//Skin deep

Skin deep

Pan Nalin’s debut venture juxtaposes spirituality with sex, piles up awards

Aparna Chandra, Monday, Indian Express, June 26, 2006

Kolkata, June 24: One review of director Pan Nalin’s debut film Samsara by a London-based magazine uses ‘‘softcore sex’’ as a descriptor. The filmmaker doesn’t exactly flinch when you tell him that his creative venture about Tashi — a monk at a Buddhist monastery in Ladakh who chooses ordinary life to discover love, lust, relationships and materialism only to be left confused — is being called a ‘‘skin flick’’ on the entertainment circuit.

Instead, the 43-year-old says, ‘‘Do you think audiences in Thailand, Australia and Israel (where the film was dubbed in Hebrew), Mexico and Peru don’t have enough sexually explicit material to watch? They don’t need to opt for Samsara and make it among the top 10 grossers at the box office. I don’t need to make porn. It’s available everywhere.’’

Nalin (he’s actually Nalin Pandya) goes on to mention that the lovemaking scenes between Tashi (Shawn Ku) and Pema (Christy Chung) have been shot keeping in mind what women viewers would like to see —‘‘sensuality’’.

The film was made last year and has travelled the globe to several festivals, picking up a host of awards. But until now, ‘‘nobody was willing to show the film in India’’, says Nalin. ‘‘I was a filmworld nobody and they were sure there would be trouble with the censors.’’

But since word of Samsara’s feats have been out, Nalin has had Bollywood knocking at his door. He’s ready with his second project starring Naseeruddin Shah and Milind Soman. Valley of Flowers, a quirky love story about a bandit who takes a shot at immortality, will open at this year’s Osian Film Festival in Delhi. And crossing genres, Nalin is in the process of writing a ‘‘horror film’’.

It all seems far removed from the years of his growing up in the village of Khijadiya in Gujarat’s Saurashtra region. His father ran a tea stall at the railway junction and Nalin travelled three hours by train to the nearest government Gujarati medium school, where he often bunked classes to watch a film. ‘‘I’d trade my lunch for a seat,’’ he laughs.

The script for Samsara had been ready for six years, but no one was willing to finance it. ‘‘They all said I had no experience and that I didn’t come from a film school,’’ says Nalin, based out of Paris for the past 12 years. So he went about doing docu-projects for BBC, Discovery Channel and National Geographic, and travelled extensively. ‘‘That’s how I made my money and contacts,’’ he says. Today, he’s ready to open a Mumbai office of the production firm Monsoon Films, in which he is a partner.