"Hissss is the first heavy duty special effects film shot in India" - Jennifer Lynch

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By Devansh Patel, Bollywood Hungama News Network

She is the daughter of four time Oscar nominee David Lynch and is making her first Bollywood film. I bet whoever is reading this must've raised their eye brows. Anyway, let's move on. You've seen Mallika Sherawat dressed as a nagin, but the person who is responsible for her role is this woman. She then roped in Irrfan Khan too in the film who plays a homicide detective. That's not all. The film has music by Anu Malik and is entirely shot in India. There's more. Since 1993 she has only written and directed Hollywood films out of which her first film, Boxing Helena, which was surrounded in controversy got her instant recognition. With the success of her new film, Surveillance, showcased at last year's Cannes Film Festival, she is now in for her toughest and the most challenging task of directing her first Indian film titled Hissss, to be released in May 2009. Bollywood Hungama's London correspondent Devansh Patel gets you this exclusive candid interview with the award winning director and finds out that whatever projects Jennifer Lynch undertakes in the years to come, she will surely find newer ways to fuse art and science in her luminous tales of hope and wonder. The rest as they say, will be Hisssstory!

In my six years as a Bollywood columnist, I've managed to speak to anyone and everyone in the world of Bollywood. This is the first time I'm going to interview a Hollywood director. Is it me being lucky or Jennifer Lynch?
(laughs) I think it's both of us being lucky only because of the fact that I get to talk to you about this which means that it's as real as I hope it is and the fact that you are interested in talking about it. I am super proud of the film and it's a win-win situation here.

How did Mallika Sherawat come across as a Bollywood actress? I mean, was she poisonous?
(laughs) She is easily one of the most accessible and beautiful woman I've met in my life. I am definitely putting her to the test in Hissss. I hope this film is incredibly challenging and fulfilling for her. Mallika is incredibly kind, smart and successful and you always think that such actors don't exist. But here was Mallika, who is a power house of talent and I am really excited about her role in the film. She is the Bollywood queen and has an incredible potential too. She is the next big thing in Bollywood.

What brings you to Mumbai all the way to direct a Hindi film?
What's amazing is the fact that Mumbai chose me. Govind Menon, the producer had heard of me through one of his friends. Govind was in Los Angeles looking for writers and directors for this project and his friend had seen a film of mine and told Govind to meet me. We met and four days later I was signed as a director. I was instantly in love with the 'The Legend of Nagin', the old title of the film. I had never been to India before and loved the idea of writing the modern day version of thousand year old snake myths and beliefs. I then came to India for research and I fell madly in love with India.

So did you agree to do the film before reading the script?
Yes, there was no story yet. The only thing which was ready was the title, 'The Legend of Nagin'. I was told that you don't mess with the cobra especially when she is mating or else she'll come after you. Then I was told that the cobra is also a goddess. From there on, I wanted to read the script, to which Govind said that it wasn't ready.

Didn't such a story freak you out?
In Christianity in America, a snake is meant to be a villain, a serpent. It's a dangerous thing, a demon. In India it's a goddess. I was thrilled with both, the Indian and the American idea, what purity is and what is good and what is bad. When I came to India and realised that apples were a delicacy, I thought that between a serpent and the apples, I had my garden of Eden reference. I just had an American villain now and my film. The only American in the film is the villain.

How did you rope in Hollywood's best, Robert Kurtzman, the make-up and special effects specialist?
He is very well known in Hollywood. He has worked with Quentin Tarantino and many famous Hollywood directors. Robert is a special effects genius and he fell in love with the snake because it's something that he hasn't yet worked on as far as special effects and make-up goes. The Americans have never seen such a snake and the Indians too haven't seen the nagin the way I've designed her. She is no longer a tiny snake. Once the woman becomes the snake, it's enormous. Robert loved the idea and wanted every effect in camera by keeping it as sensual as possible. Hissss is a sensual story and I had to add the sensuality element in the form of Mallika Sherawat.

Why such a name? Why not go for a simpler title which people can understand and can relate to?
It was called Nagin - The Snake Goddess. As a result of all the pre-publicity, the producers thought that people were concerned about nagin films as there were too many films made on such a subject in India. The producers wanted to appeal to the global audiences here and so did I. But I didn't want to drift away from the point that the film was about a nagin and that nagin had to remain in the subtitle or the byline as you say. I'll be happy with the sound she makes (Hissss) because it makes you ask a question. The title now is Hissss, the vengeance of nagin. It also makes me wonder. The response has been good so far.

Irrfan Khan has worked with the likes of Angelina Jolie in The Mighty Heart. What made you cast him for Hissss?
Yes, I am aware of this fact. Irrfan Khan always used to struck me whenever I thought of this film. His roles before had left a resonating echo in me and I saw that. What I looked for in the role which he is playing of a homicide detective was a man with a lovely marriage but also a bit of a skeptic. Miracles are happening and insanity is taking place and he is the one edge of the story that needs to be human but also needs to hold out on its belief so that he has a balance in the film. I just thought that he was the perfect strength to play the role. He blew my mind with the sensitivity and the strength he had in him as an actor.

How did Mr. Ram Gopal Varma land up on the sets of Hissss and did he show any interest of working with you in the near future?
Yes, he expressed quite a lot of interest in being any part of the project he could and was over whelmed by the sets and the script and what was happening in front of him during his visit. He said that he'd never seen anything like it in India. The comments were incredibly flattering for me. He has come on the sets twice now and spent quite a lot of time interacting and observing the way the film was shot. It's nice to have a director like Ram Gopal Varma appreciate what you're doing. That was lovely.

Did you hear of Mr. Ram Gopal Varma before he came on your sets?
I've heard of him through others. When you come to India you seem to hear about people who everybody adores and he is top on the list.

So how's the entire journey of Hissss been so far? Was the road rocky or smooth?
In the hindsight, everything is smooth and worthwhile. I'm a big fan of the saying - Nothing worth doing is easy. The journey so far has been incredibly tough yet trying and joyful. It's a totally different situation I'm being put into because there are so many 'firsts' in this film. It's the first new version of nagin, it's the first heavy duty special effects film shot in India, it's the first for a lot of things and that's a testament that when you're working on such grounds, it's never going to be easy.

Do you get enough sleep then?
(laughs) I try to. Everyday when I go to bed and wake up the next day, I feel unbelievably grateful that this is the film I'm really proud of and excited about. And I say this with great laughter and comedy that Hissss isn't easy (read - this isn't easy).

Can I now say - Who said that only Anaconda's exists...meet the Nagin.
Exactly. You're right. Wait till the Nagin comes out!

Have you got any songs in the film?
Yes we do. Anu Malik is the music director of Hissss. At one point, Anu wasn't sure what I wanted earlier and went back and forth a few times till he struck gold. I'm interested in touching today's audiences by reminding them of what has been great about Nagin films. Today we just shot a Holi song sequence and to see everybody dancing to it was really inspiring and satisfying.

So Bollywood has finally accepted Jennifer?
I hope so and that's what I'd like to hear.

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