Dallas- In anticipation of tonight’s opening night film A Billion Colour Story at DFW South Asian Film Festival, we sat down with the writer-producer-director-cinematographer Padmakumar Narasimhamurthy. He goes by “Paddy.”
TheaterJones: You were very big in the advertising industry in India. What made you want to switch from that to making feature films?
Padmakumar Narasimhamurthy: I did that for 17 years, and I was done with the cool and the glitzy, you know? It’s always kind of superficial; you can’t make good films with advertising beyond a certain extent. There is always the social messaging and such, but it has a very limited impact and even lower shelf life. I wanted to do stuff the organic way, and go back to classical storytelling. I’ve been making poetry since I was a kid. I always thought I’d be an author or poet, but advertising kind of swept me off course…I finally decided I’d hang up my boots and go back to where it all began. Simple, heartfelt storytelling.
Did they say, “No, don’t do that! We need you in advertising!”
PN: They did…I think I submitted my resignation letter six times that year. They refused it, discouraged me, said “what will you do out there? How are you going to earn a living? Look at your lifestyle!” I said, “I’m a writer, people will hire me. If I do get into dire straits, there will be people to hire me back.” I haven’t gone back yet!
Like Ridley Scott, probably the most famous director who came out of advertising. What became the most useful from your advertising experience, in directing?
PN: You know what advertising does? It helps you keep your cool, to start with. It’s so stressful—the job of an advertising copywriter is only a little bit less stressful than the job of an air traffic controller at JFK. That’s documented…I’ve thought of campaigns in an elevator. I start off with no ideas for the client—when I get to the 28th floor, I have ideas. It helps you think on your feet. You think of solutions that arise on a daily basis, that’s one thing…making stuff happen with very little…using words, using visuals (to make a point)…all of that. It becomes second nature to you. And working fast. I made this in about three months.
You cast your son Dhruva, who’s great, in the lead. It doesn’t surprise me that you’re a poet, as he speaks very poetically in that opening montage.
PN: That’s’ how we read to each other. I’ve read to him all his life, and he writes beautifully…the poetry in the film is all mine, though.
It was a brave artistic decision to shoot in black and white, and bring the color in toward the end. It’s hard for any filmmaker to shoot that way now.
PN: You know that in Nebraska (2013), they shot it in color and graded it down to grayscale. I didn’t want to do that…I wanted it as organically black and white as it was in old movies… it was shot digitally, in 4k, and in black and white.
Did you get any pushback for shooting in black and white?
PN: The thing is, I made it [independently] with my own money. I didn’t even approach a producer, because I knew they’d tell me who to do it with, who to cast, they’d change the ending, change this, change that…especially in India, it’s so narrow…there’s a cameo at the end from a well-known Bollywood actor and producer. He said, “I love this and want to be a part of this,” so he came on board and we split the cost 50-50.
We in America are so obsessed with religious and cultural differences right now—we might be amazed to find these things exist around the world, and in India.
PN: You know, it got the same kind of response in Busan, in London, and Palm Springs. You might think that Koreans don’t have this kind of religious discord. They thought [our film] was a metaphor for religious differences that prevail in their own country…which convinces me more than anything else, that it’s just one humanity.
What would you like American audiences to know about your film?
PN: I think the greatest heroism in hard times is forgiveness. I’d like this film…to be one medium helping people get in touch with what’s inside of themselves, the gentler side of themselves. I think that exists in every person.
» Read our review of A Billion Colour Story here
» Find more of our coverage of the South Asian Film Festival, including schedules and features, go to our special section covering the event.
"All Access" Festival Pass (Feb 17 and after) - $175
Opening Night Film Only (Perot Museum) - $20
Opening Night Film & Party (Perot Museum) - $75
Centerpiece Film Only (AMC Village on the Parkway 9) - $20
Centerpiece Film & Party (AMC Village on the Parkway 9/Saffron House) - $50
Closing Night Film (AMC Village on the Parkway 9) - $20
All other film blocks - $15
Limited tickets available at the door. Online purchases are HIGHLY encouraged.