Filming for a major motion picture addressing the global water crisis will start in November 2010. Award-winning director Shekhar Kapur presented his new project Paani (Hindi for water) at the 63rd Cannes Film Festival.
Kapur has teamed up with global water activist Maude Barlow, whose book “Blue Covenant: The Global Water Crisis and the Coming Battle for the Right to Water” inspired the film. Swarovski Entertainment and Walkwater Media are providing the required US$ 30 million funding for Paani.
Alexander Koll (Swarovski Entertainment), Maude Barlow with Shekhar Kapur, David Farr (screenwiter) and Manmohan Shetty (Walkwater Media) at the Paani press conference in Cannes, 13 May 2010. Photo: Getty Images
Paani (Water) [is a] a love story set in a futuristic city [Mumbai] where water appears almost to have run out and corporations war over its control.
Kapur spoke of his broader environmental motive in making the film, which features a city divided into conflicting halves in which the upper echelons hoard the water and drip-feed the slums of the lower city.
“We want and have to get this story out there as widely as we can … One of the key drivers behind the project is an aim to bring the growing global issue of a world without clean drinking water, and the threat to humanity it represents, to the top of the global political agenda,” he said.
Kapur linked-up with activist Maude Barlow after meeting documentary maker Irena Salina and seeing her film Flow.
“I have been wanting to make this movie for a long time,” Kapur said. “Irena said ‘you have to read Maude’s book.’ Blue Covenant was the spark that coalesced the idea.”
Barlow says she’s thrilled at the prospect of working on the movie and Kapur has asked her to be an adviser — to help him keep the serious message from getting lost.
“I introduced him to what’s happening with the privatization and corporate control of water and the struggle to keep it public,” she said. “He told me that I had given him a big piece in the puzzle. He wants Paani to be more than a science fiction film but one that is about the true place we’re headed to if we don’t change course.”
For Barlow and other water activists the prospect of a mainstream movie devoted to their cause is major boost.
“It’s a whole other vehicle and whole new venue for telling the story,” said Barlow
“We’re hoping to reach a whole new audience with Paani — people who think water comes from a tap or a plastic bottle. Lots of people are blissfully unaware of this as an issue. So getting a movie made by the best of the best is really exciting for us.”
In the film, the daughter of the chairman of the world’s largest water corporation descends into the deprived lower city level where she gets kidnapped by a young water warrior. As the film progresses the two fall in love.
The leading male role in Paani will be played by Bollywood star Hrithik Roshan. The Oscar winning team behind Slumdog Millionaire are also involved. Director Danny Boyle will be the producer, while AR Rahman is composing the music. Jill Bilcock (Moulin Rouge) will be the film’s editor, and John Myhre (Chicago, Memoires of a Geisha) will be responsible for production design.
Sets will be created in India, and there will be location filming in Singapore and Dubai (for the upper city scenes) and in Mumbai (for the slum scenes).
Shekhar Kapur first thought about making Paani ten years ago when he met a rural politician who told him that the amount of water used to flush a toilet in the city is what an entire family in a village can use for three days.
That got me thinking. Then, a few months later, I went visiting this really rich guy who lives at Malabar Hill. He was showering while I waited for him outside, and I could hear the constant flow of water inside and he didn’t emerge for a good half hour.
Later, on my way home, I saw this long queue of women and girls — there were hardly any boys — waiting with buckets to fill from a water tanker. That’s when the idea of Paani struck me. The film is not so much about the scarcity of water — that is something we know about already — but about the fact that water is what will eventually distinguish between two classes: one which gets it freely and one which doesn’t.
Kapur envisages a world where water scarcity and commercialisation, especially as a result of urbanisation, will spark conflicts.
Control over groundwater needs huge funding and control over the local government — it’s all about power. Those who have the power control the water and drip-feed the rest of the population. Paani will basically be about water wars between these two classes.
At the press conference at the Carlton Hotel in Cannes, Kapur challenges his backers to drink slum water from Mumbai.
“I’ve got this water from the slums of Dharavi, and if you are committed to the film, you’ll drink this”. He said that not all the bottles contained slum water, only a few did. But they were mixed up with regular water, and they all looked alike – full of brownish water labeled Valentine’s.
“It’s like playing Russian Roulette,” said Kapur, and he took a swig from his bottle, as did the others joining him at the press event [Alexander Koll, Maude Barlow, Manmohan Shetty and David Farr].
Indian film director and producer Shekhar Kapur is most well known for his films Bandit Queen, Elizabeth and its sequel Elizabeth: The Golden Age.
Follow updates about the film Paani on Shekhar Kapur’s blog and on Twitter.
Source: Council of Canadians, 12 May 2010 ; Arifa Akbar, The Independent, 15 May 2010 ; Aniruddha Guha, DNA, 16 May 2010 ; Mira Advani Honeycutt, Hollywood Reporter, 14 May 2010 ; Stuart Kemp, Hollywood Reporter, 14 May 2010 ; Hindustan Times, 16 May 2010 ; Chris Cobb, Ottawa Citizen, 07 Jun 2010