Actor Gillian Pinto, after pursuing theatre for a decade, makes her debut into feature films with filmmaker Sandeep Mohan’s Nirmal Anand Ki Puppy
After working with a leading MNC for 4 years, Gillian Pinto finally decided to follow her heart and take up acting as a profession. Over the last 10 years, Pinto has acted in plays with a host of noteworthy directors like Lillette Dubey, Yashwant Singh, Sunil Shanbag, Trishla Patel, Faezeh Jalali, Hina Siddiqui, Jeff Goldberg, and Melly Still. Her debut feature film Nirmal Anand Ki Puppy, directed by Sandeep Mohan, has been screened at film festivals in India, Germany and the United States, and is currently being screened in theatres in India.
In this interview, Gillian talks about her association with Nirmal Anand Ki Puppy and the part that she plays in it, her passion for acting and singing and the challenges that she has had to overcome, a people’s movement called Padsquad which she co-founded during the pandemic, and her upcoming projects.
Nirmal Anand Ki Puppy was one of the first films to be released after the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. Tell us about your experience, as an actor, of making your feature film debut during such an uncertain time.
After screening at various film festivals across the globe, Nirmal Anand Ki Puppy was meant to have its theatrical release in May 2020. So, it’s been quite a long wait. But, as they say, it’s better late than never. Personally, as an artist there is no better feeling than having an audience watch and appreciate your work and your film on the silver screen. It is anyway no mean feat for a purely independent film to even get a theatrical release. So for it to actually happen during these dystopian times is nothing short of a dream. For this I am immensely grateful to my director Sandeep Mohan, Karanveer Khullar, who plays the role of Nirmal Anand, and the amazing audience that has watched and loved the film in the theatres so far. Now, I am really looking forward to the screenings in Mumbai and Pune later this month.
How did you get associated with Nirmal Anand Ki Puppy? Also tell us about your character in the film. What according to you is the film’s USP?
I met Sandeep Mohan, the director of Nirmal Anand Ki Puppy, at a screening of his previous film Shreelancer and we later connected on Facebook. About a year later, we met at a coffee shop in Mumbai, as he wanted to consider me for a role in his upcoming film. A guerilla film as he had called it. We spoke for hours about my work, life experiences, and his experiences and about the film and its characters. A few days later, he called and said he felt I was well suited for the role. And that’s how I got to be Sarah in Nirmal Anand Ki Puppy.
While she is Nirmal’s wife, my character Sarah is also a career-centric woman, a mother to two little children and to a puppy. Nirmal Anand Ki Puppy is a story of love, loss, heartbreak, joy, relationships, family and life, in general. I think the film’s USP lies in the “tell it like it is” treatment and execution. It is a slice of life story of personal ambitions and desires juxtaposed with familial responsibilities and coping with the banality of life in a fast paced city.
Nirmal Anand Ki Puppy had a limited theatrical release in India. What is the future plan regarding its release on digital and satellite platforms?
We are hopeful that after a successful theatrical release and positive audience feedback, OTT platforms see more value in stories like ours. Considering the audience reaction so far, I am certain that many more people would love to watch this heartwarming tale in the comfort of their homes.
You quit a well paid corporate job with a leading MNC before taking up acting as a passion and profession. How do you reflect back on your journey so far?
Bearing in mind that this journey doesn’t really have a destination, I have rather savoured the adventure that is the actor’s life as they call it. I had auditioned for a play in Pune way back in 2011 while on notice period at my job. The plan was to do the play as something in between while I figured out what to do next. One play led to another and then another till one day I got to host a travel show for a television channel. I just got drawn into this beautiful yet absolutely uncertain world of the arts, without pausing to think or strategize or make any goals for my future. I didn’t have a plan, no connections in the entertainment field whatsoever. I just knew that I wanted to act and sing. The stage was where I could lose myself and find myself, through the various characters I portrayed. Sure, that dream does get blurry when you are suddenly broke and struggling to make ends meet, moving houses, dealing with constant rejection and people telling you that you aren’t cut out for this. But then you pull yourself together, you rise to the challenge, go to the next audition and the next one again, until you bag another role and well, another paycheck. My family and close friends have been unflinching in their support and for that I am eternally grateful. I can’t thank my director Sandeep Mohan enough for taking a chance on me, an actor who nobody knows, to play a lead role in his film. I suppose he saw something in me and knew that I would add value to the film. And it is events and moments like these in the lives of artists that make it all worth our while. I have had the good fortune to have worked with really amazing people and foster lifelong friendships, which along with one’s own tenacity, keeps one going.
You co-founded a people’s movement called Padsquad during the pandemic. Tell us about its vision and mission.
Padsquad is a people’s movement that was born out of the urgent need to help women during the pandemic for their menstrual needs. The movement started in June 2020 when the co-founders realized that women and their menstrual hygiene needs were being overlooked with ration kits having been given priority for economically marginalized homes. Padsquad took up the cause of distributing menstrual hygiene care products to women in slums, bastis, villages and tribes. We now also focus on training women on the use of more environmentally sustainable products like menstrual cups and reusable cloth pads. It is wonderfully encouraging to see the movement that started off in Mumbai and Pune, now spread to cities, towns and villages across the country.
Other than acting you have been associated with the Pune based choir “Poona Musicale” as a singer. Tell us more about your singing work.
Music for me is the purest form of expression. I have sung two soundtracks for a web show Bhak that I also acted in. Apart from this I have sung a song called Jaago Zara along with a hundred noted women artist’s across the globe including Begum Farida Khanum, Anuradha Paudwal, K.S.Chitra, and Mohini Dey, among others. I have also sung a beautiful song called Mujhe Udne Do for world animal welfare day. Both Jaago Zara and Mujhe Udne Do have been produced and released by Indemus, a platform for independent artists and labels to showcase their talent. I sometimes sing with “Bombay Bassment”, well known for their music in the Hip-Hop, Reggae and Dancehall genres. Being a huge Eminem and Tupac fan since my school days, I am also trying a bit of rap, though the audience for this is limited to my walls and home furniture for now (chuckles).
What are your upcoming projects?
I am looking forward to the release of two other independent films I have acted in— Calcutta, I’m Sorry directed by Chennai based director Harry MacLure and Kalicharan directed by Pune based director Vijay Thanki. I will be recording a radio play soon, and I am very excited about that too. I also intend to focus more on singing for ad jingles as well as playback.
(Cover: Actor Gillian Pinto)
Murtaza Ali Khan has been a film critic since 2010. He has curated and presented retrospectives and film festivals for various embassies and high commissions in New Delhi. He has also served on the jury for a variety of film festivals. He tweets at @MurtazaCritic