There’s a movie called Baraka and these guys to me are very funny because people look at these as a very cultural thing. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing and people will say, “He ripped this from Baraka.” If you’ve seen Baraka hopefully you’ll do a little bit more research and you’ll find out what a joke it is. People look at it as a very big cultural thing, but how they evolved was that in the 1920s a German guy went there and said, “You need some sort of gimmick to get tourists.” He taught them this! But what they’ve done is taken this idea of storytelling and made it their own, which I love.
I wanted to take it that step further. I said, “You can’t speak, but you have to tell me the directions around the world.” I just wanted to turn it into a language. It’s a musical interlude like they always do in Hindi movies. When you see a Hindi movie they just shoot everything in this shitty little corner in India and then to show the production value in the trailer they’ll send these guys to Trafalgar Square and all these clichéd points where they’ll sing in front of pigeons and all that and suddenly it’s in the fucking trailer. I just wanted that as a joke so that we could say, “Hey, we travelled everywhere!”
For most people when the movie doesn’t work it’s because of its meandering, but the movie is about meandering. We’re using one person as a storyteller and you don’t cut to the agenda. You don’t go from here to the third act – what he’s doing is using his body language to make things more interesting. Hitchcock said, if two people have to have a conversation, let’s cut to the bomb underneath. For me, I thought it’d be great not to show the bomb and to get people interested in the boring conversation. And, actually, in the second act you discover that there is a bomb underneath and it’s all the more powerful then.
There are so many locations in this film. Seventeen years I’ve been looking for these locations. It’s a location scout’s nightmare – or perhaps their dream. There was someone on the internet who wrote, “I would give my left nut to be Tarsem‘s location scout!” If you give it time you realise that all of these green screen shots or effects shots you do date very, very quickly. When you go ten years or fifteen years down the line, no matter how good it is everything will look like a bad videogame. Location shooting, I can guarantee you, it was never hip, but it will never date. If you buy it now you will love it more twenty five years from now and it’s because everything is on location.
The trouble when you use beautiful images is that people don’t realise you can sometimes be making a joke. They don’t realise that it may look beautiful but it’s idiosyncratic. That’s a difficult one to tell people, and this is one of the more idiosyncratic moments in the film. People don’t know if they’re supposed to laugh. In fact for the whole film you’re seducing people to think it’s funny so that by the end bit, as soon as you’re ready to laugh at it, it gets dark, so they don’t know if they should be crying. Either you embrace it or you go, “Fuck off!”
But I’m saying that from the very beginning the storyteller is in front of you and he’s trying to show you his manipulation. That’s how I’m taking the license and I’m showing it to you through him. It’s not passion or anything, it’s manipulation and that’s how pictures do it to you. And sometimes people are – correctly – offended by it.
These are all extras that he’s standing on which we picked up there. The temperature here is 49 degrees centigrade while raining, so you can imagine how hot this is. It was cheaper for them to get extras to wear this horrendous Nuagahyde Leather thing – that was painted and smelling of toxic stuff – and make them still than it was to use dummies!
This is the transformation of the guy going in from one scene to another and this one is the effect shot. This ended up in the windiest corner of the world. They say a good trick is when you fake someone into thinking one thing and then do the opposite. You know, by this time, they’re thinking, “Wow, there’s no CGI, everything is real,” so you go and use it in the one place they’re not expecting it. And it’s for practical reasons only, because this is one of the windiest places in the world.
We built it to about twenty feet and we realised that the fabric was parachuting so heavily it couldn’t be any bigger. But we actually used duplication, not CGI, so I thought that was fine. As long as the technology had been around for a hundred years I thought it was OK to do this trick. Whenever you ask people to point out the effects they’ll always point to the blue city or here or there but they’ll never point to the few I actually did as effect shots! This was just impossible to achieve and aesthetically doing it this way it looked exactly how I wanted it to.
I really did approach the effects in the film from the point of view of the time period the film is set in – the silent movie era. It was about what technology was available to them then. That’s all I used. But look at the archive footage at the end – believe me, they didn’t have unions back then, they used to kill these guys left, right and centre.
This costume is the genius of Eiko Ishioka. A lot of time you tell people to think outside the box – Eiko doesn’t know what the box means. Her thinking is already from a different planet. I told her that this woman needs to be revealed and so she needs some sort of a veil and of the next thing she draws and I go, “Oh my God, OK! Just make it!” It’s just beautiful.
Believe me, her stuff is very difficult to make, very beautiful to wear and very impractical to work in, but it looks phenomenal.
This location is called Lake Palace and we’re standing on the roof of the hotel. It’s a hotel in the middle of the lake and we’re shooting on the roof.
People have tried to shoot here before and they have nightmares. The moment people know there are film stars there they come out on the roofs and there are 15-20,000 people there looking at. I figured, OK, we’ll get the wide shots first and then once people have descended on us we’ll move to close-ups. Literally, we went and shot them in minutes.
But this place has been shot before – this is Jodhpur in India – but no-one quite knows how to make it look as it does there. We knew that legally it’s a Brahmin city so it has to be painted blue but it’s never this blue. Two months earlier we went out with buckets and buckets of paint and told the city: Free paint – you can paint your house whatever colour you want. But we knew they’d have to choose blue!
It was very difficult for the actors because there’d be hundreds of people around making a lot of news.