5 years ago, there were no takers, this was before even Kahaani. I did shop around and people said, who will want to watch women in this movie? After Kahaani became successful, I went around again to find some financing. Because this was a Hindi film dealing with urban Indian women, so somewhere I felt it should reach the audience here.

But I was clear that I want to do it only the way I want. I didn’t want to be pressurized and say ek item number dalo, ek ladka dalo, no kind of commercial pressure, because it becomes hard. I do feel that the Indian audience is ready, you cannot judge them and say, logon ko yeh pasand nahi aayega and all that. I know the Indian audience is totally ready to receive good content and we’ve seen that in the last few years. So it felt like it’s a really good time to do it and let it go out and see what happens.

We’ve had some test screenings and people have loved it, but we really have to see with the commercial release.

A still from <i>Angry Indian Goddesses</i>
A still from Angry Indian Goddesses

Q. Your films have unabashed sex scenes, nudity and sexuality. Were you apprehensive about how the Central Board of Film Certification would react to your film here?
Pan Nalin: It’s in the process I’m told by the producer, I’m not too involved with that. I don’t think we have very much to worry with Angry Indian Goddesses.

When I write a story it has to be an imitation of life, so if people make love, they have to make love, you know, you can’t say, we don’t make love, we don’t kiss each other or we don’t hate each other. I don’t try to shy away and say – in this country it may not be allowed. As a filmmaker first I try to be honest in making a film.

Q. But you must heard about the absurd manner in which the CBFC functions here, most recently James Bond had his kisses snipped. What are your views on cinema and censorship?
Pan Nalin:

I don’t think there should be any censorship in 21st century, because the way we consume stories is so different today. What is the point, when I can watch anything I want on my iPhone or smartphone, so how are we controlling, how are we censoring?

Even to cut out violence it doesn’t make sense, I was in Paris, I was watching what is being shown in terms of violence and killing, we know what exists in terms of pornography on the net, so the whole era of consuming stories, moments, emotions has changed, so where and how are we going to control? And it’s a known thing world over that that more you suppress the more it will try to jump out.

Pan Nalin with team <i>Angry Indian Goddesses</i>
Pan Nalin with team Angry Indian Goddesses

Q. Speaking of Paris, the city is a like a second home for you, you were there during the attacks on November 13, as a filmmaker have been you been able to make sense of what exactly happened there and where all this is headed?
Pan Nalin:

It’s very shocking. Due to some strange coincidence, I was also in Mumbai when it was attacked, I was supposed to meet someone at Trident, which at 4pm got cancelled, and the people I was supposed to meet, they were both killed at the Trident restaurant. And this time I was in Paris, I saw the way they operated and it was such reminder of the Mumbai attack.

I know these places, I’ve been to Bataclan so often, the restaurant called ‘Little Cambodia’ (Le Petit Cambodge), I’ve been there quite often, I do know friends of friends who’ve died. It is sad. My fear is always that are we as humanity going to become numb to violence like we’ve become numb to poverty? That really scares me. And also when I look at the kids, I wonder, what are they going to see 20 years from now? And it’s not so easy to pin point, it’s so complicated.

In my mind its not like there are bad guys and good guys, I wish it were that simple. When you read the profiles of the people who’ve been radicalised and what went through their lives.

We have to focus on the root cause instead of bombarding Syria. Everyone in Syria who is witnessing this violence and watching their family get killed, we see it on news every day, an 8-year-old boy watching his father dying in front of him, what is he going to be 12 years from now? He’s not going to give a shit about the world if he’s seen that, he’s going to be the next suicide bomber.

Q: Finally, coming back to Angry Indian Goddesses, having worked so intensely with 7 women on such a personal film which has been with you for over 5 years, have you finally figured out what women want?
Pan Nalin: (Laughs) Oh no! Absolutely not, and I love that, I think women should remain an enigma. (Laughs)

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