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Interview Hindi

IFFI 2017: Even a small film with good content can get an opening, says Pihu director Vinod Kapri

In a conversation with Cinestaan.com, the National Award winning filmmaker talks about the inspiration for the film and his reaction on being selected for IFFI.

Sukhpreet Kahlon

There have been a few films in the history of Hindi cinema that have focused on the travails of a child in order to make a larger comment on society. A notable addition to the list is Vinod Kapri’s Pihu, which opened the Indian Panorama section at the 48th International Film Festival of India (IFFI) on 21 November, in Panjim, Goa. 

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Chetan Anand’s Aakhri Khat (1966), a small budget experimental film about a toddler wandering the streets, offered a stark comment on the apathy of the city. Drawing its inspiration from Khwaja Ahmad Abbas’s Munna (1954), the film followed a 15-month-old boy, in search of his mother. Pihu's focus, however, is indoors. The film offers a sharp criticism of the ruptures caused in the life of a child with the breakdown of the relationships around. 

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The film is a critique on the lives we lead and the society we live in. It foregrounds the sheer helplessness of a child who bears the brunt of failed relationships. The narrative is centered on a two-year-old Pihu as she navigates her way through the perilous terrain of her home. Her reactions to situations and her home is what keeps the audience riveted to her story and ultimate fate.

In a conversation with Cinestaan.com, the National Award winning filmmaker talks about the inspiration for the film and his reaction on being selected for IFFI.

You were working as a journalist before you became a filmmaker, and have been engaged with several social issues through your journalistic career and films. What was the inspiration behind making this film?

This film is based on a real-life incident. At the time when this incident took place I was working with a news channel and the incident got the space of just 20-30 seconds in the news and a single column in the newspaper.

But I was really shaken up after reading about it and felt that I must make a film on it. The incident is a reflection of our society, of our family, and the way there is a communication gap between the family members, wherein couples are fighting over frivolous issues and taking drastic steps. In all this, ultimately, it is the children who suffer. 

Initially, I thought of telling the story through the point of view of the parents but felt that in a relationship, a child is the symbol of life and is so beautiful, so I feel that couples should think about the life of the children while fighting.

While focused on a child, your film is also about the breakdown of society and the family. It offers a strong comment on the apathy in society. But even though Pihu focuses on all this, there are no adults shown in the film. Why was that important for your film?

Because those faces are everywhere, in every apartment, in every city — whether in Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, any city. Most of the times, we do not bother about what is happening in our neighbours’ flat and their lives. So, I thought that those faces — be it the father or the neighbour — represent society. People should imagine and think that perhaps they also behave like these characters (in the film). So this was a conscious decision.

How difficult was it to direct a child who was not even two years old? It reminded me of Chetan Anand’s film Aakhri Khat (1966) where a child wanders around the city of Mumbai and Anand had apparently followed the child around with cameras to get the natural reactions to situations. What was the method that you used to capture a child’s emotions?

When I met the girl Pihu for the first time, she was only a year and 9 months old, but I realized that she was the girl I was looking for as she was talkative and very active. Before going for the shoot, I spent almost 5-6 months with her and would spend almost 2-3 hours every day with her. I recorded many videos of her and took extensive notes. 

I rewrote the entire screenplay as per her behavior and if you notice, every scene was written according to what she did naturally. This was our homework and many a times she didn’t even realise that she was being filmed, she was going about what she would do naturally. But we deliberately put her in certain situations for the film and filmed her with three cameras. 

The other integral part where the film came together was in the edit. In many places, we didn’t get what we wanted, so we used bits from other places. We had around 64 hours of footage and the film is about 94 minutes long in its final stage, so you can imagine the kind of work that it took!

The editing is integral to creating the tension, as the audience is at the edge of their seats in some moments in the film. But your film features a child as the protagonist and there aren’t many contemporary films that are about children or feature them as central characters. Was that a consideration at all while making the film?

The film is not really about children, it’s about adults, because the child is in a situation created by adults. We say that every child deserves a parent but I do not think that every parent deserves a child. As an adult, one should behave responsibly towards children but if there is mistrust in a relationship or some false egos etc, why should they give birth to a child? So, this film is for the parents.

Still from Pihu

Your film was chosen as the opening film for the Indian Panorama section which is a great honour. What was your reaction to Pihu being chosen?

In 2015, in my second year as a filmmaker, I came to IFFI just to get a sense of the festival and I was thinking that one day my film will also be showcased here. To be chosen as the opening film of Indian Panorama (section) is like a dream for me.

I still can’t believe that this is happening to me. I started making films following Majid Majidi and Raju (Rajkumar) Hirani. They are like gods for me. In fact, Raju Hirani told me that I should start making films and was wasting my time in journalism. And it is a dream come true that Majidi’s film was the opening film for the International Competition section and mine was chosen for Indian Panorama! 

This fact is really unbelievable and I am really honoured and the best part, which is very encouraging, is that even if you have a small film with good content, the film can get an opening at IFFI. This is a huge morale boost for filmmakers like me. I’m really happy and enjoying the moment!

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