I am a responsible filmmaker and my next film will again have a social message,” is what filmmaker Nila Madhab Panda had promised when he had hit the big league with 'I am Kalam', a film that received rave reviews and numerous national and international awards last year.
True to his words, the helmer is back this year with 'Jalpari—The Desert Mermaid' which was screened at the Marche Du Cannes at the Cannes Film Festival recently. “If 'I Am Kalam' was inspired by Dr Abdul Kalam and portrayed a young boy’s journey towards achieving his dreams, 'Jalpari' is an adventure-thriller based on female foeticide.
“I have been working on the issue for a long time. I always wanted to do a mainstream, entertaining film on the subject and 'Jalpari' is the outcome. It’s a film for the masses, full of suspense, thrill, fun with new genre music,” says Panda, who ensures that his movies-with-a-social-message are not dark or preachy.
“Why would someone pay Rs 300 for lessons on society? One would not mind paying for being entertained, and I pack both with a good message in my film.”
Panda was applauded widely for his 52-episode TV series 'Atmajaa' on female foeticide, telecast on DD. He also made three TV spots on the subject for the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and Plan International.
'Jalpari' is shown through the eyes of two kids, Shreya and her brother Sam, who visit their paternal village for the first time during vacations. Contrary to their picturesque imagination, they find dusty alleys, dried-up ponds and hostile playmates, until they spin their magic and befriend a group of kids. The story revolves around the adventures of the duo, who are intrigued by strangely-behaving villagers, a witch, and a no-access zone beyond the hills. The mystery starts unfolding when Shreya follows their maid Shabri and her husband one night, to discover a horrific secret the village harbours. Featuring Lehar Khan, Krishang Trivedi, Harsh Mayar, Parvin Dabas, Suhasini Mulay, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Salman and Rahul Singh, the Rs 4.5 crore film is slated for a July 20 release.
Panda showers praises on the child artiste Lehar Khan who plays the protagonist in the movie. “You will see another Khan in Bollywood and she is going to rock, once the film releases,” says the filmmaker who devoted seven years to the film. Though the production took two years, it was the scripting that was his most daunting task, he feels.
“I had to keep four things in mind while making the film — how to deal with adults, kids, the entertainment factor and control on the issue. Besides, shooting too was equally arduous. I had five kids with me, it was winter and we shot at night, running through mountains and jungles. It was tough,” explains Panda, who has 70 documentaries, short films, TV dramas and corporate and ad films to his credit. He has also made films for DD, BBC, Discovery, National Geographic and private producers, globally.
Produced by Sushil Kr Agrawal, the first screening got a good response from buyers and other participants, and it will soon start its journey in the festival circuit. “Since the film was not complete, I could not send it for official selection at Cannes, but invites from many festivals have already been lined up,” said an enthusiastic Panda.