By Danuska Da Gama I NT BUZZ
Your twenty-six-year old film ‘Salaam Bombay’ still lives on. Comment.
I never thought that ‘Salaam Bombay’ would go on to become a classic. But then I am happy that it lasted all these years. It is indeed one of the best films I have written. I think it’s more to do with the fact that the movie dealt with issues which are relevant even today. The film is still a masterpiece in terms of its style and content.
Why did you choose ‘Salaam Bombay’ as your debut film?
I was influenced by my family members, who were amateur photographers and used monochrome cameras at that time. My father was a great photographer and hence I have inherited my passion for photography from him. As a young college-going student, I always wanted to make films. After studying Literature at Harvard, I enrolled for the Film Theory and Criticism course at New York University. After obtaining my Masters in 1981, I returned to India to work as a freelance still photographer, with no ambition. Through literature, film studies and photography, I learnt the various aspects of cinematography and filmmaking. After collaborating with Mira (Nair), we both did extensive research for the film ‘Salaam Bombay’. I donned several hats for this film, including that of a producer during the making of the film. It was a wonderful experience. When I was shooting the film, I would constantly take suggestions and incorporate it, though I had the larger picture in mind while shooting the film. I didn’t know the film would fare so well. I owe my career to ‘Salaam Bombay’.
Tell us more about your collaboration with filmmaker Mira Nair.
Friendship has been the most important aspect of our collaboration. Mira and I first met when we were both college students in the USA. What clicked for both of us was that we were friends even before we collaborated. Mira, as a director, brings out the best in people, which makes her stand out as a director.
Why did you take up film direction very late in your career?
I always wanted to make a film, and it happened when I was fifty. I had a lot of free time and took it up seriously to make the film ‘Little Zizou’, using the Parsi community in the background. The reason behind doing the film was to address issues about patriarchy and religious fundamentalism of the Parsi community, for which I used a bit of humour and local folklore, and also to do something which would have appealed to a wider audience. I am now working on ‘3 and ½’, which is a futuristic and political love story. This feature film will show Mumbai in the present and in the future. I have signed Kunal Nayyar, while the other two leads are yet to be cast.
The Indian film industry is now waking up to women filmmakers. Comment.
Yes, of course. There is a wide variety out there. It includes Farah Khan who does commercial cinema, Zoya Akhtar who does contemporary films and many others. It’s great and I sincerely feel women should not be left behind. However, when it comes to me being a film director, I do not want to do out-and-out commercial films. I believe that sensibilities and talent lies in being different.
What is your say on big budget films making Rs 100 crore business, while parallel or off-beat films hardly see audience as most of the times they are never released in movie theatres.
That’s the case everywhere. If a film is seen by many people, it goes on to become a blockbuster and makes a lot of money. But a good film should be one which is talked about and remains in the minds of people. A film, in my definition, should be one which makes people think.
Do you still manage to get time for your passion-photography?
Photography is a passion that I can’t give up. It can’t be unlearnt. Professionally, I have just made my fashion debut by shooting a photo feature for Harpers Bazaar magazine.
A screenwriter, photographer and director; which of the three do you love most?
All, actually. I love doing all three. I made my first film at fifty and I must say it’s turning out to be an addiction.
What will viewers get to see at Sensorium?
There are pages which represent scenes that were shot as written, but were changed on the spot with improvisation. The photographs are stills from the film which include characters, scenes, behind-the-scenes and of course, the cast and crew which includes Mira Nair and the director of photography, Sansi Sissel.
(The exhibition ‘Screenplay to Screen’ is on till February 5 at Sunaparanta Goa Centre of Arts, Altinho, Panaji.)