The Man Who Feels No Pain is literally about the concept of Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota but not in the sexist way Hindi cinema feels men should be tough. It is about a disease, one in which the individual feels no pain. Vasan Balan takes that and makes for the most interesting, unique, and fantastic films I have seen in a very long time. Here’s my chat with him at the Toronto International Film Festival 2018:
What a clever title.
Yeah, in the context now, but without the context, it is pretty nauseating, isn’t it? I mean, the whole thing that is pushed onto us through the ages. But obviously, the actual title was an iconic dialogue in Mard.
Yes, I’m so happy to be here with the film, here at TIFF at Midnight Madness. I don’t think there is any other audience I would have wanted to be the first audience for it.
How you came up with the title – it is very gender-biased, initially, but before I watched the film, I tried to figure out if I would actually even want to watch it?
Well, what happened was, there is a friend of mine, he mentioned a little boy to me, who lived across from his friend, who was a dentist and that he doesn’t feel pain. So, through that, I came to know about the disease, and I was just thinking, like what film should I make.
So it was The Man Who Feels No Pain, which literally translates to Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota. And I also always wanted to make a Martial Arts film. So, I put those two worlds together. It fit very well.
Very early it struck me, that being able to feel no pain, is actually a disease and not really something to be proud of, so to speak. Because if you don’t feel pain, you will die. Your body is taking your life and you wouldn’t know it.
There are very interesting nuances to your character – detailing, the backpack, the goggles. Where did you come up with that?
Yes, so all of that came out through research. There was a boy who put his finger in his eye and plucked out his eye – and it is very difficult for parents. All the documentaries I saw, the parents were very paranoid. I’m a father of a daughter – when my daughter is crying, calling for attention is the first signal for parents to know there is something wrong. Mostly I’m watching her, but sometimes you can look away. Sometimes, they don’t even realize they are hurt.
The design came out of the practicality of the situation, not to make a statement. Like, you have to keep drinking water. You have to protect your eyes. People who have this are a lot more careful than a normal human would be. It’s the exact opposite – as a kid, you think you are invincible that you don’t feel pain, but it’s that the exact opposite. It’s not cool. So that mismatch, we wanted to show.
Tell me about the portrayal of the grandfather and the grandson – it struck a chord with me. How did you come up with the sequences and how you developed that relationship?
That relationship is basically me and my grandpa. It is the relationship I shared with him. He was an amazing granddad. He was a sportsperson. He would make me watch the Olympics. There was a very strong bond. He found his own way to say ‘no’ to me – he would always find his own way to explain things to me, so I had that memory and that bond that I will never forget.