The Pool: From Milwaukee to Sundance…with a detour

by Kevin Mundt

“It’s very cold,” exclaimed Venkatesh Chavana while out having some lunch on Brady Street. “The people are good and the food (in general) is OK.”

Venkatesh, 17, seems shy for someone who played the leading role in a movie that just a couple of weeks ago had a showing at the Sundance Film Festival. His co-star, Jhangir Badshah, 12, on the other hand, is full of energy and could light up any room with his smile. They both are very gracious and polite. These young actors are from Goa, India and use a translator because they know very little English.

Venkatesh and Jhangir star in Milwaukee director Chris Smith’s new movie, The Pool. You may know Smith from his documentary work in films such as Home Movie (2001); The Yes Men (2003); and the 1999 Sundance Grand Jury prizewinner American Movie.

This year Smith won the Special Jury Prize at Sundance for singularity of vision in a drama. The Pool also received a Grand Jury Prize nomination for drama.

Unlike the documentary work Smith is commonly known for, The Pool is a fictional story based on a short story set in Iowa. It is about a boy, played by Venkatesh, who works in a hotel in Goa, India. He becomes infatuated with a pool owned by a wealthy family. In an attempt to better himself, he offers his services to the family and his life changes forever.

The Pool is Venkatesh’s second film; his first was a short film called I’m Bobby directed by Xavier Leplae, owner of Riverwest Film and Video in Milwaukee. It was through this connection with Leplae, who is also credited as a creative consultant for The Pool, that Venkatesh ended up as an actor in the movie.

How Jhangir became involved in the film is anything but conventional in movie making.

The film crew was eating at a restaurant in Goa and was trying to figure out what to do next after three of their four main actors were lost, for a variety of reasons, right before the shooting was to begin. The producer of the film, Kate Noble, spotted Jhangir who worked at the restaurant. She thought he would be good for one of the roles in the movie, and offered him the role even though he had no prior acting experience.

“I got scared at first when they came to ask me,” recalled Jhangir. “My friends told me to stay away from light skinned people.” This apprehension was the result of problems with sex tourism in Goa.

“The owner of the restaurant knew the film crew and he told me they were really nice people,” Jhangir explained, so he agreed to be in the film and joined on the third or fourth day of shooting. It ended up that much of Jhangir’s personal story evolved into the character he played, so this one moment of chance had a distinctive impact on the movie.

Making your acting debut can be rough, but try working under a director who does not speak your language. That could make things a little tougher.

“We never understood what he was saying,” said Venkatesh. “Chris would just get someone to translate what he wanted.” To make matters even more challenging for the actors, the language of the film was Hindi. It was neither of the young actors’ first language.

“In this movie the dialogues were very hard and I had a tough time remembering my lines,” admitted Venkatesh.

As a result, they had to go over the dialogue multiple times with the cast and crew so they could understand it.

One of those who helped the young actors with their lines was the famous award-winning Bollywood actor Nana Patekar, who played the owner of the pool.

“I was very scared working with Nana,” remembered Venkatesh. Since Patekar is known best for being a villain in his movies, Venkatesh’s nervousness is understandable.

However, Patekar proved to be a valuable aide for the young lead actor.

“He used to always help with the dialogue and helped me learn how to say my lines,” explained Venkatesh. “I started understanding the scenes and started to add my own lines to the film, some of which were added to the movie.”

“I learned a lot about acting,” said Jhangir about his experience in The Pool. “At first I never knew what acting was, so I was scared. Doing back takes and being in front of the camera was new to me, but gradually I became comfortable.”

No release date for The Pool had been set.

For more info:

Riverwest Currents online edition – March, 2007