Nitin Kakkar’s Filmistan has simply marvelled the delegates of the 17th IFFK. The tale of an aspiring Indian actor who is abducted and meets a Pakistani who smuggles pirated Hindi movies, Filmistan attempts to touch a chord through humour, an unlikely tool when it comes to dealing with memories of a bloodied separation and wounded emotions. Mr. Kakkar talked to The Hindu about his journey so far. Excerpts:
Q: It is quite interesting that your work for television includes a horror serial, before you moved on to direct a film that touches on a serious and sensitive subject, that too with dollops of humour.
A: As they say, television is like newspaper, it gets printed everyday. But movies are like novels. You write them once in a while. And they will always be the way they are. So you take some extra care while making a film. It is not that I don’t want to do television anymore. I would love to do it if something nice comes up.
Q: You seem to have chosen a rather touchy topic for your debutant film.
A: Every movie is a reflection of its director’s thoughts. And this movie is a reflection of the way I think. The point that you really go ahead and make a film on it means you are touched by a theme. You don’t invest one year of your life in a project you don’t believe in. Some might feel offended about it, but I mean no offence. I mean to spread only love and brotherhood.
Q: We live in an age when patriotism almost always borders on jingoism. How did you attempt to find balance while treating the subject?
A: I can’t define patriotism. I don’t think I am the right person to do it. But what I feel is sometimes we give too much importance to our faith and our country. But we start disrespecting others. I am not against being patriotic. But I am against disrespecting somebody’s faith. Whichever country you live in, at the end of the day, it is about humans. It’s about human emotions, it is about life. It is not about flags; not about ‘my country is good’ and ‘yours is not.’ At the end, everybody is fighting for basic survival.
Q: You must have been nursing these thought for some time that eventually led to the making of the movie?
A: It is not that “ok, I should start thinking like this.” I think this is how I have been moulded in my own upbringing where I believe that we should give space to each other. But as you grow and see around, you make your own opinion and my opinion is just what the film reflects.
Q: India recently hanged Kasab, the lone survivor of the terrorist gang that attacked Mumbai. We heard opinions as varied as the constituents of our country. As a nation we are still trying for reconciliation with our past for the sake of our present. How do you feel about being an Indian?
A: I am proud to be an Indian. Every country has its pros and cons. I am ready to do my bit to make a difference in this country. That’s all what I can do. There are so many decisions people make that involve a lot of things. You can’t say those are good or bad. These are very subjective. I love my country, am patriotic about it.
Q: You have faced and tackled life’s realities at a pretty young age. How did all that mould your views about life, your outlook, and your thought process?
A: Whatever life gives you, you should take it with a smile. When things happen, you think why God has let that happen…and you start questioning God. But, eventually when you live your life, you get all the answers. I miss my parents, I lost them very young. But that moulded me into the person I am today. I think I grew from a boy to a man at 14.
Q: How is the experience being in Kerala?
A: I have always wanted to visit Kerala. I have many Malayali friends from whom I got to know about life and movies here, but I was never able to make it to Kerala. Fortunately, I got an opportunity to come here because of IFFK. But I am yet to explore the State. I will come here someday on a bike and move from village to village.
Q: Keralites do not have a true experience of partition of the country. We depend on books and movies to get a sense of what really happened. Do you think that is also a reason for the exciting response your movie garnered here?
A: People up north relate to partition more strongly. I relate to it more strongly because my grandfather was from Lahore. He moved to Punjab and my dad moved to Bombay. I was born in Bombay. So we have heard those stories. I agree people down south don’t connect to it that strongly. But, at the end, it’s about human emotions. It’s about drawing a line and telling people that you can’t cross that line even if your loved ones are on the other side. You don’t need to be north Indian to understand that. And anybody who understands this film is alive somewhere deep inside.
Q: Do you find India is a paradise of paradoxes? We have a very large part of our people living in abject poverty while the country is on an upward surge to emerge the next super power.
A: There is a wrong notion of development. Having i-phones or malls is not development. Development of mind is what is important. If people develop their thinking and they start accommodating different people, I think then you are developed. When you respect religion, faith, then you are developed. Development has nothing to do with electronics. That is only one aspect, which is good. I still believe we need to remain humans deep inside and not be so mechanical.
Q: Why did you adopt humour as an idiom while narrating the story?
A: The simple reason is that nobody wants to take ‘gyan.’ Everybody knows what is not to be done. It’s about narrating the same thing in a different way. And I took support of humour because I think we make mountains out of mole hills. There are issues that are actually not very big. If you can laugh and move on, it makes life better. So my choice was humour and Bollywood because both are popular ways in which I can go ahead and tell my story. Irrespective of all differences, cinema is what connects everyone.
Q: How did you find the writing process and finding the right ingredients?
A: I was very conscious and cautious while writing the script. All films made in India are very much from an Indian perspective. It’s very anti-Pakistan. I wanted to find a balance. I consciously avoided getting into religious debates. When I was writing, I know I could touch upon a lot of topics. But I intentionally did not get into those since they are happening for years without any solutions. Some may find it naïve to tell a tale of a kid going and having fun. But why do we stop being kids? What is wrong with that? What is wrong in speaking your mind? Not being calculative?
Q: What are the other festivals the film has been to? How was the response?
A: Busan film festival was amazing. It was a reassurance of my faith that movies connect to hearts irrespective of borders. Busan related to it so well since they have an issue of North Korea and South Korea. We got a special jury mention, which was awesome. It was amazing in Mumbai too. In Kerala, I was not sure since there is not much Bollywood here. But I also knew that since the film is straight from my heart it would connect to the audience. But this kind of response is overwhelming. I had not expected it.
Q: We talk about being patriotic in a rather superficial manner.
A: Patriotism is very high in India and is highly misused. If I want somebody to do something, I say ‘Oh you don’t love your country, you have to do this!” The common man feels guilty all the time. Some politicians use you over religious motives. If you love your country, show it in action, don’t create a drama over it. Help your fellow beings; help making it a better place.
Q: You have more projects lined up?
A: I am fighting to release my film commercially; it is difficult to release a film that has no stars. I want everyone to see my film, not just the festival audience. I am planning a pan-Indian release. I do have a couple of scripts, but before I venture into another one, I want to know the fate of my first film. I hope, as a filmmaker, I don’t fall into the pressures of market.
Q: Tell us a little about your family.
A: My wife is an art director. She is the art director of my film too. My daughter is one and a half years old. She is my stress-buster. I miss her. They are my world and films are the parallel world where I live in.
Q: What are your other interests apart from film-making?
A: I like watching films, also spending time with nature…I love beaches. I am a scuba diver, I have been to Lakshadweep and learned scuba diving. I think it’s more like meditation when you are under water. I like meeting people and talking to them, I don’t want to judge people.