Why filmmaker Vinod Pande is finally at peace

The director of Ek Baar Phir (1979) and Star (1982) talks to about his experiences of filming those films and his early days as a BBC Hindi broadcaster.

Photo: Shutterbugs Images

Sonal Pandya

Fresh off the release of his second book, Saanvri: The Story of a Concubine, filmmaker-turned-author Vinod Pande has finally found his happy space. He ventured into the unknown with his first film, Ek Baar Phir (1979), shot entirely in the UK and made several films before working in television with the shows Air Hostess and Reporter.

These days, besides writing, Pande has his own YouTube channel where one can views his movies, short films and original content created by him. He is currently working on a series of video blogs called Desee Moron. spoke to Pande at his Lokhandwala home about his former life as a BBC Hindi broadcaster, the difficult journey of making his debut feature and the lessons he’s learned since then.

Like most people from the film industry, Vinod Pande came to Mumbai in the 1960s hoping to become an actor. But because of his education, he was able to emigrate to the UK. He explained, “In those days, there used to be an employment voucher scheme for people from the commonwealth so I went off to London. Because of my masters in industrial relations and personnel management, I could qualify for it.”

Pande was also a civil servant for the British government where he worked in the income tax department. On top of that, he joined the BBC broadcast division. “I was in the Hindi news services of BBC. Here in India, I had also done radio. [But] my mind was still in films. I used to go to the British Film Institute library and study into the night. I even did a diploma course. By doing that, my intellectual orientation changed. And I thought, ‘I think I should go for a life behind the camera.’ I adjusted myself. After that, I put up plays, with my own money. I made a documentary called India in London, about people in Southall. At that point, I had a choice to either continue in civil service or take some time off, without pay. I took the advice of my senior colleague at the BBC. He told me, ‘If you’ve made up your mind to do this, leave!’,” he said.

He was told that advertisements could be made in 150 pounds so he started his own advertising agency. “My first ad film was made for 90 pounds and then I started my own agency because I realised I could make money. My office was only a minute away from Oxford Circus [where] I had a three-floor building on rent. The top floor had an editing room and a small apartment where I lived as I was already separated from my wife. The second floor had a small studio where Ek Baar Phir was shot. But I realised by [doing that] my creativity was lessened once I did that because I also had to manage the books.”'

By this time, Pande was already writing the script of what would become Ek Baar Phir. He reminisced those days. “During the day, I worked at my agency while I did the BBC duty at night of reading news. The second news transmission would arrive in India at 7.10 am which I would record at midnight in London. During the time, in between, I would write my script. But it took me a year after that figuring out finances for the film. Some people even wasted my time. It was only God who was determined to help me [make Ek Baar Phir]. Otherwise, it would have been stranded.”

Pande called himself “an industrious chap” who pulled many strings to get the film made. But a particular incident at that time was the turning point which allowed him to make Ek Baar Phir. Pande remembers the time quite clearly when he was alone at his office. “The film was to start shooting in a day or two and [I’ve been] particular all my life that when I commit to something I go through it. We had fixed a salary of 60 pounds a week for seniors including the director, cameraman, and actors and 50 pounds a week for juniors. Now that’s a lot of money [when] you have to pay for so many people. I suddenly felt depressed and scared that nothing should happen to me. I made myself a cup of tea and got down on my knees. I was crying, I literally did this (puts hands together in a prayer pose). I had bought a book called The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale, when my life was going through a difficult period, especially with my ex-wife, I used to read the book. It said, when you think nothing in the world is going right, [then] get down to your knees and pray. Tell Him this, ‘I take you as my partner’. And trust me, I literally got down like that. I asked him to save me otherwise it will be humiliating for me. I tell you after that I never looked back. I don’t know what energy came over me.”

Personally, it was the worst time for him but still he soldiered through and made the film. Ek Baar Phir (1979), starring Deepti Naval, Suresh Oberoi and Pradeep Verma, was a sleeper hit. After that more film offers began to come in. He made Yeh Nazdeekiyan (1982), another film on extra-marital affairs. Fellow filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt had made Arth (1982) with Shabana Azmi (who was also in Yeh Nazdeekiyan), Smita Patil and Kulbhushan Kharbanda.

During this period, Pande got associated with a musical project with Biddu who was also from England. The project proved to be a learning experience for him and he was at loggerheads with him from the start. “Biddu had become a very big star here for his song ‘Aap Jaisa Koi’. HMV had already launched an album, Disco Deewane and it became a major hit. They took it up that there should be another one and let’s make a film out of it. He had seen Rajendra Kumar’s Love Story (1981) and he said, ‘I want this boy.’ Biddu said he looks like me. Biddu was too full of himself and they went to meet Rajendra Kumar. After watching Ek Baar Phir, Rajendra ji (was very proud of me suddenly. [It was] complete elder brother [behaviour], first he would scold me and then push me up. Kumar suggested my name to them.”

Usually, Pande writes his own films but for Star (1982), Biddu was writing the script. He said, “It was a very bad script and I did not want to get into the picture. At least thrice I tried to resign [from] the film, but I couldn’t resign. It was the biggest film of its time. Screen [magazine] went into colour printing with this film. But I didn’t enjoy myself. For a few days, I tried writing myself then went back to what we had. We had constant fights. Biddu used to walk like a cowboy to my flat in Juhu to persuade me. In the end, I went back to England, then they took permission from me over the phone to proceed with the film. After that film, I fell so hard. He never forgave me, it was a big flop.”

Obviously, Pande was dejected by the film’s failure but few people like Mahesh Bhatt encouraged him despite Star’s box office status. Bhatt told Pande he showed real growth in the film as a technician. He recalled, “I was running myself down for that film. We didn’t have much [camera equipment] like that, no jimmy jibs, nothing like that. We used to experiment on the trolley. With desperation, we became technicians. I didn’t even have a trolley on Ek Baar Phir. I used a crane for the first time with Yeh Nazdeekiyan. In Star, despite calling foreign technicians, they made such a stupid film. But eventually, it all fell on me. Then I had to carry it, it’s always the director’s name [on a film].”

After a few films in the 1980s with Ek Naya Rishta (1988) and Sach (1989), Pande explains he switched to television as an escape route. There were disagreements in that medium as well, but Pande insisted on sticking with his method of storytelling. He rues, “You learn too late!”

On the current crop of Hindi films, he feels that “completely escapist cinema has always been a part of Hindi films. It’s a great tragedy I tell you because we have such fine technicians and we have access to the finest in that terms. But in terms of aesthetics, sensibility, we capitalise on retardation. On the other hand, there some great films, I feel very bad that I’m not a part of it. I loved Piku (2015) with Amitabh Bachchan and Deepika Padukone.”

With his new career as an author, he feels at peace with himself. “I have to only look in the mirror and answer myself. I feel very happy with myself.” Pande will still continue to filmmaking in some sort of way and puts in his own money for his short films and web series.

Pande said, “I have found here is a space I should take very seriously and work. Because here I don’t have completely depend on financiers. I don’t have to depend on any distributor or any exhibitor. I’ve learned that my stuff has been liked by an audience. For an indie filmmaker, this is heaven.  You don’t have to show your script to anyone or don’t have to stand in line anywhere. Most of today’s executives are not on the same wavelength.”