Bosnian Danis Tanovic is known to Indian cinema lovers as the director whose debut feature film No Man’s Land stopped the Oscar march of Lagaan — India’s best hope for the Best Foreign Film Award so far — in 2001.
“How can I put it? I am happy to be known in India even if it’s for the wrong reasons. I am also famous in France and Argentina,” says the filmmaker, who faced stiff competition from Amélie (France) and Son of the Bride (Argentina) as well at the Academy Awards.
Years after No Man’s Land — which focuses on an encounter between a Bosnian and a Serbian soldier in the height of 1993 war — was a surprise Oscar winner, Tanovic has strengthened his ties with India. A year after he co-produced The Lunchbox in 2013, he is currently in Mumbai wrapping up the post-production work of his newest directorial venture Tigers ahead of its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) that opened on Thursday.
Later in the month, the film features in the San Sebastian Film Festival’s competitive section. Like most of his movies, the 45-year-old director tackles a controversial issue in the Emraan Hashmi-starrer, Tigers.
Based on a true story, it exposes the activities of multinationals in the developing world. A Pakistani salesman, who peddles locally made drugs to pharmacies and doctor, stumbles upon a scam in a substitute for breastfeeding available in the market.
“Andy Paterson came across the story and proposed that I direct a movie on it. We wanted to see if the scam was really happening and went to Pakistan in 2006. Once we realised it was true, we started writing,” says Tanovic, who has co-written Tigers’s screenplay with Paterson.
Writing this screenplay, according to the director, was a long and painful process as they were working with “true fact and real people”. What turned out to be more painful than that was finding a producer. “A number of people really wanted to make the film but it kept getting overruled by the higher-ups,” says Paterson.
This put the project in a limbo. It revived nearly four years later, when Prashita Chaudhary and Guneet Monga of India stepped in as producers in 2012. “Prashita and Guneet took steps to ensure that the financial and technical aspects are taken care of,” says Tanovic.
When Paterson and Tanovic visited Pakistan in 2006, they realised it would difficult to shoot there. With similar landscape across the border, India seemed to be a better option. The film was shot in Punjab last year. “That apart, India can really be proud of the level it has achieved in cinematic technology. It is already hard to make a film, so I opt for whatever can make my life easier,” says the director, who is currently in Mumbai for the movie’s post-production work.
In India, Tanovic also found his lead actors for Tigers, a human drama that’s treated as a corporate thriller. “When I hear of a Bollywood star, I think of someone like Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, who was a co-juror at the Cannes Film festival in 2003. So, when Anurag Kashyap told me about Emraan Hashmi, I imagined him to be some cute dancer. I watched him in Shanghai as a reference and I thought he was not over-the-top,” the director recalls. He now hopes that people will watch the film because Hashmi is really like one of them in the film.
For the role of Hashmi’s wife, the director met several Indian actresses but Geetanjali Thapa bagged it. “Thapa was almost too beautiful for the role. There are scenes when she has to stand up to her husband. She is petite but fiery,” he says. Tigers will have two cuts — one completely in Hindi meant for the Indian audience, the other has more of English and adopts a docu-drama style in parts.
Tanovic, who was a war reporter before he became a filmmaker, is vocal against war. “If everyone looked at wars through my eyes, the first thing they would do is to let go of every army in the world. You can never win a war. The other day, I was watching the news which showed the Israeli army and Hamas
claiming victory in Gaza. I thought, are these people serious? Nearly 2,000 people have died. Where is the victory in that? A good war film is that which speaks against war,” says the director who floated a political party called Naša Stranka in 2008.
“I have no political aspirations. It is a way to express ideas. If you are an artist, people give you attention, but a political party gets more attention. Anyway it is like running a marathon — it will take a long time to build public opinion.”