First time director Prashant Nair painted a vibrant picture of India through his independent film Delhi In a Day that released recently. We spoke to the young filmmaker on the making of the film that’s set in a Delhi household and spans a day in the life of a foreigner who finds his money stolen before he could discover the real India. Excerpts from the interview.
What is the real India according to you? And which part of it did you want to explore?
There are many real Indias that co-exist and that’s an aspect I wanted to explore by having an ensemble, with a multitude of characters from different “realities” in the household and spending time with each. I’m sure if you ask Lillete Dubey’s character what her idea of India is it would differ drastically from Anjali Patil’s character’s response. What I wanted to portray was how, even in the confines of a single home, there can be such drastically different realities and how precarious that can be. I also wanted to play off this notion of multiple Indias by telling the story through the eyes of an international visitor who, in turn, arrives with his own very preconceived ideas of what India is.
When Jasper, the foreigner, comes to India, he seems to see every cliché associated with India — loud taxi drivers who rip off foreigners, traffic, elephants on the road...
Jasper comes to India with naïve intentions, imagining he’s going to have a journey that will lead him out of a stagnant phase in his own life, just as many travellers do. He imagines he’ll find spirituality, exoticism, and adventure. He has motivations that are very self-centered. Instead he has a completely different experience but, from my perspective, a journey that is much more profound.
I did want to start with a few of those clichés and then depart from that quickly as he is plunged into the chaos of the Bhatia household. It also serves to contrast the two worlds: that of the adventurer/traveller who expects the “Incredible India” advert experience versus the very real, materialistic and modern world of the family he stays with.
How did you go about the casting process? And how easy was it to get funding?
Fortunately Victor Bannerjee, Lillete and Kulbhushan Kharbanda are all very open to working with first-time directors. Once they read and approved of the script and roles, we sat down and got to know each other before they very graciously gave the go ahead to embark on this low-budget adventure. For practically all of the staff roles, I cast out of the National School of Drama. Anjali happened to be in the hallways of NSD when we spotted her. It was a stroke of luck as I think everyone who has seen the film can’t imagine it without her. Vidya Bhushan, who plays Raghu Kaka, is an ex-RAW officer who is now a full-time theatre actor. I heard his voice and that was it.
I never tried to raise funds from traditional sources as it was a first film and I had no prior track record and no industry connections. I had to scrape together the funds personally and shoot on a small budget. We did the film for under a crore.
A lot of foreign technicians seem to have worked on the film. Were you worried about getting exotic India instead of real India?
I had worked with Eun-Ah Lee, the Director of Photography, on a short film in New York and I am a huge fan. I was excited to see how she’d capture India and I wanted someone who’d have an eye for details we might take for granted. For the music, a friend in Paris introduced me to Mathias Duplessy who had also done the score for Peepli Live. We got along really well and I felt he’d be great at scoring the film in a way that was representative of the “collision of worlds” theme that’s very present in the film. For editing, we had Bhuvan Srinivasan in Chennai who has worked on Shaitan and Raavan with Sreekar Prasad as well as a French editor, Sylvie Landra, who edited the 5 Element and The Professional. I think the film benefits from the mix of international and Indian crew and technicians.