New York – Yadvi, The Dignified Princess is a screen version of a real life princess raised in an extremely wealthy royal family but later there were tumultuous times in her life-journey.
Set in 1940’s India, the film showcases the life and times of Maharani Yadhuvansh Kumari, daughter of Patiala’s Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala.
An Indian English film produced and directed by Jyoti Singh who also acted in it, among others stars Chandrachur Singh and popular Indian TV actor Vibhu Raghave in key roles. Miss India Worldwide 2009 Nikkitasha Marwaha also appears in the film.
And now as the film Yadvi, The Dignified Princess was released in the US (Details appended), IAT caught up with Jyoti Singh to get her perspective on the film, along with the challenges she faced in bringing this project to fruition.
Where and when did the inspiration come for the movie?
The idea is the brainchild of my sister, Gauri Singh. She was already researching and had started writing a story.
The progress was slow but finally we got a girl on board to write the screenplay, but unfortunately she was unable to finish it. Several months had elapsed and at that point, Gauri took it upon herself to write the screenplay.
Did you get any government or other film institution’s assistance in financing your dream project?
I did not know ABCD of filmmaking but I had submitted films to film festival and made short films.
In 2014, with no planned budget or any outlined project details, we decided to go down to India and start shooting at Maihar Palace, an ancestral property where we are welcome. We took with us our Grandmother’s clothes, which we inherited.
We are granddaughters of Princess Yadhuvansh Kumari, First wife of Prince Govind of Maihar and daughter of famous Indian Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala, Punjab and his favorite 3rd wife, Maharani Vimal Kaur of Patiala.
So to answer your question, no, we went on our own and started the project.
What were the hardships and challenges you faced?
It was a unique journey.
First, I had actually never worked in India. I am Indian, but lived more of my life in the US, so of course I don’t understand the system. There is a hierarchy system present in India, which I learned pretty fast. So knowing I have little control as a woman and knowing how people were ripping me off, I struggled every day to get things done.
Second, it is not easy for traditional Indian men to handle orders from a woman younger than themselves.
Third, it was a challenge to work with different teams who were simultaneously shooting other TV shows on the same sets. We had to work around their schedule, which was a pain. Getting actors, arranging their travel, managing everything, accounting/money, directing and acting … boy, my plate was more than full!
I remember I hardly had any sleep. I am glad I had my cinematographer, Jigme Tenzing, and my sister, Gauri Singh, and Vibhu Raghav who helped me immensely in this journey. Gauri did costumes and sets and was also assistant director. My editor Vick Krishna, provided guidance from the US. Sumeet Verma, also contributed his time and helped us with production. Above all, the crew was amazing, which was so helpful. They saw us struggle and saw our motivation and did their best to help us.
So yes, I learned to stay humble and not break under pressure. Being honest and respectful with each person that I worked with, I found they stood by me. We had all odds against us. When I decided to shoot, I had no planning. We did not have intensive shots planned or any written schedule every day, nor any daily printouts. Still we managed to finish our India shoot in less than a month, with four full days off, which accounts for 90% of the film. So I learned if you are persistent, you can make it.
This film was made for international audience, but I released it in India in small scale for my actors. But that was a struggle in itself. I had to wait for the Indian Censor Board. Once they approved, I had to struggle with cinema standees that were delivered to PVR cinemas but not displayed. Being a small budget film, the film was just ignored and it is about Indian history.
Question was always, who is the big name? So you have already lost the battle of getting it even to theaters. I was promised 15 theaters across states, but because of 11 other film releases that week, which usually does not happen, I got only eight. One state did not release the movie because of riots happening in Chandigarh, and I only found out because people went to theaters and told me it was not screened. I was promised PVR cinemas but I either got far away PVR’s with times that nobody would go (early morning) or Cineplex.
I did not get PVR cinemas even in Mumbai and most people in Mumbai are selective and will only go to PVR to watch the film. Other states I did get PVR, but in Delhi again there were riots.
The publicity campaign struggled as first PR person did not do any work, so fired her, but paid her. Standees were delivered, but who knows if they were displayed as two theaters I went to in Mumbai, did not. Every step was a struggle. And again against all odds it was released.
As independent artist it is a struggle, no one wants to give chance to new director, writer or actor. Creativity is not the key, the key is business. So even though it is an artistic field, I realized that it is not just about art. It is about business, big names, and money, and this is not just my story, this is the story of all independent filmmakers. I am not even a filmmaker, this was a passion project, an honest sincere story of my grandmother. So yes, very challenging for sure and eye opening experience.
Any historians you consulted or libraries you visited to check for dates/details or you relied on memories & accounts of the family members?
We had already done extensive research and also have enough information on Maharaja Bhupinder Singh himself. Plus, being from the family, we were allowed to go to Patiala Palace, but because of limited timing we did not. Most information came from research done by Gauri Singh, Ketki Singh, Rick Alis, Poonam Basu and myself.
The essentials came from knowing our grandmother first hand and living with her for 13 years, and my mother and her sisters.
Nowadays everything is on Internet, but as you know the story we told about her life story is not on the net. So we just made that available to the world from what we experienced, what we found out and talking to many people she lived with, and her account of her life.
Any particular moment in this journey which stands out in your memory?
Every moment was hard. All I can say is hats off to people who make independent films and get no recognition. Without my team during filming this would not have been possible. Every step there was someone helping us along. Most memorable was after people saw the finished project, they thought it was high budget film. It was appreciated in film festivals and best feedback was from people I did not know because I knew they were honest. Audience feedback has been amazing, as long as you touched someone you have created a masterpiece. And I know we did. That is what I am thankful for.
After all the message of the movie is, life will always bring challenges, never give up hope, or never let life bring you down, we learn from our experiences and grow from them. Winners never stop, they believe and keep moving forward.
This is not the end.