You had mentioned that that the film has a spiritual base. Then how come it is still having its protagonist fall in love with two women?
Yeah, and in fact he even makes love with the second girl. There is a certain mystical element to the narrative with an emotional level involved. The film has a strong point of view from a female about love as it raises questions around loyalty of a man to a woman. It also touches upon the emotion that when a heart is broken it goes in all directions! In fact after one of the screenings, some spectators came and told me that while women are more spiritual, it is man who has made a mess of things and so now it is up to him to clear this mess!
Apparently there are some love making scenes in the film too!
Yes, and we had to really decide about how to film them. If you look at my male lead, he had done around 30 films before 'SAMSARA' and in each of them he had a love scene, But guess what? After none of the films did any woman come and tell him that they were excited! In my research, I have found that a man does feel excited, titillated when love scenes are on but that's because they are always picturised in a way to please a man, not a woman. In 'SAMSARA' I wanted women to be excited when a love scene is on! If you look at the kind of love scenes show in majority of films, it is kiss-kiss-bang-bag with hardly any element of touching and caressing. This is when I remembered my conversation with 'devdasis' who said that they really looked down upon men. They frowned at the mention of love making as they asked point blank that what did men know about making love? They claimed that they knew much more when it came to tender love making!
How did you decide upon the location for the film's shoot?
One thing that I absolutely knew was that the film had to be shot in the Himalayas. Now Ladakh being a Buddhist society, it was a best place to shot since no one earlier had attempted to make a film there. When we ventured into making a film there, it was a nightmare to be honest since this was the first ever feature film shot in Ladakh. I needed the landscape to be the face of the film since it was vital to the script. In a film belonging to any genre, things like a building, mountain or a river should play a vital role in a shot. A question that one needs to ask himself is "Why do I need this in my shot?" Hence you would see that location is vital to the film's plot.
What role does landscape play in the film?
Landscape doesn't just have a role to play. In fact it is one of the characters in the film. In the beginning of the film, you would see a barren land that demonstrates that there is not a single soul around. With a cold cutting wind blowing, there is emptiness all around and this is when you see the film's lead traveling with a mystical element in the proceeding. The moment you see green, you know that there is going to be lot of life around. There are men, women, fields - everything just seems like a normal country with a sense of familiarity settling in. The hero of the film matures as he interacts with 'samsara'! Then later autumn sets in that depicts that everything exists in harmony. It's true that I am not expecting audience to understand all of this but then as a director I feel satisfied when I convey certain decisions and emotions through visuals, colors and sound.
Generally there is a lot of mysticism surrounding Buddhists. Is the same apparent in your film as well?
Yes, you are right! And off course we have tried to capture the aura, mystery and other interesting things about the life of Buddhists. It was quite important to accurately film the way Buddhists live and that had to be reflected in overall production that ranged from design, costumes to everything else. There had to be authentic setup with not just people in medication all around but children playing in the fields too! I have to tell you something more. I was intrigued by old masters in the Himalayan region. I met a man who was 90 years old at that time and he also played a small role in the film. He shows Tashi some 'tantrik' designs and also gives him lessons of life. Another natural scene in the movie is when the film's hero wakes up after 3 years, 3 months and 3 days and takes a long time to actually start walking.
Did the locals get a chance to see a film shot in their own land?
Unfortunately I couldn't show them the film print but they did watch the VCD of the film since DVDs are a rarity in that region. The local community and the youth congress were pretty supportive about the film's screening. Also the film's shows keep happening in Sikkim while the video parlors also show the film time and again. Now SONY has also agreed to take the film to Gangtok and Darjeeling.
For a film like this, wasn't it difficult to get hold of a starcast that would suit the characters?
It was in fact a major casting challenge. For the role of Tashi, we chose Shawn Ku who is a Korean/American settled in New York and has acted in number of international projects before. Once he was cast, we had to go around searching for a girl. Luckily we came across Christy Chung who is like the Rani Mukherjee of Hong Kong and China. She is in fact the hottest star there today and is doing one of the biggest charity shows.
Your casting team must have faced a tough time to get your characters in place?
Oh yes! In fact they would bring in number of actors but that may not really click with me. Finally they even had to scream on me and ask, "WHAT DO YOU WANT?" and my polite answer to them would be as simple as, "All I can tell you is what I DON'T want!" In the end, it was all in right spirit since everyone was passionate about the project. The excitement continued to build as more and more actors came in front to be a part of the project.
With credentials like these, wasn't 'SAMSARA' an alien setup for them?
It was quite challenging for them and I am glad that they took this challenge sportingly. There were no trailer vans, makeup rooms or hotels to accommodate the crew. But still everyone was a part of the film since they were looking for a challenge. Someone like Christy Chung is an international celebrity who is considered to be a sex bomb in Korea, Singapore and other Far East countries but for 'SAMSARA' she stayed with the villagers and learned things like cooking, farming and agriculture to gain a feel of the character. She has done such an amazing job that she has to be seen to be believed. Rest of the starcast had people from places like Tibet, Dharamshala, Bangalore etc. There have even been some real Buddhists in the film who have never acted before. I had to ensure that the casting is right since I strongly believe that casting is what forms 50% of the film.
To be continuedâ€¦..