Vinod Pande is a name that many Indian filmgoers will recognise. As an auteur whose body of work has spanned three decades and includes films such as Ek Baar Phir, Yeh Nazdeekiyan and Sins, this filmmaker has never shied from taking up a challenging story telling project. He has often been accused of courting controversy but that hasn’t in any way stopped him from telling provocative stories. Mr. Pande is now on a new adventure….as an author. His debut book Don’s Wife is not for the faint-hearted as, like many of his films, it explores the dark side of human nature. It gives me great pleasure to bring to you this veteran filmmaker turned author…
Congratulations on the release of your debut book, Don’s Wife. As a filmmaker who has dealt mainly with cinema as a medium for storytelling, how was your experience of writing a book? And what in your view is the one factor that differentiates novel writing from scriptwriting?
Thanks. Writing the book has at once been a cathartic and self-elevating experience for me. Cathartic, because you are able to pour out whatever you felt and whichever way you felt at any particular point of your writing. Self-elevating, because I feel, unawares, something happens to you while you write. In the un-encumbered situation of writing a book where you don’t have to worry much about the considerations of length, cost or commercial aspects as you have to for a film, you find yourself transformed a little bit. Become more honest with yourself. Gradually you even begin to get more daring, not much bothered about what people might say, how they might react etc…It begins to turn into a journey of self-discovery.
Essential difference in writing for a book and writing for a film is of form. In a book, you are directly relating with the intended person, the reader; hence, I suppose you have to be more vivid with the internal state of mind, the emotional pitch of a character, just as his environment. In a film you are essentially relating with the participants who get together to make a film; the technicians, the actors, the production-planners…Hence a film or a TV script is more technical a document, though in many cases, just as mine, even a film script can be quite detailed in terms of emotional and situational brief.
Could you tell us a bit about how the story of Don’s Wife evolved.
The germ of the story came from a real life happening at the turn of the century. It was one of the stories in my TV series “D-LINE” which like my other TV series, “REPORTER”, drew inspiration for its content from real life cases. Amazingly, the triangular situation of the real life characters seemed to be straight out of the soil which had nourished some of my films. Empathy and entrancing captivation was inevitable…Of course, there was a don, there was a wife. Many saw in that only the underworld retribution, crime, killings. I thought there could be a human story too, of love, of pain, of unusual bonding.
You once said that boy-meets-girl story never appealed to you. But given the complex and dark characters that you have portrayed in your book, do you feel that readers will relate to them?
As I said, writing a book is also a self-elevating process, which cannot be so unless it is self-liberating too. It liberates you from the constricting propositions as that of readers’ reactions etc. It allows you the freedom to venture into territories that were not charted before. For me, exploring ‘complex and dark characters’ is an intoxicating opportunity, be it for a book or a film. Honestly speaking, I strongly believe that we underestimate our readers or viewers. If it were not so, then a huge repository of such literature or films in many languages would not have come about worldwide.
Which among all the characters in your book did you most relate to and why?
The author of a book is essentially like a parent to his/her offspring. Each character fictionally created or otherwise, emerges from the deep recesses of an author’s imagination formed or affected by the time and space influences around him. Nevertheless, if I were to detach myself from the writer of the book, I feel that Harsh would present himself as the most complex and consequently the most fascinating character of the novel. He is the most human and thus the most tragic character too. He has the failings of an ordinary human when driven by his selfishness he wants to opt for flying out to London to join his college when he has just learnt of his father’s brutal murder. He is the most tragic character when he has the incapacitating misfortune of hearing his wife’s confession about her adulterous relationship and yet has to act with the equanimity of a God in his role as the Don. And he is blisteringly fragile when he confesses to his dead wife’s lover.
‘“Everyone dreams, dreams!” He considered the situation philosophically for a moment and then said softly, “I did too.”’
Do you have any plans to make a film based on your book?
It is a very tempting thought because the book so easily lends itself for a film. But it would call for big stars to do justice to the characters, which is very difficult for me to access given my present stature in the Hindi film industry. Hence, I suppose I would be happy if some other filmmaker were to take the initiative and make the film.
You have always explored bold themes in your films. Ek Baar Phir was about extra marital relationships at a time when discussing that in a movie was almost taboo. Again in Sins you explored the dark side of religion. You seem to attract controversy with your films/stories. Your comments?
I assure you I don’t go looking for controversy, it’s just that the straight and simple is not all that exciting for me. Negative emotions such as guilt, lies, deception…hide so much, yet tell you so much. I suppose it’s the question of one’s poison. Perhaps my poison is life’s dilemmas, getting to a situation where you can’t easily decide, what turn to take…!
What are your views on screenwriting in Indian movies today. Do you feel that Hindi cinema is exploring different kinds of stories? Or are we stuck in a storytelling rut?
It is half a step forward and then two steps backwards. We are certainly changing, but only tentatively. Yes, every once in a while our filmmakers defy formulaic storytelling which is considered to be safe and financially rewarding. Last night I saw a beautiful film “QUEEN” which filled me with so much hope and so much spirit, not only because I liked it, but because of the audience which astounded me with its positive response in a full house. So much so that I’m inspired to get on with one of my favourite subjects, “DIN KE ANDHERE MEIN” about honour killing.
That’s great news that you haven’t yet hung up your filmmaking boots. Besides, you have already started work on your next book. Is it a sequel to Don’s Wife or is it a different story altogether?
My next book is not a sequel. “SAANVRI – story of a concubine” is a moving saga of love, betrayal and female exploitation in the backdrop of feudalism and political machinations in today’s Rajasthan. Like Don’s Wife, this powerful story is also inspired from a real life character in the not too distant past. It was first written as a script for a film. Writing the book has been both tantalising and enormously fulfilling thus far. A sequel to Don’s Wife is likely to happen some day. Perhaps a Don’s Daughter!
Thanks so much, Mr. Pande, for sharing your novel writing journey with us and good luck with all your future projects!