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Will the Warrior win?

"The Warrior," Hindi film which received rave reviews from the British Press, has been selected as U. K.'s official entry to this year's Oscars. Its maker, Asif Kapadia, who was in Chennai recently, talks to SREEDHAR PILLAI.

``Tremendous screen presence''... Irfan Khan in ``The Warrior''.

THE RACE for the Oscars has started. In Mumbai after last year's hype and hoopla about "Lagaan" making it to the final five in The Best Foreign Film Category, everybody is talking now about Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Magnus Opus "Devdas", this year's Indian entry.

Its producer and film financier Bharat Shah has said that he will promote the film by spending millions of dollars in `marketing' and `lobbying' to make it the first Hindi film to bag the elusive award!

But Bharat Shah and Bhansali have stiff competition from another Hindi film, Asif Kapadia's "The Warrior", which has been selected in the same category as UK's official entry to the Oscars.

The London born Asif Kapadia whose parents had migrated from Surat in Gujarat, to the U.K. has managed to get his debut film in Hindi nominated by The British Academy Of Film And Television Art (BAFTA) for the Oscars, over other British films.

For the first time BAFTA has picked a non-English film as its official entry for the coveted award.

"The Warrior" has been raved about in the British Press and described as `surrealistic', `stunning' and `mesmerising', while some critics have even called it an `esoteric' film.

The reviews were so flattering that the film has been sold for distribution all over the world.

Miramax, a leading American distribution company, is marketing the film that will be premiered in the U.S. next May, after the Oscars.

Asif Kapadia... handling a universal story with emotion.

Asif was in Chennai recently on a two-day visit to attend the Confederation of Indian Industry — southern region and The British Council organised `Double feature'— a film seminar.

Kapadia said that he was surprised when "The Warrior" was selected as the U.K.'s official entry.

When asked about the film's chances to win the Oscar he hesitates: "To be honest our chances are slim as competition is going to be very tough. There is this new epic by Zhang Yimou from China, and the Brazilian movie "City Of God" is amazing. Then there is a French film "Eight Women" and many good films like "Lilja Forever", "Almodovar" among others. I will be thrilled if my film makes it to the final five".

"The Warrior" has been shown at many film festivals and has already won the prestigious Sutherland Award at the London Film Festival.

"The Warrior" is an 87-minute film, which tells a universal story of redemption following a man's journey to escape his violent life. The original idea came from a Japanese samurai warrior's story.

Says Kapadia: "There is this story where the son of a warrior is shown a decapitated head and asked, "Is this your father". That was the inspiration that made me and the co-writer of the film, Tim Miller, start work on our script". The film has been shot entirely in the deserts of Rajasthan and the snow capped Himachal Pradesh with a cast and crew of Indians. Irfan Khan, a well-known TV artist, is the hero of the film and others in the cast are from The National School of Drama, New Delhi.

It was Mira Nair's casting director Tigmanshu Dhuliya who read Asif's script completely and recommended Irfan to do the lead role. Added Asif: "Irfan has tremendous screen presence and his character had very little dialogue. I felt that he could communicate his emotions without speaking!"

When asked whether his film had any resemblance to Santhosh Sivan's period drama "Asoka" which was also an anti-violence film, a peeved Kapadia said, "The shooting of my film was completed much before the release of "Asoka". "The Warrior" is a universal story told through images. And the audience at the festivals had told me that they had connected emotionally to the story." London born Kapadia who speaks fluent Hindi, preferred to play football before he started work on short films.

He has studied filmmaking at the Royal College of Arts and his diploma film "The Sheep Thief" was shot in Rajasthan.

Kapadia says that his romance with India started with his diploma film that made him do his first feature film also here. `Film Four' had funded "The Warrior", which cost around two million pounds. Asif Kapadia says that he has not seen "Devdas" yet and is not bothered about its producer's deep pockets and `lobbying' power.

The Los Angeles based Oscar watchers feel that among the two Hindi films "The Warrior" stands a better chance to make it to the final five as the Academy members would be more comfortable with the theme and message of the film. Added to that Miramax is promoting "The Warrior", and they are masters at marketing and lobbying at the Oscars. Remember how "Shakespeare In Love" swept the Oscars? Though he admires Indian filmmakers like Mani Ratnam, Asif says that he has a European style to filmmaking and his roots will always be in London.

He will not be coming back to India for some time, as his next film in English is set in Mexico.

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