His films Chalbaaz and Jalwa were box-office hits. The TV serial Karamchand, with Pankaj Kapur as the detective of the title and Sushmita Mukherjee as his assistant, is considered a cult classic.
Geetanjali Minhas | October 10, 2018 | Mumbai
His films Chalbaaz and Jalwa were box-office hits. The TV serial *Karamchand*, with Pankaj Kapur as the detective of the title and Sushmita Mukherjee as his assistant, is considered a cult classic. Pankaj Parashar, known for the twists in his film plots as much as the kooky angles of the shots, has some firsts to his credit too: computer animation for the titles of Jalwa, as early as 1986; virtual sets and weapons in the movie Rajkumar in 1996. His company, Mazaa Films, well-known for TV serials, docus, corporate films and computer graphics has won most major awards in the country.
How has the film and television industry changed over the years?
With multiplexes, the audience has segregated. There is an 'all-India hit' and there's a 'city multiplex hit'. As against cut-and-dried, black-and-white themes of earlier films, now there is a wider range of subjects. Earlier, there were clear distinctions: there was art film, say those of Mani Kaul or Kumar Sahani, and there was commercial cinema of the Manmohan Desai type. But now we have the Masaans and DevDs, which are different but do well at the box-office. Mobiles are fast replacing the big screen. Soon, they might become the first screen of choice for people.
How is technology changing content in the industry?
Both short films and features are reaching more people on mobile phones and if you are good you can communicate from your room itself to ten million people. Take a person like Amit Bhadana (YouTuber with a comedy channel) who has more than 10 million subscribers, whom he got in no more than three years. There was a time it took 6-8 years even to get a landline phone, and that too by using some influence. Now everyone has a phone. Also look at how India dominates technology and the Silicon Valley. The ancient Indian carbon brain seems to have an affinity for the silicon that gone into computers.
How does the social and political climate in the country impact your creative expression?
Time is a device for us to interpret reality in order to perceive it. The human race has not had enough time to really develop as yet. We are at an infantile stage. So I often take a detached attitude to any present political situation. You have to look at it with humour and hopefully maturity. During the Emergency, we would have blank front pages! I thought it would go on forever and we shall never have freedom again. It was terrifying but it got over. People complain about controlled press at the moment.
The social and political climate is like huge elephant for the blind, and subject to individual viewpoints. The statistics can be seen from different angles. Have the poor benefited? Yes and no. Is there an undemocratic stance by the powers that be? Yes and no. This country is too vast to arrive at a convenient answer about the performance of any government. And there are too many factors at play -- from the rains and the weather to the present health of the fiscal brains trust at the centre.
In big cities, it is fashionable to be anti-government. For me to comment on social and political ongoings is very myopic. My cinema is about the climate of the human race. It is about our place in the universe and what has gone wrong with the human race. My film *Aasman Se Gira*, which I made in 1989 for the Children’s Film Society, was about an alien who comes to earth by mistake and cannot find his way back. It is a comment on the human race as a whole: he realises everything is fine on this planet, except the human race. It's about war and about selling grain to buy guns. I may be apolitical to the present, yet very political to creation as a whole. My film *Banaras: A Mystic Love Story* goes beyond that. It talks of humanity as a whole, as a race that has lost touch with the source and needs to connect fast. The known avatars have been few and created more confusion than warmth. At present the house is on fire and remedies are needed. We have already blown the mesosphere and the stratosphere. Our oceans are going to quit on us. Earth will go on but our race will have to be recreated.
What does governance mean to you?
It is like a glass that is half full or half empty. The rulers should really get together and realise they are here for a finite time and have nothing to lose if they all come together keeping their little differences aside and work for the common good.
What are the governance issues that matter to you the most?
News channels must know that there is a world beyond news headlines and TRPs. They should take up issues that can help humans. They are just not doing that. Shouting at India-Pakistan issues is no use. They should find out what is happening to budgets for those below the poverty line, they should find out about gas cylinders, the economy, pollution, funds for farmers etc.
How can the government help promote creativity?
They can first put the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), a source of creativity that sustains the industry, in order, since the cameramen, editors, sound recordists (some of them Oscar winners), and most of the prominent filmmakers come from there. That is not happening. They are ignoring it. Films of people like David Dhawan, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Vinod Chopra and Raju Hirani and a host of others who have come out from FTII have paid enough taxes including entertainment tax and the centre has earned plenty of money. In other words, their films have paid back much more money as compared to what FTII has spent on all students combined. Government should pump in the money to make it better.
What are the major challenges India is facing today?
If our parliamentarians decide to work for people and forget about issues like elections, Swiss bank accounts and having names on postage stamps, it will help humanity. This requires maturity and is not likely to happen. They should be made to sit together and given counselling. Life is temporary and having statues at street corners has no meaning in afterlife. Drop your infantile desires and work for the good of the people.
We have a major challenge of putting things together. The amount of money spent on a single day's war worldwide can feed all the children for an entire year! Some 19 crore people sleep hungry every day! We should be crying ourselves hoarse on addressing such issues. Instead, we are discussing whether Saif Ali Khan's kid should be called Taimur or not!
What is your message to aspiring directors?
If you are right-brained, a creative person like a poet, artist, writer or singer, you may have to work harder and yet sustain the sensitivity that you are born with. As Kurt Vonegut said, when there is lack of oxygen the canaries die first. People with right brain minds are the canaries, the sensitive ones, who have to fight harder to survive but they will inherit the earth, as the wise book says.
Your memorable moments:
After completing my studies at FTII at 23, when I shot the Goga snake cult festival, at which Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs worship. As I lay on the temple floor with a camera in my hand, with three tall Sikhs worshippers whipping themselves with steel chains and drops of blood spurting on my clothes, I realised what fear of unknown forces can make us humans do. Similar memorable experiences are of discovering and learning about Mahavatar Babaji; meeting Sri M, who had incredible experiences in the Himalayas and described them to me; visiting the house where Mahavatar Babaji appeared in Banaras to his first disciple Shyama Charan Lahiri; seeing the book on kriya yoga that Babaji dictated and communicated to Lahiri, who has written it down in his handwriting; being told that Mahavatar Babaji wants me to paint him. I took six months on the painting and it has been put up in an ashram in Karjat, where it is worshipped.
Equally memorable is my discovery of computer animation, which happened very early. I explored the digital creative world intensely and was interviewed by BBC after some tech breakthroughs that I achieved in Indian films. I also enjoy digital painting.
You are spiritually inclined. How has this influenced you and your craft?
I suppose it has given me confidence to attempt various genres. From the whacky comedy Peecha Karo to Karamchand to Chaalbaaz to the spiritual Banaras: A Mystic Love Story and a series of documentaries on Kalki-Amma Bhagawan and his Oneness Ashram in south India. I've actually seen him enlighten people. The Japanese saint Kenji Nakanishi described to me his experience of the universe vanishing and him being one with creation! My spiritual curiousity makes me tread paths with my camera that my other filmmaking buddies don't venture near.
What are the challenges you have faced in your work?
There is always a movie you want to make before dying. Now I want to make Ramayana in virtual reality.
The greatest influence in your life:
As a student at FTII, I discovered its entire archive of 9,000 films, and we'd watch three films a day by the greatest filmmakers of the world. We now have the internet, but not then... We were allowed to take films from the archive and study them on the Steenbeck (flatbed editing machines), no questions asked. It was pure joy!
Currently you are busy with:
A comedy I am shooting in Mauritius. We have not named it yet, and the quintessential detective thriller series for the web. This time as funny and whacky as but a wee bit darker than Karamchand.
(The interview appears in October 15, 2018 edition)
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