In Conversation with Akshay Singh – the inspiring writer/director of Pinky Beauty Parlour!
interviewed by Souranath Banerjee
A sensitive writer, an innovative director and also a fabulous actor – yes that’s Akshay Singh for you ladies and gentleman!
His film Pinky Beauty Parlour is already creating an audience for itself even before it’s been released.
In Conversation with Akshay Singh as he talks about his journey as a filmmaker!
Hi Akshay welcome to Cinema Forensic!
Thank you so much.
Your debut film Pinky Beauty Parlour created such a buzz in the Mumbai Film Festival recently and you have just revealed that it’s also been selected in the Goa International Film Festival! Congratulations – how does it feel?
Thank you! I am really happy, really glad, in fact I got overwhelmed with the response which my film have got!
Usually I had this idea that in festivals only those films get appreciated which are really intense you know. My film though it has a very serious issue but the treatment is very entertaining – it’s a multi genre film – there’s suspense in it, it’s a black comedy and
satirical as well. And then again it’s a social drama about the issue of the skin-colour bias which is very universal issue in a way.
Actually even before MAMI, the first screening we had was in Cannes Festival. There we had a market screening, people from around the globe were there and the response was again very encouraging.
So I was hoping MAMI will also be good but then again I was nervous. The first screening happening in India and being an Indian film, an Indian story – I was expecting a reaction that will give me an idea of how will it go when the film gets actually released in the theatres. And then you see people queuing up for your film and for the first screening some 30 odd people could not see the film because it was house full!
MAMI was indeed a great platform for me and this time they have organised it so well – yes, I am thankful to them.
The reaction of the audience was really good after the screening. Did you felt it too?
Ya. In MAMI the best thing that happened was after the screening I heard someone saying a dialogue of my film! It’s so encouraging when people say ‘apke film ke dialogues bohot sahi hai’ and being also the writer of the film that feels really great – i mean this is something every filmmaker craves to hear right?
Even there is a song in the film that is very catchy – a kind of folk fusion. And for the lyrics of this song I had given a few specific words to my lyricist like ‘talcum powder’ and ‘phair phair gal’ which actually means ‘fair, fair cheeks’ – you know in UP the pronunciation is a little (laughs) … and many people told me that I should promote my film through this song!
Some people after the Q n A session told me that ‘you are a revolutionary filmmaker!’ I was like ‘why?’ – but I think it was because we started a campaign called “Let’s unlearn”. It’s like the skin-colour-bias is something we are taught, not something we are born with. So let us unlearn this thing – you see? One person asked me ‘Do you really think your film will make a difference?’ and I said ‘Ya it might. Now since you are asking this question it is making a difference. And then this is only the first screening!’
Even Aj Tak covered this campaign in a big way.
So how did it all started, i mean the whole journey of this film?
It all started exactly one year back. We started the shoot in October last year. Because my film is based in and around Dussehra, so I shot the whole sequence in real locations in Varanasi during the festival! Lots of guerrilla shoots (laughs).
When I started planning for this film, I chucked out one thing out of myself – the fear of failure!
While writing the script – actually I get many ideas specially when I am travelling and listening to music but I used to keep coming back to this one again and again. This was not even supposed to be my first film – I have written another script which I sent it to Script Lab, Film Bazar, and it initially got selected also. But by then I was so much into this script of Pinky Beauty Parlour, i simply had to make it.
Around July we had a test shoot; I crunched my whole script into five pages and the whole thing was like a short film. So we hired a bungalow in Madh Island and our whole team was there. And me and my wife decided on some guide lines – like nobody will raise their voice during the shoot.
So from this one day test shoot we got the confidence to go ahead and shoot the whole film by ourselves!
Wow! And so you decided to produce your own film right?
Initially I had somebody who wanted to produce the film but at one point of time it was getting delayed because of the funds and all. And I needed to shoot the film in October because Dussehra is in October and my film revolve around that period. And again I knew I can never recreate anything like that. So we had the test shoot and all, we were confident but still we didn’t have the money (laughs).
And then one evening I came back home and told my wife ‘Let’s shoot the film. Let’s plan the first schedule’. And that same evening, you won’t believe me, within ten minutes I got a message from Citibank that you have a pre approved loan of this, this and this – and I was like ‘Wow the amount looks good!’ Seriously man, the universe really gives you if you really want something from your heart!
I totally believe in that Om shanti Om dialogue!
That was awesome! So you started production right away after that?
That was 29th of September when the funds came in and Dussehra was on 20th of October! So we didn’t have even one month pre production time. But the script was so detailed – I must have written more than twenty drafts and then lost count of it. So after working almost two years on this script I was crystal clear about every detail. And being the writer and the director there was no conflict there and so the shoot happened very smoothly.
We had to get up at 4 in the morning but the team was so charged up! We shot in real locations, we even shot a real Ram Leela and people didn’t had a clue! There I completely improvised a scene – just told my DOP to follow me with the camera and I went ahead and said live in front of the stage ‘Yeh 101 rupeeya Pinki Beauty Parlour ke taraf se’ – that whole thing was so spontaneous and completely improvised (laughs).
Again during the Ganga Arti shoot, there is a scene where Sulagna Panigrahi had to go and sit on those steps by the Ganges. And we got it all planned and shot the whole sequence but by the end of the shoot people started to recognise her. Then we had to quickly wrap up and take her away. But it was such a sensitive emotional scene.
You know in number of scenes I haven’t used dialogues at all, specially in scenes when a character is expected to react I have made her go quite, no music nothing. Because I believe silence speaks a lot!
Very interesting! Tell me something about yourself, when did you decide to be an actor, and then how did the transition from an actor to a writer and then a director happen?
I had my schooling from Dehradun, boarding school. I belong to a place called Ghazipur – a small town near Varanasi. So in my school I used to write skits in the annual functions and all, which were mostly spoofs of films. So from that time I knew I had to do something in the film industry. So gradually I realised I wanted to become an actor.
So the moment I passed out from school I decided I need to do theatre and for that I have to go to Delhi. So for my graduation, since I was a good student I got to a very good college in Delhi university. So my family was also happy. But I was more interested in theatres than studies. Soon joined a two year course of Performing Arts and did many plays.
Then after graduation it was time to come to Mumbai. And because of my theatre background I started getting work in television. And in television you are paid well, so that sometimes pushes you in that mode where you get relaxed. So that happened to me as well. In 2003 I got my first break in a show called Kashmir! I got praised for my role by Farooq Sheikh, I still have the message which he sent me!
I learnt so much from the director of the show – the technicalities and all but it was always like what if I had directed this shot myself? I would always sit near the monitor and i think somewhere it was there in my subconscious mind that I want to direct.
I did a few films as an actor, decently made films but not very well promoted – so people are not aware of them. Then I started writing and soon I was writing for some of the big names in the industry. But still somehow things were not really happening and it kind of made me angry.
Ultimately I decided I have to direct my own film now!
So you being the writer, director and also an actor in Pinky Beauty Parlour, it must have been an incredible journey for you!
(Chuckles) In the time of post production I didn’t have any assistants because I didn’t have the money to pay them. So I was alone doing everything. There were days when I slept in the studio only. But this whole thing was a blessing in disguise. I have conceived this idea, like from the first word that I have written till the post production – and today I know everything is my vision and I cannot blame anybody. So this was the journey and I loved it!
And then also after completing the film we didn’t have enough money for marketing and distribution, so we are going for crowdfunding through Wishberry. So in a way we are asking for money also and at the same time our film is getting promoted!
It’s just that I don’t sleep much otherwise everything is good (laughs). It’s huge pressure because me and my wife’s savings are all gone while making this film but then again we made the film in our terms!
And I think it’s people like you who are giving us that platform where I can talk and reach out to my future audience!
My pleasure Akshay. That’s the least I can do specially for films like yours that are made with such integrity and good taste.
Thank you. That’s very encouraging you know, thank you so much!