Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Faith Connections - World Premiere in Toronto

To respect my father’s wish I traveled to Kumbh Mela, one of the world's most extraordinary religious events. Every 12 years, about 100 million Hindus gather on the banks of the Ganges to bathe in its sacred waters. There, I encountered remarkable men of mind and meditation, facing an inextricable dilemma; to embrace the world or to renounce it. Through FAITH CONNECTIONS my idea was to explore such diverse and deeply moving destinies as a young runaway kid, a Sadhu, a mother desperately looking for her lost son, a yogi who is raising an abandoned baby, and an ascetic who keeps his calm by smoking cannabis – all connected by one faith against the spectacular display of devotion.

Cinematically it’s a meditation on time and faith expressed in words and images. Though time changes, what nourishes humanity remains constant, namely love, memory, hope, understanding, recognition and belonging.

So as the film is near completion and is invited by Toronto Film Festival to host its World Premiere –the cycle of faith is complete. All remains to be seen is the connection of the spectators to Faith Connections. Because…

Faith is believing when it is beyond the power of reason to believe.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Why Samsara?

I went to school called life and taught myself, cinema.

I always knew that I wanted to make movies, even before I saw one at age of eight. I lived in a very small and poor village in Suarashtra, next to a railway junction where many trains stopped but only to exchange passengers. My village was nobody’s destination. As a kid I sold tea on this unique railway platform. I would often sit on the rail track, waiting eternally for train to arrive, staring at the shadows of five empty cups of tea hanging from my fingers. I would animate my fingers and imagine all kinds of shadow-play.

Today, in Paris, I sit in front of my MacBook Pro, I am staring at my five fingers on the keyboard, and a tiny caret blinks on the screen, keeping pace with my heartbeats. A noisy iPhone keeps vibrating. An air-ticket to Goa, few papers and a cup of tea lies next to the laptop.

So much has happened between two cups of teas.

And all happenings in our lives are result of our desire and destiny. Samsara is the story of desire and destiny. Samsara is the story of celebration of life.

While making documentaries I was seeking realities. I had filmed destinies and desires, as they are, not how they existed in my imagination. Desire often rises in Samsara, the world, where we live. I am living all kinds of desires like all beings. My desire to tell the story of Tashi and Pema came from my imagination and my imagination probably came from what I had lived. In one way or another we returned to reality. We returned to life.

For me, to tell their story was also to control their destiny.
I can play god for 135 minutes at the rate of 24 frames per second.

Samsara is the world; inside the monastery and outside the monastery. A monk, Tashi who leaves the monastic life and becomes farmer, to live a worldly life. But Pema possesses qualities of a great monk while living in the world.

We all at one or another point of our life are tempted to change things, escape or leave everything behind and go somewhere.

Samsara for me has always been the story of that somewhere.

Pan Nalin
20th November 2012

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Cinema of Awakening

Was Buddha a filmmaker?

What was he thinking when he said:

“Each one of us sees the world through the frame of his thoughts.”

 Or was he a screenwriter?

 “Words can burn. Words can soothe. Use them wisely.”

The very process of sitting in the dark and watching a shadow play is a sign of an open heart, an open mind and an open soul. Spectators, humble and venerable, throw themselves in the lap of filmmakers. They, sit there ready to receive.

But rare are the filmmakers who would recognise and respect that openheartedness of those “chained to their chair in the darkness” as Plato predicted them in The Republic.

What is to be in control of all senses of millions of human being, while they sit in that darkness for two to three hours?

To entertain does not mean that one should proliferate our ignorance. It also does not mean that one should only propagate moral or meaningful cinema.

All genre, all stories, all epics must be told. Must be shown. But how?

Only with an awakened soul.

Only through an awakened mind.

While making movies an honest filmmaker will often reach a trance like level, that’s the reason they are often considered egocentric or insane.

Selfishness is necessary to create a story for other souls.

Creation of the film might be a totally selfish act. But projection of the film is totally a non-selfish act. The filmmaker is naked in every which way in front of his spectator when the light simmers down.

Bodhisattvas are born to help others achieve enlightenment.

True Filmmakers are born to help others inspire and entertain.

Consciously or unconsciously, several filmmakers have taken path of Buddhist awakening through their works; Teshigahara, Tarkovsky, Godard, Bae-Kung, Shindo, Antonioni, Michael Mann…

What is to be awake while making movies? To be awake is to be honest. To be awake is to be aware. To be awake is to be able to perceive life in its true light. To be awake is to have compassionate understanding of nature of things and beings.

In Woman of the Dunes (Suna no Onna), when Hiroshi Teshigahara’s camera travels over sand dunes, then over the sand soaked, perspiring body of a woman. Sand has found a new home that of a lustful body. Sensation created is that of a very understanding mind. Two characters trapped in a deep hole, maybe forever. What Teshigahara manages with these two human beings and their longing -it continues to echo in hearts of millions till today.

In Godfather, Al Pacino character looses his daughter in a shoot-out. Coppola takes away all the sound from the scene as the father begins to howl, scream and cry. Thus he creates an emotional space for spectators to feel the loss. We are moved, we are touched… but in silence. This powerful scene had such an impact that since then filmmakers have repeated (or copied) it in hundreds of movies all over the world. But if Coppola was not ‘awake’ -this moment would have been lost as a mere melodrama.

Dreyer in La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc creates a transcendental world, once you are in it; you are there till the end –mesmerized by haunting images and hypnotised by unbearable silences. Pain of Jeanne of Arc is so real that you can almost touch her tears.

All these filmmakers, like many awakened souls, took enormous joy in creation of their cinema. Buddhism believes that all emanates from joy and returns to joy. To film is to find joy in every aspect of filmmaking; to find joy in writing, to find joy in directing a sad scene, to find a joy in playing a demon or divinity, to find a joy in showing a film. In the end, all must return to joy. Because joy is both, the knowledge and the bliss.

Bliss is what transcends beyond. If each filmmaker begins to be honest with the self, then the self will disappear. An act of blissful filmmaking is selfless because beyond that lies a cultivation of an awakened mind.

And cinema of an awakened mind always finds souls -that connect.

It is that very connection gives birth to classics.

Cinema of an awakened soul has rarely failed to entertain or inspire. Those films are archives of memories of humanity. Those films are our spiritual wealth. Those films are our eternal festivals. A celebration of life.

The play of shadows and sound, light and darkness has deep relation to the meditation. The concentrated soul, sitting in the dark cinema hall, is soft and flexible because there is a notion of surrendering. And when one surrenders, one is able to touch the joy of action, humour, fear, thrill, sorrow, romanticism…. One is detached from the rest of the world, like a curious child, one is back to human basics –laugh, cry, feel… They sit there ready to receive. It is up to each filmmaker what would he or she do with each of that soul, chained to their chair in the darkness, waiting to be enlightened.

-by Pan Nalin

View From The Top (from Times of India)

Indian Cinema missed the train?

One hundred plus years ago, filmmaking came to India right after Lumiere Brothers did their historic Paris screening “ the train arriving at station” -then why India missed the train? Why do we stand alone on a platform?

In the age of net and jet, it’s a fashion to be global; software, biotech, gurus, ganjas… everything has export potential. But as far as our movies are concerned, tycoons have spread a false myth that Indian Cinema is booming abroad. Lets not make a mistake of translating what is fashionable novelty as our success.

Cinema came to India rivalling folk traditions. Then talkies killed the traditional performing arts but those forms were reborn in movies giving very much needed Indianness with songs and dance. This trend was further exploited by making movies which help people escape the daily grind to a dreamlike world where heroes can beat up fifty thugs and conquer a beauty in a wink. Where rich fall in love with poor, innocents are given justice…  A perfect world with perfect Maa, perfect Beta and perfect Bahu. Until here it was fine, India was adapting, adjusting, exploring.

Then came imitation of Hollywood. Our “innovative” industry went as far as branding its name as Bollywood. Its like calling Narayan Murthy, Nill Mates. The sad part is that the industry seems proud to be branded as Bollywood.

Indian cinema needs to do much more then that to be global. There are many roads to cross, many bridges to be built… and several to be destroyed.

If India has mythology bigger then mangas, sagas bigger then star wars, legends larger then lord of the rings; then why do we still look to west for imitation?

Why Hong Kong, Japan or South Korea does not face that problem?

Because, they try to be as much original as possible, both in their story and style. They can do what Hollywood can’t –experiment and invent. In last few years alone, loads of titles from these countries were released worldwide with massive critical and commercial success. Many of these movies were re-made as Hollywood blockbusters. Today Hollywood agents are scanning Asian festivals like Pusan and Bangkok to find next great idea, which they can remake. Does any one know of any Indian story or film being remade in Hollywood?

The truth, harder to digest, is other way round  –hundreds of Bollywood movies are direct imitation of Hollywood movies –Not to forget, Hollywood is tremendously suffering from lack of original contents. Last year only 6 % percent Hollywood movies were from original scripts, the rest were remakes, adaptations, sequels, prequels… Should Indian film industry’s role model be Hollywood?

Movies with song and dance are part of our existence they are here to stay but why do they fail to become universal? How can the director of the most commercially successful super-hero Indian movie can proclaim on a national TV channel that he made first part of his new film “little na├»ve and stupid” because that’s aimed at villagers and countryside. Isn’t that a shocking state of affaire? How little we know about our countryside? How we take it for granted that because we are urban, we are intelligent!? It is believed that any Indian village with population of 500 to 1000 people is capable of narrating one million stories. Then why do we have to remake South Korean “Old Boy”? If we do not understand Hanuman, how can we let a movie-poster scream “India’s first super-hero” across India?

Whether we like it or not it is Bollywood who REFUSES to let the Indian audience grow. India is totally ready to receive all kind of cinema -stories that entertain, inspire and educate.

Ages ago people neither ate Tadka Dal in Kerala nor Idli in Bhatinda. It’s all about developing a taste. Movies are not about medias, malls and multiplexes. Hong Kong action flicks are remade in Hollywood and have redefined the whole genre. Perhaps Indian cinema can reinvent itself like Japanese have done. Japan has beautifully integrated their mythologies, superstitions, beliefs and created originals cinema. Success of Japan’s ‘Anime’ (animated features) shook up the Disney. Japanese movies are ages ahead of their Hollywood counterpart. Japanese horror movies are far more innovative -and has reinvented the genre. If that Japanese “taste” spreads like their Sushis, it will destroy Hollywood’s monopoly. Thus US studios invested hundreds of millions of dollars in Japan to control the local giants so that ‘taste’ does not spread worldwide.

In short, If Italian invented neo-realism in cinema, German -the expressionism, French –the new wave; what did Indian cinema invent? Bollywood?

Indian cinema will be only global if it takes deep root in the Indian soil and then grows like a Banyan Tree sprouting other roots in other countries. Then that’s a giant banyan tree with roots spread all over the globe but soil and soul is Indian. A view from the top of any such tree will be universal.

Making global cinema demands honesty, demands profound perception of human life, demands an open mind, open heart. Ages ago our stories were universal, if not a child in Indonesia would not be watching Ramayana today. Our stories were timeless if not Tibetan would not be reciting Tantras.

If the Indian Cinema goes “Hollywood way” by becoming “Bollywood” then we are likely to witness a complete cultural disaster –only thing that will matter is how to get people inside the movie hall –once they are in, who cares?

- by Pan Nalin (as published in Times of India's View from the Top)