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No Kids’ Stuff, This

Paakhi Tyrewala has plenty to be proud of. The first-time director has pulled off a coup of sorts with her debut film, Pahuna, which is already making waves on the festival circuit. Tyrewala, in conversation with Bhakti Mehta, talks about the fine line between entertainment and emotion, and her collaboration with her producer Priyanka Chopra

 When Paakhi Tyrewala started her career as an assistant director, she never dreamt she would one day set a cinematic record, that too with her first directorial. Her film, Pahuna, produced by actress Priyanka Chopra’s Purple Pebble Productions, is the first first-ever film to receive the backing of the Sikkim government. It also received a standing ovation at the Toronto International Film Festival recently.

Finally finding the time to look at her film in perspective, after its release, Tyrewala says, “I have started enjoying the entire experience because I am back with my family. I am also very relieved that we didn’t get any gaalis (Laughs). The thing is that Pahuna has a very strong message. It is about displaced children, the impact of adults on the lives of these children, their decisions, their fears. There is this whole thing of religious animosity but no one stops to think about the impact it has on children.”

Tyrewala says that although Pahuna has a social message, it is an atypical film. “Pahuna doesn’t make the audience feel guilty. It surprises them. It is a happy film, unlike many others that send out a message. The whole idea was to get people to understand what I am trying to say while also being entertained. When I saw both these things happening, it was extremely satisfying.”

The young filmmaker says there is a fine line between entertainment and emotion. “As a filmmaker, you want to do things when you make a movie. One is when you want to say something strong and the second is when you want to entertain people. Some of us have the desire to do both simultaneously. And when that desire is there, it happens naturally. I am not the first person to do this.”

The script of Pahuna was actually written a decade ago. Tyrewala says, “The film started as homework. I learnt to write from my husband Abbas (Tyrewala) when I was interning with him. This guy, who was my co-writer, Amit Babbar, and I were given this task to write a script for a children’s film. He wrote an animation idea and I came up with this idea because of my experience from before. That’s how it all started but I left it at that. Then I started writing films, I assisted on films. When it was time for me to direct my first film, I had also written a romantic drama but I chose to make this one into a film because you can never go back and make a film like Pahuna again.”

Asked how Priyanka Chopra came on board, Tyrewala reveals, “Once I started looking at the script seriously, the Sikkim government was the first to come on board. Then we went to the Children’s Film Society of India (CFSI) and Dr Shravan Kumar, the CEO of the board, was very impressed and wanted to be a part of the project. But, being a government organisation, that took a while.”

“Since the Sikkim government’s involvement came with a timeline and a deadline, I started looking for producers. I got the same response from many, about how it was not commercially viable; regional films don’t do well; it was intense; I should make it in Hindi and not Nepalese… all those sort of things. Basically, everybody said no and then someone told me that Priyanka Chopra was producing regional films. I went to her and I told her the story. She was extremely excited and said she didn’t see the language as a negative but as a positive. I think it was a very brave decision on her part,” Tyrewala recalls.

“Once they came on board, they didn’t interfere on the script at all. Mrs Madhu Chopra came on the shoot once. When I changed my cast at the last minute, they were very supportive of it. When I came back after shooting the film, that’s when Priyanka had a few suggestions. For instance, she told me that the background music had to be amazing and suggested that we re-edit a couple of scenes. The climax had to be reshot because the sun had gone down and we didn’t have generators back there. So she had a lot of inputs about the climax. She is not interfering but a very hands-on producer and extremely supportive,” says Tyrewala.

Pahuna was shot substantially in the interiors of North East India, which was often very challenging. “Logistically, it is difficult terrain. Every location is 3 hours apart! Some people had travel sickness, some suffered from altitude sickness and some ended up in hospital. Also, the food would reach us at, like, four in the afternoon. It was not easy to feed a crew of 120 people as the catering company had never handled numbers like this before,” the director says.

Recalling a specific incident, Tyrewala says, “It started snowing one day and the next day was the last day. I was wondering what we would do if it continued to snow, will we be able to finish it? And they were, like, ‘Ma’am, snow hoga toh snow mein shoot kar lenge lekin khatam karke jayenge.’ I have never seen that kind of dedication. So I keep saying when people give me credit for Pahuna, in all honesty, it is my team’s film.”

On the India release of her film, Tyrewala reveals, “It will release in the first quarter of next year, around February.”

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