'Elizabeth' Director Shekhar Kapur to Tackle Water in Next Film 'Paani'

Shekhar Kapur - Cannes Film Festival - 2010
Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

The Indian director hails 'the Asian force of independent cinema' as an alternative to the Hollywood system.

SINGAPORE -- Elizabeth director Shekhar Kapur is readying Paani, a $35 million dystopian thriller on a global water crisis set in the “dangerously near future,” for filming in November for a mid-2012 release.

The director is in final talks with the film’s as-yet-undisclosed international leading cast, including a popular 18-year-old American actress, a Latin American pop star that is well known all over the world, and a European actor in his mid-40s. Swarovski Entertainment and Walkwater Media are backing the film, and director Danny Boyle is on board as executive producer, but the filmmaker is looking to lock in U.S. and worldwide distribution before production starts.

Paani – meaning water in Hindi – “is a story of a city that divides itself into two, those who have water and those who do not. Water has become the world’s most precious resource, now water goes to where it makes the most money and not where it’s most needed. Water has now become a matter of economic and political control,” Kapur told The Hollywood Reporter.

The film was originally set in 2040, but as the director began looking at the real world, he realized that “the future that I was talking about was catching up much faster,” said the water-rights advocate, who doesn’t drink bottled water if he could help it. “As storytellers, we have the ability to create emotional epics about that which bothers us. This issue really bothers me, as it should bother everybody in the world. It should. Because we’re running out of water. We’re not in a comfortable position. People are already fighting over water. 

“When James Cameron wants to talk about the environment he made a beautiful film, Avatar, but the film became such a big hit, not only because James Cameron is such an incredible filmmaker, but also because he’d found something in the consciousness of the people. And now I believe the people of the world are afraid about water. I feel that I’d be able to tap into that consciousness.”

The director, a member of the board of ScreenSingapore, will present the documentary Bollywood: The Greatest Love Story Ever Told, which he produced. That film and the upcoming Paani mark his return to Asia, after the critically acclaimed Elizabeth and Elizabeth: The Golden Age.

“The Asian force of independent cinema can make a big difference that can be distributed to the rest of the world,” said Kapur, who had found the Hollywood studio system restrictive. 

“In the studio system, as opposed to independent cinema, there’s a conflict where studios are more and more ready to make a product that can be presold, and presold means something that has precedent in the past. Whereas great storytelling and cinema has progressed because someone has made something that hasn’t been made,” he said. “Something like Avatar can be financed only because of James Cameron’s track record, had it not been his track record, he was supported because the studio believed in the director; but that kind of filmmaking is few and far between. And that took some very brave people in Hollywood to actually back that film.”