One monsoon, late at night, on a flooded road in Mumbai, a beggar woman was floating on her back and loudly singing a Hindi film song to herself. He froze. And kept looking at her for a long time. He still remembers those lyrics.
That was the moment when filmmaker Anup Singh thought about his next movie 'Lasya/Gentle Dance'. The director behind critically-acclaimed films including ‘Qissa' (Irrfan Khan, Tillotama Shome, Tisca Chopra and Rasika Duggal) and 'The Song of the Scorpions' (Irrfan Khan, Waheeda Rehman and Golshifteh Farahani) reveals that his next is a story is about a six-year old child, her mother and grandmother --- three generations of beggar-women on the streets of Mumbai, as the city and nature -- in the form of ferocious rains -- unleash their destructive force on them.
For him, 'Lasya', emerges shadowy and iridescent with the flooding waters. The waters, so intensely and irrevocably fused together with what we see as the epitome of civilisation - the city.
"But what, really, is a city without the life-force of each of its inhabitants? The film, then, is a celebration of the heroic ability of human beings to keep struggling against monstrous forces. This movie is about a women's ability to celebrate life by enduring and prevailing -- not only over all kinds of violence, but, more importantly, over the bitterness and cynicism they carry within themselves," says Singh.
'The Song of Scorpions', one of Irrfan Khan's unreleased films, which also stars major Iranian-French actor Golshifteh Farahani will soon be released in a limited number of cinemas in major Indian cities before finding a home on an OTT platform, besides being released in France later this summer.
Singh, who had convinced Khan to do a solo performance on stage based on Fyodor Dostoevsky's 'Notes from the Underground', directed by him, which would have been the actor's first appearance on stage post passing out from the National School of Drama (NSD) almost 30 years ago, says, "He was exhilarated at the thought of returning to theatre again. The Underground Man introduces himself with the words, 'I am a sick man... I am a spiteful man. I am an unpleasant man...' You can see why this character would excite both Irrfan and me so passionately. It gave an actor like Irrfan the chance to start with no real sense of character, but simply with impulses. He could go in contradictory directions, sing or scream or both together. He could reflect, wander away. At every turn, he was sure to find no single answer for the mystery of this character."
Recalling that he was all set to do a third movie with Khan after the actor told him that though he kept casting him in his films, all his movies were essentially women-centric. "That's when I told him that we will work together in a film with a male protagonist. Except, he likes to dress up as a woman. Irrfan burst out laughing and said, "Only you could bring me these challenges. When do we start?""
All set to start writing scripts for two films to be directed by him based on award winning writer Marie N' Diaye's novel 'Three Strong Women', Singh smiles that what excites him most about this project is the fact that it will allow him to go to Africa, where he was born and lived till his teenage years. While the first of the two French language films will be set in contemporary Paris, the other will find a home in Senegal.
"These stories were about the life that could have been mine if I had continued to live in Africa. Also, the women Marie N'Diaye has written about in this novel reflect, in so many ways those in my earlier films. But, more than that, they also suggest paths in my work that I have not taken as yet."
For someone who believes in coming to the set extremely well-prepared when it comes to constructing shots, in a way that accidents that ignite a frame are encouraged. And those that do not carry a creative charge, dropped, relates closely to Stanislavski's phrase: "To begin from oneself or to leave oneself."
"I could say that I begin from myself as my works up to now have all circled around the themes of 'refugee' and 'exile'.
But it's obviously impossible to see the expanse of these themes without taking leave of oneself. I'm constantly returning, constantly departing.
It's literally a journey, then, my method, if one could call it that. It's more a way of life. The journey is into the unknown --- 'Qissa', for instance, started with an unexpected meeting with an elder from my family who told me of his nightmare. At the time of the partition, when his village was attacked, the women of the village, including his wife and daughter, threw themselves into the village well. Even after all these years, he dreams every night of his daughter waiting for him in the well. That was beginning of that film. 'The Song of Scorpions' was a dream that I kept having after I first heard about the gruesome rape of a young woman on a bus in Delhi. I was haunted by the tragedy and the dream and I understood that there was only one way I could drive it out of me."