Vinod Kapri: Every child deserves a parent, but not every parent deserves a child
The director talks about his upcoming survival thriller Pihu, a film about a two-year-old protagonist stuck inside an apartment
Survival thrillers are an established genre the world over, and while Indian cinema has seen its fair share of clamorous imitations, some recent films have revisited the classic set-up with renewed rigour. A recent success was Vikramaditya Motwane’s forthrightly titled Trapped (2016), which starred Rajkummar Rao as a call centre employee locked inside a Mumbai high-rise. Pushing the boundaries a little further, both technically and contextually, is journalist-turned-filmmaker Vinod Kapri’s upcoming film Pihu — about a two-year-old girl trapped inside an apartment, played by a two-year-old female lead of the same name.
Shot in 2015, the film faced numerous difficulties — including the death of its first producer, Kishen Kumar — before coming together as a tense, 100-minute thriller trimmed down from 65 hours of footage. It was screened as the opening film of the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in 2017 and picked up as a joint venture by RSVP Movies and Roy Kapur Films. The trailer of the film, which was released on October 24, received gasping reactions on social media, with many praising the uniqueness of the concept and the performance by child actor Pihu Myra Vishwakarma.
Quizzed about the inception of the film, Vinod Kapri says, “I had seen many couples in my family and friend circles who would leave their kids — or their pets — alone at home for hours and go out shopping. It never failed to surprise and shock me. Then I got to know about a Delhi incident that happened in 2014 where a four-year-old boy was trapped inside a house. All of that got me thinking about a what-if situation of a two-year-old girl stuck inside an apartment, with no one around to hear her voice."
Vinod was told off by anyone who read the first draft of his script that the film would be near-impossible to make, since no two-year-old can ever hold an audience on his/her own. “I knew even the best casting director in the world could not find me a two-year-old who could act,” he says. “I was looking for a girl who would instantly win over the audience with her innocence and cuteness.”
As luck would have it, Vinod met then-one-year-old Pihu Myra Vishwakarma at a birthday party — he was an old friend of Pihu’s parents, but had never met her in person until then. “I fell in love with her at first sight, so to speak. I knew she would be perfect for the film. I explained my idea to her parents, who trusted me and gave me permission to cast her in my film. I kept interacting with Pihu over the course of three to four months, studying her behaviour and reactions and developing a friendship with her. Based on my interactions with Pihu, I altered my script while keeping the original idea intact.”
Once Pihu was on board, Vinod and his 15-member crew had to rework traditional ways of shooting a film to provide a conducive environment to the child. “Normally we work in 12-hour shifts, in which 10 hours is spent shooting while the remaining two hours are reserved for lunch and tea-breaks. With Pihu, however, we would only shoot for two hours and the rest of the time was dedicated to her sleeping, nutrition and playtime. Pihu’s parents were present with her throughout the shooting schedule. We took utmost care in making her feel comfortable at every step of the shoot.”
Despite Vinod’s assurance, a portion of the audience is still divided over the ethical whereabouts of his film. A few weeks ago, the producers of Pihu received social media backlash for running a marketing campaign wherein mobile phone users where targeted with anonymous phone calls featuring the voice of a wailing child crying for help. The call would disconnect on its own, followed promptly by a text message containing a link to the film’s trailer. “Yes, I am aware of the campaign and the backlash. Look, to be honest, it was just an effort to reach out to more people. It is incredibly difficult to raise awareness about a film, unless you have a big star on board. I understand why certain people criticised the move and called it unethical. However, when I went online and checked the timelines of people reacting to it, I found that many people actually discovered the film through the campaign.”
After a long career in broadcast journalism, Vinod made his filmmaking debut with the 2014 documentary, Can't Take This Shit Anymore, for which he won a National Award. His first feature film, Miss Tanakpur Hazir Ho (2015), received critical acclaim but was never released in theatres. Ahead of Pihu's release on Friday, the 46-year-old filmmaker has already started work on his next. “I am developing something with Roy Kapur Films. It's a family drama/thriller based on a real-life event. I am looking forward to making engaging cinema that has something to say. A good film should have a bottomline, and for Pihu it is... 'Every child deserves a parent, but not every parent deserves a child.'”