How was the experience of shooting "River Moon" in Colombo?
"River Moon" was the working title. The project is actually "Water", my four-year-old dream finally come true. I've relocated "Water" from Varanasi. Colombo with its lush landscape represents the heartland of India.
It's been a traumatic time for you?
"Water"'s journey has been traumatic and anguished, but finally very satisfying. In the last two years I came to terms with the tragic disruption of the film in Varanasi. I had to move on and yet make the film. My creative output wouldn't have been complete without finishing the trilogy.
The last Indian film to be shot in Colombo was Mani Rathnam's "Kannattil Muttamittal".
That's right. I saw that and other films shot there. I thought of Colombo as the location for "Water" about a year ago. There were no hassles in getting permission for shooting. We made a film without politics coming in our way (laughs). I'd have loved to make the film in India.
But I couldn't. Anyway, I don't think my film suffers because of the transposition. I didn't have to look anxiously over my shoulders at who's shooting the next volley at my film. I could just focus on making the film. That fear is a real impediment to creativit
Did you at any time think of shelving the project?
I let all the fear and insecurity play itself out. I couldn't stop myself from doing "Water" just because some people would read political statements in it. I made the film because I had to make it. It took my time to get over the trauma in Varanasi. We shot in 45 days with John Abraham and Lisa Ray without any distraction.
What made you choose John Abraham and Lisa Ray?
When things didn't work out with Rahul Khanna and Kareena Kapoor, I thought of actors who would be dedicated to my project. I had worked with Lisa in "Bollywood/Hollywood". There's something lovely about her. I thought she suited my heroine Kalyani's character to perfection.
Lisa cut her hair really short to play the widow. She didn't need to shave her head. Just have it brutally shorn.
But does she look like a Hindu widow?
Yes, as much as Aishwarya Rai in Rituparno Ghosh's "Chokher Bali". I think it's entirely up to the director to get what she wants from her actors. How much I've succeeded with Lisa and John is for you to judge.
Did John fit the bill?
Maybe not knowing John's modelling antecedents helped me to decide he was right for "Water". I met him in Mumbai without pre-conceived notions. Since he plays the sincere idealistic lover, the actor had to project purity. I felt that quality in John. I'm very happy with the film and the performances. John Abraham is mind-blowing.
I was so impressed with him. He had done his homework thoroughly. He learnt to play the flute and also to speak Sanskrit. He was the prince on the crew. Everyone loved him. He suited our style of working to perfection.
How was Lisa Ray as an actress?
She was stunning. So sincere, the kindness and goodness just shines through the performance. You just have to see what she has achieved. Also Seema Biswas, who's playing the role Shabana Azmi was supposed to... Her dedication and commitment were unbelievable.
Manorama, Raghuvir Yadav and Kulbhushan Kharbanda (he's my lucky mascot)... they were all wonderful. For the pivotal role of the child widow Chuhiya I signed a Sri Lankan child who had never acted before.
Why did you have to replace Shabana and Nandita Das?
As the project travelled from Varanasi to Columbo, the demands for the roles changed. Not that Nandita isn't a good actress. But she couldn't play Kalyani any more.
Shabana was always right to play Shakuntala. But she just couldn't do it any longer. Maybe earlier I felt I had to compromise with my cast. But I don't feel any acrimony about the loss. Because my new cast has given me exactly what I was hoping for.
Which language have you shot "Water" in?
Hindi of course. Just the way it was written initially. Now the film is ready. I'm going into editing. My partner David (Hamilton), who produced "Water", and I are hoping for a November release. I'm sure it will be released in India too.
What about "Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam"?
I have no idea what my producer Pritish Nandy has in mind. Right now my entire concentration is on completing "Water".