Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai, a slice of life film, will release on November 18, 2016. Producer, Purnima Mead, who developed the story from her personal experience, director Keshhav Panneriy, who also developed the screenplay, and executive producer Stanton Mead, spoke to Box Office India about their experiences while making the film. Over to them:
How was the story conceived?
Purnima Mead (PM): This was a very small idea which I had in my mind through my life’s experiences. Over the years I have seen the girl child in India and in the United States as to how different they are or how different they were once upon a time. I have grown up in India and later I moved to the US and I am a teacher so over the years I have experienced many stories, especially those related to growing up girls. While I was teaching in the US, there was a small girl who was crying while her mother was busy doing something and her elder daughter was present there too. So I asked the mother, ‘Why don’t you let the elder one take responsibility of her?’ And she immediately said, ‘No, she has her own life and I don’t want to ruin her childhood, she too is a kid.’ And that one sentence stuck in my mind and remained with me. In India the elder siblings take care of the younger ones. But this was obviously during our times in the ‘70s and ‘80s but now things have really changed in India, especially for women. So that’s how the idea stayed with me.
When did you start developing the script?
PM: Initially I thought I will make it as a documentary, but then I realised I was investing the same amount and the audience reach was less. That’s when I decided to make a short film out of it.
Keshhav, how did you come on board?
Keshhav Panneriy (KP): She discussed the idea with me; I am a pass out from the Toronto Film School and I was looking to direct a film. That’s when I met Purnima who had an idea and we both developed it over time.
PM: (Cuts in) Let me tell you it was Keshhav who suggested that we should make it as a feature film as the content was something which everyone will connect to.
KP: Yes, today as a filmmaker you have to be very careful with what you make, the audience has grown up and they instantly reject bad work. You might make something which has been created already but you have to tell the story in a way that the audience finds a connect with. We had to make the characters believable. The film travels through various eras from the ‘70s to today’s time. And this had to be done with the same set of people, which was the biggest challenge because travelling through various eras and connecting each scene and developing the story board was the challenge.
PM: And when we decided to make the film Keshhav and I had made sure of one thing, that we will fix everything according to the story line and that we won’t change the script. It was the screenplay which we wanted to follow but many a times if things don’t work out you end up changing things but we were clear that we will not compromise on the script.
Was casting a challenge?
KP: Yes, we could have gone to any of the big stars but I was looking for actors who didn’t have a particular image. Usually what happens is when you cast a big actor there is a mindset of the audience that this star is larger than life. So we chose Arbaaz Khan, we have been seeing him for so long but we never thought of him as only a villain, a lover boy or anything else, he is someone who gets into a character and whatever he plays, he becomes that. So does Manjari Fadnnis, we have been seeing her in various films and she too gets under the skin of every character she plays. So after a lot of struggle I got my casting right.
If I am not wrong you’re talking about woman empowerment and we have seen similar story lines, so how different is your film? Also how did you gave it an entertaining twist?
KP: This is my first film but obviously I have done my own research in understanding the audience’s likes and dislikes. You might make a film with any subject but one thing should be there in your film and that is entertainment. It can be a comedy film, a biopic, a serious film but the story should establish a connect and the audience should feel entertained and feel it is their own story. Our film has a social message and it’s a story which we have not seen on the big screen in India but it is something which all of us feel for.
We have many women characters in the film from Manjari to Surpiya Pathak and none of them are victims, here we are not playing the emotional game, they all are strong independent women characters. And that’s why you will connect with them, you will feel you have seen these characters or have had similar experiences. It is also an inspirational story.
Another interesting thing about the film is as I mentioned earlier is that it travels through various eras and also it talks about two countries one story is happening in India and one in the US. We shot the film in various geographies US, Washington DC, White House, West Virginia, Rajasthan and so many other locations. We have shot this film in 150 locations, which is huge, so it is a visual treat too. We explored everything from capturing the snow to indoor shooting.
Purnima, you are a newcomer that too from a non-filmy background so how tasking was it for you to enter a totally new territory?
PM: It was quite tasking because initially I was not aware of the filmmaking process, I can manage money but the creative department was that of Keshhav. For instance, Keshhav asked me for two cameras and I said, ‘No you shoot from only one, why do you need two cameras?’ so one day he asked me to see the difference and when I eventually saw what he means, I understood why we needed multiple cameras to shoot. We even shot with five cameras on certain days. So I never came between his creative calls but at the same time I also had to look at the budget. It is a new territory and I am still learning various processes.
KP: Yes, see as I mentioned the film starts from the ‘60s and it spans various eras so we have a lot of VFX and CG work in the film, to show those eras we needed those technologies, which when she understood, she gave a thumbs up to it.
Stanton, how aware are you of Bollywood?
Stanton Mead (SM): I do watch a few films as my wife Purnima watches them and she is very up to date with it all. All I know is the music in Bollywood films! But I know business, my degree helped me understand the business so I am the executive producer of the film and looked into the monies. See filmmaking as a process is somehow the same; it’s just that the work culture differs.
How did you finalise the title Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai?
SM: When you watch the trailer of the film you will see there are various characters and how from each era every character went on to live their lives inspite of crisis, for example Ashtosh Rana plays a king from Rajasthan he has everything but still there is something which hurts him, something he wants, so despite that he moves on to live his life. So that’s what you will see every character doing, hence Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai.