Jack Sholder has found beauty in the chaos of Kolkata. The American filmmaker, who explored the city for a film on Anglo-Indian motivational speaker Jillian Haslam, is in awe of the everyday contrasts of the Indian life.
"I love India. It is one of the most fascinating countries I've ever visited. The people here are so full of life and deal with so much, with a smile on their faces. In the narrow lanes of Kolkata, where taking a vehicle could be just unthinkable, people not only drive easily but without a dent in the cars! People have developed their own system and an unsaid understanding. I love the spirit of India," Sholder told the publication here.
British entrepreneur and millionaire philanthropist, Haslam spent her childhood in a Kolkata slum. Sholder's film is based on her memoirs "Indian. English", for which he and screenplay writer/ producer Joshua Russell wanted to see the places in the city where Haslam grew up and survived under extreme poverty.
But Russel admitted that the places they visited offered more details than the book did. "It is a land of contrast. In Kolkata, I saw a man pulling a rickshaw with his hands and a fellow driving a gorgeous BMW next to that, crossing the same road. You have some of the most flavourful food of the world there while scores of people are struggling with cruel poverty," he said.
"There are some generous people doing charity work and there are people who blind their children and send them to beg on the streets. The darkest and brightest part of humanity exists in the same frame called India. This is fascinating," he added.
Asked if Russell was ever tempted to showcase poverty, the way it has been projected in many Western films on India, Sholder replied: "No, no… that is exactly what I do not want to do. I strongly believe that the story is emotionally compelling and it can happen in any part of the world."
"Yes, it is set in Kolkata, but the place has its own character that will come naturally in the picture. I do not have to show Howrah Bridge to establish that it is Kolkata. I would rather focus on the characters and the journey of Jillian," explained the maker of films like ALONE IN THE DARK and THE HIDDEN.
Explaining what his feature film attempts, he said: "We are not making a documentary on Jillian. It is a feature film. Since we have enough material and do not need to fictionalise or make up anything, we are treating it as a story that inspires and provokes your thought, and makes you ask questions. I will try to make it such that many people watch it."
On the casting of the film, which is likely to release next year, Jack Sholder said: "We are yet to zero down on the actors. Since the story goes through different phases of Jillian's life, I also have to get the right child actor to play her childhood, which is tricky."
Jillian Haslam left India 19 years ago for the UK. She says she has never felt disconnected from her city of birth as she keeps visiting it for her charity work and to express her gratitude towards those who helped her family survive in their darkest days.
Bitterness is not something Haslam has harboured despite the racism she faced and says she believes in coming back to her roots. "I was not brought up to be a bitter person. I have been brought up to be forgiving and thankful for what life has offered me. Yes, my parents were British and I cannot change that, but I feel that I am an Indian. I was born and brought up here before I moved to the UK. Ideally we should be living in a world that is inclusive and eventually we will. I am hopeful but that change is very, very slow," she said. [By Arundhuti Banerjee]