What strikes you about the trailer of Angry Indian Goddesses (AIG) is all the things it’s not. This Hindi film starring seven women, some of them models, doesn’t focus on making them look sexy or cute. The girls act how they normally do when there are no men around: goofy and gross. In one scene, actress Sandhya Mridul cracks up as she dabs at her inner thigh after trying to use a urinal — and missing. These women seem like real people, not fetishes inflated to life.
Director Pan Nalin’s note on the film’s website, too, is focussed on what this film is not, that is a testosterone explosion that panders to the male gaze. But then, strangely, he says this when we meet: “I didn’t want this to be a feminist film; it’s not a male-bashing film. It’s not part of any movement.” Strange, because feminism does not mandate the bashing of males and is exactly about the things he says the film addresses.
Touted to be India’s first female buddy movie, AIG follows a bachelorette party in Goa. Frieda (Sarah-Jane Dias) invites her friends over to her family home, where she announces she’s getting married, but won’t reveal to whom.
The women spend the next week or so letting their hair down and revealing secrets. Like any group of friends, this is a diverse bunch: a CEO (Sandhya Mridul), a struggling ‘Katrina Kaif-like’ Bollywood actor (Amrit Maghera), a singer (Anushka Manchanda), an activist (Tannishtha Chatterjee), a maid (Rajshri Deshpande), a ‘trophy wife’ (Pavleen Gujral) and a fashion photographer (Dias). The actors were encouraged to come up with a backstory for their character and tailor in the mannerisms and quirks of that personality. They mined their lives to fill in these details.
Authentic, lived experiences are important to Nalin, who is a self-taught filmmaker. He grew up in a village in Gujarat and graduated from the National Institute of Design (NID) before chasing his dream of making films. After the National Film Development Corporation of India (NDFC) rejected his script and lacking connections in the industry, he stayed afloat by making corporate films and documentaries.
Nalin didn’t want to assist his way to the director’s chair, as he believed working under another director would colour his vision. Not surprisingly, his first full-length feature film, Samsara (2001), was an uphill climb. “I wanted to make my first two films and miserably fail at them. I went to Ladakh to every location I wanted to shoot and made notes on logistics. At the end of it, I came to a figure of what my film would cost, and in the process, I became an independent filmmaker,” he says.
The crew even built a hotel in Leh, so they would have a budget-friendly place to stay during the shoot. The point was to make this film, get it out of his system and move on with life. But Samsara, a film about a Buddhist monk’s struggle with earthly pleasures, released to critical acclaim and was acquired by Miramax. People began to refer to Nalin as an indie director, a term that meant nothing to him at the time. It means even less now.
Compared to film movements across the world, Nalin feels that indie cinema hasn’t evolved in India. “With French New Wave films, for instance, the rise was so huge that their mainstream crashed. Jean-Paul Belmondo, who was like their Amitabh Bachchan, migrated to Hollywood. We have a lot of talented filmmakers but don’t have many independent producers. The distribution system is inaccessible to most people — till a film comes to a theatre, you’re not going to watch it,” he says. But Nalin believes that indie cinema will manage to find takers amidst big-budget films: “Our big-budget cinema, with the Khans and Kapoors, will always be there. But people want something else. Once I watch Prem Ratan Dhan Payo, then what do I watch?”
Presumably, you watch something like Angry Indian Goddesses. It was a film Nalin was warned against making. “People said there will be catfights with so many women on the sets, but I didn’t believe that. The film took three months to make, during which the actresses became best friends.”
All about the story
AIG may have a female-majority cast, but Nalin isn’t looking to cash in on the wave of ‘women-centric cinema’, that was sparked off by films like Queen. He thinks this sort of branding does a disservice to the audience and the film: “People want to watch these films because they’re about great heroes — who happen to be women. The story has to come first, otherwise we’re setting ourselves up for disaster.”
Nalin sees labels like ‘indie’ as marketing terms. They are indicative of a formulaic approach to filmmaking that he finds alarming. And he believes film schools might be part of the problem. “Worldwide, nearly half a million film directors graduate every six months. It’s scary. They are choosing it as a career, which is wrong. Film-making is not a career, it’s going to destroy your life,” he says.
Storytelling has to be a passion, Nalin believes, and he returns to reality every now and then to search for stories worth telling. Making documentaries gives him the insights he needs to draw believable characters. For his most recent documentary, Faith Connections, he shot at the Maha Kumbh Mela in 2013. “Everything is a surprise. You control nothing. Observations I make while shooting a documentary, about lighting, the way people react, nourishes my fictional world.” From a religious gathering of nearly a 100 million people to a bachelorette party in Goa — to Nalin, the connection is clear. He goes where the stories are.
The movie releases on December 4. Tickets will be available on BookMyShow.com on December 1.