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Love beyond boundaries

Dia Mirza and Mohammad Reza Golzar at the Thakur College of Engineering and Technologyin Kandivali, where the fag end of the shoot for Salaam Mumbai is on.— Photos: Rajneesh Londhe  

ia Mirza confesses to having been in awe of Iranian cinema for the longest time, filmmaker Majid Majidi in particular. What she finds particularly fascinating is the fecund creativity in their films despite the rigid censorship laws.

“The whole dynamic is such that it compels the filmmakers to be inventive,” she says sitting in the vanity van, waiting to be called for her shot. “With seemingly simple stories they are able to make comments on things in an engaging way, something that often passes us by in our own films.”

Mirza is seeing it all up close and personal now as the lead in the first Indo-Iranian co-production, a cross-cultural love story called Salaam Mumbai with none other than Iran’s own Shah Rukh Khan, Mohammad Reza Golzar as her beau. “It will be the first bridge between Iranian and Indian cinema,” says Golzar, a gent who Mirza refers to as a man of pedigree. “He is a thorough gentleman with no uncharming bone in his body,” she says. For a star who would get mobbed in his own country, Golzar seems to have no paraphernalia around him, coming to the shoot on his own from the hotel.

He seems perfectly at ease despite it being only his second time in India, after a holiday to Goa 10 years ago. He, however, hasn’t been out much in Mumbai. A Zakir Hussain concert in Prithvi with Mirza, half a day of shopping, and a meeting over tea with SRK in Mannat.

We are at Thakur College of Engineering and Technology in Kandivali where the fag end of the 40-odd days shoot in India is on. Two more days and it will be a wrap. With that, 90 per cent of the film will be canned. The crew then heads back to Iran on March 15 where the rest of the film will be shot over a week, informs the director Ghorban Mohammadpour.

They hope to release the film (in which the characters speak Farsi, Hindi and English) in the next four to six months, not just in India, Iran, Pakistan and the Arab world but worldwide, including the US.

The Mumbai engineering college is filling in for a medical institution in the film. Golzar plays an Iranian who comes to India to study medicine to become a doctor and falls in love with an Indian collegemate from a traditional rich family, played by Mirza. “We are shooting the scenario of the college, some sequences where the hero and heroine are still strangers, a bit of the middle part of their courtship and some portions of the separation and frustrations of lost love,” informs Mohammadpour.

The unassuming director in a simple cotton shirt and pair of pants, a file in hand, would escape anyone’s eye in the busy set were it not for his call to “silence, camera, action; and cut.”

Mirza is struck by how we see foreign students all around us in the Indian universities but making a film on such a theme never occurred to us. Mohammadpour says that the idea came to him while making his previous film, Zaban Madari (Mother Tongue, 2012) that had characters from various nationalities including an Indian.

A complete surprise

He began actively working on the script of Salaam Mumbai two years ago. Ask him to compare the filmmaking processes in the countries and he says that he finds shoots in India more organised and convenient, and people more punctual than in Iran. But Iran is more liberal when it comes to giving permission to shoot outdoors.

“You need just one permission to shoot anywhere in one particular city in Iran. That too is offered free of cost. In Mumbai for every different street you need a separate permission and have to pay for it,” says Mohammadpour.

The offer for the film came to Mirza as a complete surprise. She had been busy setting up and managing her own production company, Born Free Entertainment, and acting had taken a back seat for a while. The role came at an opportune time when they were in between projects and she had some time to get away from the demands of production. One fine day she got a call from Ali Irani, Shah Rukh Khan’s physiotherapist, enquiring if she would be interested.

The script landed with her in September and they began shooting in February. Since then, she has been soaking in the experience. But first, the language barrier had to be overcome. “We had to find a way to communicate and find a rhythm,” says Mirza. With every new film, there are new people, ways of working and environment to adjust to. “Here it was a new country, culture and thought process as well,” she says.

The stark contrast between the filmmaking traditions of the two countries hits her. They are spartan. “But we vibrant and colourful, with a lot of song and dance,” she says. It’s an element which is absent in Iranian films. Mohammadpour, however, says the Indian version will have four songs composed by Dilshad Shaikh. There is just one dance sequence in the film that too with only male dancers and the hero and the heroine as silent onlookers.

“The narrative might be set outside Iran but the film is not indulgent, loud or excessive,” says Mirza. The flip side of it is that the actress never felt the camera on her face nor the lights too close.

“In our films, the butterfly light that we use can cage the actor but the Iranian technical crew maintains a distance which allows you to be in the moment, feel it. It seems real as though it is happening to you,” she says. There were other differences. In Iranian films, the production designer handles all the visual aspects, be it wardrobe, props or sets while it’s compartmentalised in India. What we call a shot in India is called plan in Iran. For her, there were other basic guidelines to keep in mind. Even though she doesn’t wear a hijaab in the film, she had to think through her wardrobe: the specific minimum length of the sleeves of the dress, how much of the neck could be shown. “It’s then that we realise how free we are but also that how lazy this freedom makes us. The rigidity compels them to work harder while we have become complacent,” she says.

Besides Mirza, the film also stars Gulshan Grover, Dalip Tahil and Poonam Dhillon in key roles. The film has been produced by Javad Norouzbeigi, who was the executive producer for Majid Majidi’s The Song of Sparrows and the line production in India is being done by Censor Board chief Pahlaj Nihalani’s company. Mirza is excited at the prospect of a whole new audience opening up for her in Iran and is looking forward to attending the premiere there. Mohammadpour wants to continue making films in India. Not just Salaam Mumbai , he promises that Salaam Mumbai 2 and Salaam Mumbai 3 will also be coming very soon to a screen near us.

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Printable version | Dec 9, 2021 11:32:16 AM |

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