Debut filmmaker Nitin Kakkars national award-winning feature uses film as a metaphor to bridge the political divide between India and Pakistan.
A 2003 interaction in Thailand while on a filming trip left such an impact on filmmaker Nitin Kakkar,that years later,it encouraged him to produce his debut Hindi feature,Filmistaan. I was stranded in Bangkok with a few members of my film crew one night. It was late and we were looking for a place to stay, says Kakkar,whose 120-minute feature film was recently awarded the National Award in the Best Hindi film category. We walked into a restaurant asking for help and the owner offered us a free meal. After he made a few calls,he even managed to get us a place to spend the night. When we wanted to pay,he refused,insisting that since we were Indians,(he was a Pakistani),he would not charge us. That gesture opened my mind, says Kakkar,who has written and directed the film.It is loosely based on the pretext of people from India and Pakistan being able to have better interactions.
The film,devoid of any star power,is about a film buff from Mumbai essayed by actor Sharib Hashmi,desperate for a role in a Bollywood production. In an effort to work in Indian films,he gets a job with an American production crew that goes to Rajasthan to film a documentary. One day,he gets kidnapped by a terrorist group who mistake him for an American film crew member. After being held hostage for a few days,he befriends his kidnappers who also happen to trade in pirated Bollywood CDs across the border. Soon,the duo bond over cinema and culture. The film carries an underlining message of how cinema can bridge political boundaries for both nations, says Kakkar,a Punjabi who grew up in Mumbai. But as a child,Kakkar heard stories from his parents and grandfather about how the Partition affected them psychologically.
I always had these stories with me,but that night in Bangkok provided the stimulus for writing the script, says the 37-year-old filmmaker,who directed TV serials for almost a decade until in 2007,he forced himself,to stop writing for TV and focus on cinema. TV is something you do,not because you want to,but to keep the kitchen running, he says. His most notable TV productions include directing six episodes of Sssshh Phir Koi Hai (2006),Jersey No. 10 and CID Special (2007),besides other TV projects. I always wanted to direct thriller plots,as it offered more scope for narrative. I could never relate to the family dramas on television, he says.
Deeply influenced by works of short story writer,Saadat Hassan Manto,Kakkars experiment with filmmaking resulted in Black Freedom (2004) which was an award-winning tribute to his poetry and works. Mantos ideology finds space in Kakkars script for Filmistaan too,besides strains of cinematic vocabulary of Iranian directors such as Majid Majidi and Mohsen Mahmalbaf who are his inspiration. While writing Filmistaan,Kakkar focused on the influence of cinema on both countries. I saw appreciative comments left on Coke Studio,Pakistan,by people from India and Pakistan and realised,we shared a common cultural link, he says.
His film has been well-received in the festival circuit,with a Special Jury Mention at the Busan Film Festival in 2012 besides the Best Debut Director at the International Film Film Festival of Kerala. Currently,the film has few screenings lined up at the Seattle film festival and the director is hoping for a theatrical release in India this June.