Kahani Pictures (Interview)

Kahani Pictures produces impactful documentary films and web videos for ethically minded organizations. They work closely with brands and nonprofits to create films that make people think about important questions and share real-life narratives about those impacted by their work.

Hollywood North spoke with Inder Nirwan about his experience in creating and building Kahani Pictures.


HNMAG: Were you born in Vancouver?

Inder Nirwan: I am one of the rare true locals, I was born in Richmond. My formative years were all across the Lower Mainland, my family just immigrated here a year before I was born. I was the first in my entire family to be born in Canada.


HNMAG: Where did they come from?

Inder Nirwan: From the Punjab region of India. They came here as refugees due to all the turmoil that was happening in the mid to late eighties. 


HNMAG: Have you ever been to India?

Inder Nirwan: Half a dozen times but never as a tourist. It was going back to the village where my family was from and meeting up with them. I have been to some amazing historic sites that have to do with my family history. I am going to be working on an intense documentary about that. The working title is The Other Side of Me. It’s my perspective as a son of orthodox Sikhs who came to Canada to start a new life but set to the backdrop of all the turmoil that was happening in the late seventies, and early eighties that some of my family was directly involved in like the Sikh Separatist movements. The political quagmire continues to persist. In one sense, the echoes of that colonial structure are the root cause of all the corruption in today’s powers. We are still chasing after the top dog that was from an Imperial model. 


HNMAG: What was an early spark that lead you to work in this medium?

Inder Nirwan: I always loved watching movies. Then my dad brought home a VHS camcorder one day to film a birthday celebration. Then I realized “Oh, you can make these movies.” I would borrow the camera and try to recreate James Bond movies with my friends at school. When I watched the footage I was baffled why my movie didn’t look like the movies on TV. At Tamanawis Secondary in Surrey, I was fortunate that the faculty recognized my passion for filmmaking, so even in math class, they would allow me to solve problems as a film. 


HNMAG: Did you continue studying film after high school?

Inder Nirwan: Even though all I did was eat, live, and breathe film, I didn’t really comprehend that this could be a career path. I knew I wanted to work around cameras, so I decided to go to the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) and study photojournalism. A prerequisite to that was history and political science credits. I wasn’t inspired by that. I discovered Vancouver Film School (VFS) and enrolled there. 


HNMAG: What did you like about VFS?

Inder Nirwan: It was transformative because it was the first time I was surrounded by filmmaking-like-minded people. The majority of my classmates were international. Meeting people from around the world that all spoke the language of movies was very exciting. To this day, I maintain some of those friendships. 


HNMAG: What kind of experience did you have after film school?

Inder Nirwan: I worked on set, post-production, Electronic Arts (EA) games, Bodog sports, which was hilarious. It seemed like a money laundering scheme that was supposedly going to launch a TV show. 


HNMAG: How did you feel about that?

Inder Nirwan: It was an interesting run but after a few years, I started to become quite jaded. I was not appreciating the culture or lack thereof. I found that there were a lot of self-centered, career-focused people, who want you out of their way. There was a lot of disrespect. The hours were also excruciating. An example would be a CW Network show with an eighteen-hour Fraterday where you start work Friday and end on Saturday. Then have to wake up again early Monday morning. 


HNMAG: That must have taken a toll.

Inder Nirwan: I decided to quit and look for something else to do. I was on Craigslist and there was an ad that said “Do you dream of being the next Steven Spielberg?” It was from Lush Cosmetics. They were looking for a videographer. I didn’t know anything about the company or the position. It turned out to be a lightning-in-a-bottle scenario. Lush was becoming globally renowned but internally small. The marketing team was a dozen people and everyone wore multiple hats working out of a small office. They hired me but didn’t know what to do with me. They just knew they needed to make videos. They didn’t have a content strategy or a comprehensive marketing strategy at that time. I didn’t know anything about brand marketing anyway. The company was ahead of its time in being a, very activist, socially conscious, aware, and provocative company. If you didn’t know Lush, you would wonder what a soap company has to do with all these issues but they wore that very proudly. They have an entire department dedicated to ethical givings and charitable campaigning. These ethical campaigns are kind of like running a marketing campaign but instead of promoting a product or service, they would promote some kind of an issue that they wanted to put all their resources behind. All the stores, all the marketing materials, all the digital ads, everything was focused on raising awareness of issues during this campaign instead of selling products. When I joined, they just launched a campaign around the issues brought on by the Enbridge pipeline. Enbridge released a video with terrible animation to spin the narrative of how a pipeline would be beneficial and positive. It was full of hollow platitudes without any substance. I couldn’t get over how bad the animation was. I was telling people at Lush, that I could do what I was on that video. They told me to do it and within a day I whipped up the same animation in aftereffects but instead of putting in their fake narrative, I put in the opposite. So instead of saving the environment, it’s killing the environment. Instead of creating jobs, I pointed out that the jobs will be temporary which will create a gap in the workforce. 


HNMAG: While working for Lush, you created an anti-Enbridge video?

Inder Nirwan: Yeah. I created a video that was a direct parody of the video that Enbridge had put out. The video went viral and received a lot of media attention. That got me some recognition in twenty-twelve at Lush. 



You can watch the Youtube video.


HNMAG: How did that turn out for you at Lush?

Inder Nirwan: That was a very fun and fulfilling four years at Lush. They basically handed me a camera and a credit card and said “You do what you do best and just put our name on it.” All I wanted to do was to contribute to the new social media video phenomenon that was happening around me. Lush allowed me to make videos that were a lot more genuine than any other brand. It taught me how to use video as a tool for education online, rather than just an advertising platform. One amazing opportunity was to be able to make short-form documentary films about seldom-discussed global issues. Lush would fly me around the world, to unique communities and meet with people that had important issues. For example, I went to a rural village in the mountains of Guatemala, and learn about their lived experiences. I discovered that I love that type of filmmaking more than anything else that I’ve ever done. It was straightforward in telling meaningful stories for people that needed to have their storied heard. 


HNMAG: Where did you go from there?

Inder Nirwan: I didn’t really want to work for a Cosmetics company for the rest of my life. I also figured that if one company would pay me a salary for this type of work, there would be a demand from other companies as well. In two thousand and eighteen, I launched my own business of being a filmmaker for hire for brands. I did that on my own for a couple of years. Then my good friend Tricia Stevens, who was the head of the Charitable Givings Team at Lush, decided to leave Lush and was looking for work opportunities. We decided together that the best times either of us ever had was making these meaningful short documentaries about communities at Lush. She joined me and we formed Kahani Pictures. We brand ourselves as an impact, storytelling, documentary production company. Our shared passion was so strong that it blossomed into a romantic relationship. We got married in two thousand and twenty-one. 

HNMAG: Your slogan is Beautiful films that make things happen. What does Kahani mean?

Inder Nirwan: Kahani means story or fable in Punjabi. 


HNMAG: Does Kahani Pictures make documentaries about communities in need?

Inder Nirwan: The way we frame it is we don’t just make documentaries about issues, it’s more that we collaborate with impact-focused brands and organizations and we utilize documentary films to help uplift the narrative of the impact that they produce through the lived experiences of the people that feel that impact. 


HNMAG: Is there an example of a company that has hired you?

Inder Nirwan: One of our clients is HCMA Architecture and Design here in Vancouver. They came up with the Minoru Centre in Richmond. We are doing a series for them called The Space Between, the idea is to highlight the lives that are impacted by the facilities they’ve built. 


The Minoru Centre for Active Living


The Space Between

HNMAG: Are there projects that take you outside of Canada?

Inder Nirwan: Yes, we are working with The Language Conservancy. Their mission is to preserve endangered languages across the world. They’re based out of the United States. They work a lot with indigenous tribes and nations, especially those that are most at risk. 




HNMAG: What do you see happening in the near future? 

Inder Nirwan: In the future, I see there being more opportunities for filmmakers to follow this model. As well as more brands to communicate their vision and what they support culturally. 


HNMAG: Video and the internet changed dramatically since you started working in this industry. How will innovations in technology have a significant impact?

Inder Nirwan: Artificial Intelligence (AI) Technology will always continue to upend certain aspects of work and life, as we’re doing this interview there’s a massive writers and actors strike happening in Hollywood. A big part of the contention there has to do with AI and how producers want to use it to take away from artists. I think that that is a prime example of how filmmaking can be extractive. What we do is very much the opposite. We’re not imposing our vision on people’s stories, we’re collaborating and building relationships. I think what we’re doing will set a precedence for how films can be made in a much more relational and regenerative way, which has less to do with cutting corners with technology and more to do with connecting with others through storytelling. 


Kahani Pictures is a unique production company. They bridge the gap between commerce and community. To help the world discover what your brand is passionate about, the team at Kahani will sit down with you and find the right message and walk you through how that will be communicated. Their films will be entertaining and creative. Most importantly they will help tell the story that impacts the community and how that aligns with your mission. 



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