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Think small, reap big
for a social cause Nila Madhab Panda (far right) with (from left) Beatrice Ordiex, Gulshan Grover, Harsh Mayar and Hussan Saad in New Delhi.
“Independent Cinema, if created with artistic content, reflecting true India in an entertaining way, has a big potential market. In a country that produces the maximum number of films in the world every year, most films fail because of lack of content,” says director Nila Madhab Panda.
Delhi-based Panda, who hails from a remote village in Orissa, is part of India's emerging generation of innovative filmmakers with the international success of his debut feature film I Am Kalam.
Produced by the NGO Smile Foundation, the film premiered at the Market Section of the Cannes film festival, and with its theatrical release across India, is set to make waves here too.
The director says the film is inspirational and touching, focusing on the importance of small joys in life. “It's all about how you can win the world with a smile. You can achieve your goal if you work hard.” He says the plot revolves around the life of a poor struggling kid, Chhotu (played by Harsh Mayar), and how he overcomes obstacles to fulfil his dream. “Chhotu works as a helper at a dhaba (local restaurant) in a small village. He dreams of going to school and becoming a successful person. One day, while working, he comes across an interview of the then President of India, Abdul Kalam on TV. Inspired by the interview, he becomes all the more committed to fulfil his dream, and finally achieves it,” says Panda.
Gulshan Grover plays the dhaba owner in the film. Panda says the film is inspired by former President APJ Abdul Kalam's philosophy of life. He adds the film is important from the point of view of content for children, “as in India, very little home-grown content is available as far as children's cinema and TV are concerned”.
This is an area of focus for Panda, who has also founded the International Screenwriting Lab in India in partnership with Performing Arts Lab, London, with the aim to create “quality family and children cinema scripts in Asian Cinema”, as part of his movement for “Indian new wave cinema, which is changing the face of Bollywood”. Praising Harsh, who comes from Dakshinpuri, a slum area, Panda says, “Harsh is a very sensible actor with correct visual emotions. He makes you fall in the love with the character, and that's what got him the National Award.”
Showcased in over 25 leading international festivals, the film has won many awards, including the Best Child Artiste at the recently-announced 58th National Film Awards, Best Feature Film at the 41st International Film Festival of India, Goa 2010, and Lucas International Film Festival, Germany 2010. Panda also received the Aravindan Puraskaram for Best Debut Director.
Panda says he always had an inclination towards social issues. “In my college days, I was much involved in politics. I was a positive dictator. My college is in Sohnpuri near Kalahandi. It's a very poor area and I belong to it. I spent less time in college and worked more outside the college, in the village for social welfare,” says the filmmaker who dropped out of college without completing his graduation. He says his motive in entering was to get a bigger platform for promoting social causes.
A veteran of over 65 documentaries, short films, television drama and corporate and advertising films in the past 14 years, Panda says his association with Barbara Brocolli (producer of James Bond films) and Robin Romanov at a very early stage in his career gave him a strong understanding of contemporary storytelling methods.
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