As someone who counts Satyajit Ray as a huge influence, Majid Majidi decided to set his latest film Beyond the Clouds in Mumbai streets, which he believes, are full of incredible heroes trying to lead a life of dignity in the face of struggle. The Iranian director has always been fascinated with Ray’s cinematic outlook and how his heroes come from everyday life, something that he feels is missing in Indian cinema today.
“Satyajit Ray’s films had an effect on me. (They inspired me) to follow a certain interpretation of life. And (I would like) to influence younger generation. In Pather Panchali, there is a respect that he has for his hero, even in the poverty. His heroes come from this class of society and they are trying for life,” Majidi told PTI in an interview. “Struggling people are my heroes. I am not glorifying poverty, it is bad. (But) I believe that a person has a lot of interior values that we do not see,” he adds.
The director says it was a dream come true to set one of his films in India, which he believes, is culturally very close to Iran. “I always wanted to make a film in India as it is a dramatic country with dramatic locations. The streets and the alleys of Bombay are full of stories, something that you can’t find anywhere else. I always wondered why we do not see such kind of stories in Indian cinema. Apart from Satyajit Ray, Shyam Benegal and Mira Nair, you rarely find these stories in the cinema here.”
Majidi says he has always been curious to explore other cultures and people and believes one can learn something unique from those one encounters in life. “When I was a child, I always wanted to know what was happening on the other side of the wall. In India, the walls are broken, you see a lot of things. I recently saw an old man on the street trying to take a bath with very little water whereas I had used a lot of water in the hotel. I felt ashamed to have done that. Next day, I tried to use as little water as I could.”
The director says he feels alive when he is on a film set, crafting his next story. “When I am making a film, I feel I am living. When I am not making a film, I feel I am not living. For me, making films is like breathing. So I want (to continue making films) till I can. It does not mean that I don’t like the other part of my life. But it is private, hidden. What will remain for me in the world is what I make and this is the reason I love this part (filmmaking) of my life,” he says.
Majidi is known for his unique sensitivity in portraying day-to-day life which he imbues with beauty and empathy. His Children of Heaven, which was remade in India, was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Foreign Language category. Beyond the Clouds is the story of Amir (Ishaan Khatter), who is on the run from the cops and finds his estranged sister Tara (Malavika Mohanan), who in a bid to protect her brother lands up in jail. Their entire lives have been clouded by despair but then they find hope, unexpectedly.
Majidi wanted an Indian face for his film and found Mohanan perfect for Tara’s role. “Malavika’s face was very important for me because I wanted an Indian face, especially for international audiences to have this immediate impression that she is from India. First, we shot the scenes out of the jail, and then after one month, I told her she has to lose weight. She had to be thin for the portion inside the jail and she worked hard to do that.”
When Majidi first saw the audition footage of Ishaan for Beyond the Clouds, he liked it and thought of meeting him in person. In the first meeting, the director, however, was not very impressed with the aspiring actor. “The first time I met Ishaan, (he) was (wearing) a sporty T-shirt, (had) muscles and was trying to sit in a very macho way. I looked at him and said, ‘Your face is working, but I have a big problem with your body. Tone down your body, reduce the muscles. “Next time, he wore a large T-shirt and sat with a hunch.”
The film is set to be released in India on April 20.