Paani, the begining

So what is Paani about and what provokes me to want to make the film ? And if it provokes me so much, then why have I not made it so far ?

I am going to talk about the germinating of the film, first as an idea, then into a script, and now into the funding process. In a series of blogs, to get feed back from all of you, to explain the difficulties in making a film of this scale, as well as to feel the pressure from all my friends to get on with it !!
I had just made Bandit Queen and I was feeling bruised by the immense amount of antagonism the film seemed to have aroused. Arundhatti Roy took the film as a personal affront. Phoolan Devi came out publicly against the film. The censor board had refused to give it a certificate, and finally when we released the censored version of the film, the film was removed from the theatres because someone challenged the censor board’ s jurisdiction in High Court.
I was sitting at my friends place in Malabar Hill on the 20th ( I think ) floor of his apartment. Malabar Hill to those that do nto know Mumbai is one of the most upmarket residential areas in Mumbai. I waiting impatiently for about half and hour for him to come out of the shower, then just left. Driving back home I passed through the edges of a slum, I saw a sight I have seen often, but never quite registered as acutely.
It was a hot summer afternoon. About 30 women and children, all with water vessels of various kinds in a que. Leading to a dry water tap. A resigned body language. This was an everyday ritual, just as a half an hour daily shower was for my friend.
I suddenly remembered a quote from a political speach that (Was it Devi Lal ?) made at a great rally for farmers. He said ‘these urban elite dwellers expend more water in one flushing of their toilet, than your whole family has available the whole day’.
Living in India one could not but be aware of water shortages. Water coming to the taps only for 3/4 hours a day. Filling large buckets of water early in the mornings, so that there would be enough to last the whole day. Newspaper reports of parched lands due to the faliure of monsoons. Famine in isolated areas of the country. But perhaps for the first time the absolute inequity of water supply within the same square mile hit me emotionally for the first time.
What struck me too was that while water flowed freely 20 floors up, it was dry at ground level ! Of course I knew the politics of it. I had read that those not fortunate enough to have flowing water piped to their houses (75 % of urban India !), had to pay qlmost 10 times more for their water supply . Through municipal tankers that were commadeered by slum lords, who sold the water at huge profit. Yes, I was aware of that. But somehow the sheer incongruity of it hit me emotionally for the first time. That the greatest resource nessecary for life (next to air) was being usurped by the rich.
I must admit that the first thoughts of making a futuristic film came more out of my fear of running into censor problems again. But as I started to think abbout it, I became more and more obsessed by the idea.
And here was the first pitch to myslef :
” A city of 20 million people has run out of water. Whatever little water is still available, is sucked up by those that can still afford it, and protected with armed might. Water has now become a currency, and is used as weapon of political and social oppression. The Water Wars have broken out. ”
Thats is what I started with. Now I had to design that City. Now I had to start thinking of characters. Of emotional story lines. Of a begining. Of an end. And of course I knew that I was about to embark on a hugely expensive film. To create on film a city of the future.

23 thoughts on “Paani, the begining

  1. Cool – the idea of Mumbai in the future is a fascinating one – I have to admit that this has passed through my mind too when I’ve been there (being a big fan of “Blade Runner”, for instance…)
    Years ago I had a rendezvous with a well-known actor at his editing facility in Mumbai – it was a rainy, monsoon evening and the “facility” such as it was, was in an old building, leaking, and several floors up – and totally derelict except for the high tech facility, v. atmospheric, like the old L.A apartments that feature in Blade Runner…
    How did you deal, emotionally, with the severe response to Bandit Queen ? – it must have been frightening and crushing at the same time – this is a big fear for film makers, that the audience (especially Indian ones) might become hostile or violent, even…

  2. Dear Shekhar,
    You have been absent from Bollywood for far too long. It’s time you made your presence felt.
    Paani is an exciting subject and has the potential of becoming a blockbuster. I hope you’ll make me a part of this project.

  3. As a (hobby) writer myself I can understand what happens to an artist after (s)he gets inspired. For me at times it takes months to mature the idea before I put pen to paper, but when I do I just know its going to be as perfect as it will ever be 🙂
    Here is wishing you all the best for your project. I will be crossing my fingers hoping that things go smoothly 🙂

  4. Shekhar,
    You don’t have to look far for ideas, just replace water with oil and pick any city in United states. Poor kids from texas and alabama are sent to the gulf to die for oil, while the rich drive hummers which go 8 miles a gallon.
    See how nicely this works:
    ” A country of 250 million people has run out of oil. Whatever little oil is still available, is sucked up by those that can still afford it, and protected with armed might. Oil has now become a currency, and is used as weapon of political and social oppression. The Oil Wars have broken out”
    …and this is the present!.

  5. dude…WOW….rocking news!
    who is going to fund it? and produce it?
    is it going to be a studio film?
    who wrote the screenplay?
    how many drafts you guys did before finalizing it?
    the most important question- At your stature, is it easy or difficult to raise finance for your films?
    take care…lots of love…and all the best wishes…kedar…

  6. Kedar, I am still writing. Its a tough call this. To make a film that will appeal both in India and to international audiences, and to raise enough money to make a film of the highest standards. Patience ! shekhar

  7. Yes Sartre, the simile of oil is well taken. I do believe though that the next world wars will be fought over water and not oil. shekhar

  8. City of the future…water becomes a currency…incongruity created by man….the next image that comes to mind is ….global warming…ice caps melting…cities, people drowning under water…the haves and the have nots alike…natures answer to man’s selfishness and quest for power.
    the question that comes to mind – what motivates a bunch of individuals with finite lives to use their power and position in a manner that will affect how life would be for millions of people – far beyond their lifespan.

  9. Shekhar,
    you’re probably right. Although isn’t it sad that there seems to be almost a race to see which resource we will exhaust first– energy, land, water, clean air. Whats even more unfortunate is that sustainable options exist for all of the above shortages, however our greed and complete loss of distinction between “need” and “want” will drive us off the edge. Maybe we will have something like Atlas Shrugged, where a few sane people walk away from all this, learn to work with nature and not against it and survive the odds while the rest (rightfully) perish.

  10. Yes. time water figured in a mega film project under the direction of a person taken seriously by the thinking community.
    The long queues for water and the body language mentioned – the staus quo will be maintained as long as this body language does not change.The passivity, quietism and the infinite patience of Indian woman have permitted the absolute inequity in water sharing to reach this alarming level. But the wonder is that, it still hasn’t blown up into an issue, despite being a reality in both rural and urban india.
    But the rumblings have begun. Kerala & Tamilnadu have started bickering over water. people of Plachimada have been clamouring for the closure of the coke factory owing to groungd water depletion. My survey of the blogs on the shutting down of the coke factory at Plachimada has revealed a shocking truth – the enlightened bloggers are totally impervious to the depletion of drinling water in Plachimada. my comment on one such blog got me a few nasty comments in return.
    The world seems to be mesmerised by giant corporatism. What if the citizens of a unheard of place called Plachimada are deprived of drinking water? colateral damages of development!!
    Instead of looking at these issues(Mullaperuyar dam issue between kerala & tamilnadu & Plachimada)as indicators od a dead serious crisis lurking in the not so very far future, politicians are up to their usual tricks with eye on the vote banks.
    it is really time somebody dealt with this issue in a comprehensive way so as to make the powers that be sit up think before it is too late.

  11. Although, I am not sure if its right to compare or not, but with films like RDB and Lage raho Munnabhai making such huge impacts on our minds only prove the remarkable change in the maturity level of the audiences by the years…
    The more a film hits you and makes you think about its message, the deeper impact it has.
    Your idea is quite interesting and if moulded in a sensitive manner, it might just be another hard hiting movie stirring the hearts of millions. I believe that writing such a script would definitely not be a child’s play when the cons r worse… but the message is honest and everyone will relate to it…

  12. Water is a much talked about issue in kerala, the land of perennial water. Pl see the news item below -from
    Varalichayude kanapurangal would mean ‘little known facts about drought’
    KOCHI Dec 30, 2006
    ‘Water Conflicts in India’ released
    Friday December 29 2006 12:10 IST
    KOCHI: ‘Water Conflicts In India- a million revolts in the making’, was released here on Tuesday. Sebastian Paul MP released the book by handing over a copy to Dr K.N.Nair, Director, Centre for Development Studies.
    ‘Water Conflicts in India’ is a mere reflection of water conflicts in the country. It brings out the ground water exploitation and other water-related issues through 63 case studies.
    Another book Varalchayude Kanapurangal, which includes 20 news reports on water conflicts, was also released at the function.

  13. Shekhar,
    Few years back i am my filmmaker friend sat together and discussed about the water crisis in india. We decided to write a fictious(ambitious) story taking place 10 years after a nuclear-bio war…landscapes has changed and air/water contaminated… those who survived lived in herds… back to the stone age period.It’s about their journey in search of SOURCE(pure water)…originating in the land of Six Hills. We knew when we wrote it that it will never find the backing to me made as a feature film… definitely not in India… I did discuss abt your project paani with my local film friends in london on new year’s eve party and they all loved the concept “The next world wars will be fought over water and not oil” I WISH YOU THE VERY BEST FOR THIS PROJECT AND HOPE THIS NEW YEAR WILL BRING IN POTENTIAL FINANCIAL BACKING.

  14. Thank you Sree, just spread the word through any blogs that you or your friends may have, shekhar

  15. it felt good to read that u r finally making the movie ,that too with an acclaimed intrenational crew .
    i ,myself an aspiring filmmaker ,had always desired of somehow breaking on the international front with a genuine indian also made me wonder .. why people like u do not do that extra bit for our films … i mean INDIAN film.
    so it was really a welcome breeze to read yr intentions bout water( in its home page).
    well, a word of caution: an indian film with the same name have taken the world by surprise n created a new standard…i hope u surpass it.

  16. Hi Shekhar Namaste!!!
    I Recently watched ur interview on NDTV and Loved ur Idea of a Sci-Fi based in Mumbai. I read an article about Paani like 3 years ago in a news paper so what is taking you so long to make it. Back then I also read that its going to be the most expensive movie made ever. Is IT??? Its been long since I have seen a Good Sci-Fi. Which Sci-Fi is ur favourite?? Mine is E.T. & Back to the future. All the Best for your project & A possible idea to raise funds can be an IPO or may be Reliance’s ADLABS who can invest a good money.
    I want to chat with you online. Is itPossible?

  17. Hello Shekhar Sir,
    i visited your website for the first time but i’ve always been impressed by the way you take life. You seem to have an amazing combination of spirtuality& practical life and an incredible insight into the human psyche.
    i m not from mumbai and i have arrived here just a few days back and have been suffering from depression from quite some time and i m also consulting a doctor here.
    I’ve done my acting course(part time)from IMAGO school of acting but i’ve never worked in a theatre group.(mainly because of my problem)
    But i was influenced by your comment that”actor should understand the spiritual core of the character” and your other comment”behind one line of Amitabh Bachchan there was history”
    you also said that “there are no great actors only great perfomances”
    Your direction in Masoom was brilliant.
    you manged to extract great performances from even a kid like Jugal Hansraj and a portrayal that can extract tears from anyones eye.
    Esoteric also fascinates me and i’ve read quite a few books of J KRISHNAMURTI but i m still mighty confused.
    to qoute Kahlil Gibran “great poetry in life either comes out of sheer joy or great sorrow” and it seems you’ve experienced both.
    i hope you’ll reply back.
    Peace Nitin

  18. Have you watched the movie Idiocracy, Mr.Kapur? It is a humorous take on a futuristic America. Quite brazenly this movie uses comical hyperboles and extrapolates the stereotypes and lifestyles in the current US to the extremities it could reach in the future. I am in no way comparing your idea to this film, that would be like comparing a portrait to a caricature. Your film has a very grim theme whereas ‘Idiocracy’ uses fickle satire; the only parallel being a futuristic vision. If not for rumination, this movie is worth a watch for a few smug chuckles. Quite amazingly, ‘water’ makes up a turning issue in that movie as well!
    BTW, you might not remember this but during the whole Bandit Queen controversy, a poem of yours made its way into one of the newspapers. It addressed the sensory acknowledgement of being one with the city’s dark underbelly. You described people who sat alongside the rails for their morning’s defectation in Bombay and other such deeply provocative scenes. I was in the tenth grade then when I first saw the poem and now years later as I read this entry I wonder if you hung on to it. During my visits back to India, when I take the train rides, I look out of the window and am reminded of that poem. It was one of the most blatantly provocative and candid poems I have read from an Indian poet. Do you know which poem I am referring to?

  19. hi mr shekhar kapur
    are you at some kind of a crossroads or just stuck in a mental traffic jam…..
    i remember watching one of your interviews on tv long back where you spoke about a huge pan-asian business concept jointly orchestrated by deepak chopra and yourself…..what happened to that
    i dont think its good enough to create a great website which your site has the potential of becoming but is not about to get there in a hurry if you get my point dude…..
    please allow me to use you as a resource platform to create a multiplier-effect in terms of revenue streams…. let us pick 10 pilot-projects for 07
    and double that number in 08…
    look forward to a rewarding association
    warm regards

  20. Hi Shekhar,
    If you have time, please watch TAMIL film Thanneer !! Thanneer (Water !! Water !!) by great K. Balanchander in 1981 about the problem and how people affected..
    It is a class movie. If I am not wrong, it is the only movie taken in World Cinema about Water problem..

  21. Its scary. It has fear.
    Its difficult. Its an eye opener.
    Yet, Nature is a great teacher and paani will seek its own level.
    Shekhar Kapur! Rocks !!!

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