WIDE ANGLE: Saibal Chatterjee - New Delhi, June 8, 2005
New York City-based Indian filmmaker Nanda Anand is currently giving finishing touches to her feature debut, Rajapur, a cross-cultural drama that revolves around two American girls who arrive in India and are changed by an encounter with an enigmatic nobleman in the Rajasthan desert.
"Rajapur (titled Searching for Sara in English) should be ready for distribution by the end of the year," reveals the lady who speaks as many as seven languages and is a trained classical dance exponent.
The cast of Rajapur is headed by Manoj Bajpai and includes two of Hollywood's most promising young actresses, Kelli Garner and Lynn Collins. Garner was recently seen in Martin Scorsese's The Aviator, while Collins played Portia in Michael Radford's The Merchant of Venice, a film that featured a slew of Oscar winners - Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons and Joseph Fiennes.
The cast of Rajapur includes veteran Hollywood actor Frank Langella in a significant character role.
For Nanda Anand, who went to Columbia University for a degree in Psychology and to New York University to study film and video, the shoot earlier this year in Jaisalmer was the experience of a lifetime. "We shot in freezing temperatures in the desert for the first two and a half weeks and in wonderful warm climate in the following two and a half," she says.
But didn't the climate fluctuation make life difficult for the unit? "The crew were so in love with Jaisalmer and the flora and fauna and, of course, the people that the weather never bothered anyone," replies Anand.
"The inspiration for Rajapur," she says, "came from my belief that life is defined by destiny." Her creative energies, she adds, are fuelled by "my own spiritual beliefs and of course by ordinary people who are extraordinary beings."
Anand asserts that Manoj Bajpai was a natural choice for the role of the film's male protagonist, Jai Singh. "I have always been interested in Manoj Bajpai," she explains. "I find him to be a very natural actor who can convey subtle emotions with much dignity and great candour. He exemplifies the character of Jai Singh."
Jai Singh, Anand elaborates, is "a Rajasthani nobleman with the heart of a poet - an intellectual, a philanthropist, an enigma…"
She dispels the suggestion that Rajapur is about a clichéd clash of cultures tale. Anand says: "My film is not about soul-searching in India. In fact it is about soulmates!" The writer-director explains that Rajapur is "a simple story that could happen at any time in any place".
"I do not think it is unique in conception, but I definitely think it is unique in narration," she says.
Even as she prepares for the release of her debut effort, Nanda Anand is busy scripting for her next film. It is based on the real-life story of Delhi girl Nisha Sharma, who publicly went against the dowry system and turned her back on her would-be husband. Among the actresses who have reportedly been approached for the central role is Aishwarya Rai.
Like Rajapur, the upcoming Nisha Sharma film will be co-produced by Plum Pictures, a Manhattan-based company. One of the co-producers of Rajapur, Dileep Singh Rathore of On the Road Productions, was in Cannes recently looking for distribution deals for the film.