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.