Arts

Before the Applause: Kritika Pande Recalls the Making of The Song of Scorpions

Directed by Switzerland-based filmmaker Anup Singh, The Song of Scorpions stars Irrfan Khan, Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani and Waheeda Rehman.

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Most actors who only have their merit to use as a launchpad can only dream of the right debut. For Kritika Pande, reaching an international arena at the age of 25 has been an arduous journey that took years of grit.

After working in a web series, and some short films, Pande landed a role in the Switzerland-France-Singapore production, The Song of Scorpions, starring France-based Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani and Indian actor Irrfan Khan.

The Hindi-language feature-length film, based on a folk tale from Rajasthan, was shot in the desert city of Jaisalmer. The project was conceived when Switzerland-based filmmaker Anup Singh of Qissa: The Tale of a Lonely Ghost fame came up with the story while listening to songs by female healers of scorpion wounds. It’s believed in the region that a person stung from a scorpion will die in one day unless a holy singer is called to tune into the victim’s pulse and create an antidote chant. The film has the essence of a mythical story retold through new eyes.

The Song of Scorpions

Pande, an alumnus of Delhi’s Hindu College and the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) in Pune, says the collaboration and the coherence visible in the movie has been the greatest achievement. Commending the efficiency of the Swiss producers, Saskia Vischer and Shahaf Peled, the debutante talks about the detailed planning that went into shooting the film in the difficult conditions of the Thar Desert. The producers were involved in every stage of the making of the film, which was screened at the Jio Mumbai Academy of Moving Image (MAMI) on Oct. 15.

“They were present for MAMI, during music composition, post-production, it has been a collaborative process,” Pande, who hails from Uttarakhand, tells Little India. “It felt like the director and the producers had married each other’s minds.”

This was the second time the producers were working with Singh, having made the critically-acclaimed Qissa together earlier. “People like Anup Singh’s sensibility,” Pande adds.

The actress, who plays Farahani’s best friend in the film, admits to being in complete awe of her and Khan. “Farahani brought a smile to everyone’s face on the set. This was my first film and I was scared,” Pande recalls.

Talking about Khan, who has worked in celebrated movies like Life of Pi, The Amazing Spiderman, and other huge international ventures, she says that the one thing that inspired her was that he was always relaxed.

“He once asked a little boy for a story and a song,” she says. “Later, he used the song in a scene. He’s so spontaneous and pays attention to details. He completely enters the director’s mind.”

Pande recalled an interesting scene with Khan, who plays a camel peddler in the movie, in which she was supposed to climb the animal, then hop on to a wall, and throw rotis to Nooran (Farahani’s character). However, the camel was out of control and wouldn’t let her climb. “So I had to climb on Irrfan sir’s shoulder, then the wall, and finally jump down,” she says, going on to talk about another memorable scene, a song sequence celebrating the pregnancy of Nooran, who is carrying Aadam’s (Irrfan Khan) baby.

The Song of Scorpions is based on the Muslim Sindhi community in Jaisalmer, where women are the singing healers of scorpion sting but aren’t allowed to sing publicly. The film is based on folk stories and also stars Shefali Bhushan and veteran actress Waheeda Rehman, who also sang in it.

The movie is an Agora Films release (in Switzerland) of Feather Light Films, KNM, Cine-Sud Promotion, Aurora Media, and M!Capital production. Pande was especially struck by the meticulous manner in which the schedule was organized. “I would receive a call-sheet every day with details of the day’s scene, like the co-actors and its length, etc. Seemingly trivial things like accommodation, food and how you’re treated matter because they affect your mood and performance.”

The Song of Scorpions received positive reviews from international media after its premier at the Locarno Film Festival in August. The Hollywood Reporter said: “The film is absolutely gorgeous to look at, with Swiss cinematographers Pietro Zuercher and Carlotta Holy-Steinemann relishing the opportunity to film a country that looks so unlike their own. However, as foreigners, they do have a bit of a postcard-pretty approach to India, which won’t hurt in Europe but which might rub Asian audiences the wrong way.”

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