Producer Kent Walwin talks to Anuj Kumar about stepping into potential controversy with a film on Jesus Christ's undocumented years
Kent Walwin is a man of many words. Amiable and witty, the much-feted British producer, whose film and television credits include Hotel New Hampshire and Where Angels Fear To Tread, is actually planning to tread into contentious territory. This year's Dayawati Modi Award winner now seeks to make his most important film to date. Called Young Jesus: The Missing Years, the film is about the undocumented time span between childhood and the beginning of his ministry as recorded in the New Testament. Walwin says apart from the generic allusion that he advanced in wisdom and stature, there is no mention of where Jesus was between the ages of 12 and 30. Like some scholars, Walwin believes he spent this period in India.
Walwin is working in close association with Satish Kumar Modi, and the film is partly inspired by Modi's book “In Love with Death”. They agree the plot could spiral into a controversy. “But aren't we in a medium that thrives on a little bit of controversy? Whatever has been said in the book has already been shown in The Passion of the Christ. And mind you, it was also an interpretation of a director.”
But a little way down the discussion, Walwin concedes he will show the film to the Church and Hindu and Buddhist priests before releasing it in theatres.
Big budget dreams
Walwin is basing his theory on the differences in the teachings of the Old Testament and the New Testament. “The Old talks of an eye-for-an-eye approach, while the New is about showing the other cheek if you are slapped on one. It is quite similar to what Buddha and Buddhism preached. There are documentaries and books which say that Christ came to India in a caravan.” He agrees with Modi's point that Jesus Christ is called Isa Masih in India. “The two names have hardly any similarity.”
Walwin promises to leave no stone unturned and is planning to make the film in 3D format. “We are in pre-production stage. We have yet to decide the director and cast, but I want to involve Indian technicians and actors.” Having worked with the likes of Helen Mirren and Jodie Foster, Walwin wants to have a strong support cast. “Young Jesus will be a new face but in the support cast I want actors who can recommend the film to the viewers.” Things are at such a premature stage that Walwin cannot even confirm which part(s) of India Jesus will visit. “For the U.S. audience, India is still an exotic country on the map. They don't know about Kashmir and Bihar,” he quips.
Talking about the sudden global attention on India, Walwin says, “If cinema is a goldmine, we have exploited the resources in Europe and the U.S. It is time to explore India. Bollywood is big but it is generating the same kind of stuff. Slumdog Millionaire has proved what could be done with a little more ingenuity.”
But Bollywood has withstood Hollywood's onslaught? “It has. We also make certain films that only the British can appreciate, but there has to be variety. For how long can you watch a young girl clad in a chiffon sari dancing on the Alps? My only concern would be that the poor girl will catch a cold! Very much like I did recently in China because I underestimated the cold weather there.”
We leave him popping pills.