Filmistaan has earned about Rs. 4.91 crore in the first week. Did you anticipate such a number?
Frankly speaking, it is the producers who can talk about the business angle and what they were expecting. I don’t know how to handle figures. When I hear films making Rs.100 crore and my film has made around Rs.5 crore, the difference in numers is enormous. But then their budgets are also enormous compared to Filmistaan. I am hoping more people come to watch it. It took two years for the film to release, so I guess it will take time to pick up, and the word-of-mouth is good. I have just been theatre hopping to see the audience reaction and it has been superb. After a long time I saw people clapping after a film is over.
What kind of response have you been getting to the film?
The audience have loved the lead actors Sharib Hashmi and Inaamulhaq. They have liked the story and the simplicity and the honesty with which it was made. People have been tweeting and calling it a paisa vasool film. My film is multi-layered so everyone will take something away from it. Some people have liked the India-Pakistan angle, others have loved the humane side saying that you need a good film to reinstate your faith in humanity. I am glad we are able to create this kind of emotion in the audience.
How easy or difficult was it for you to transform Sharib into the Bollywood obsessed Sunny and Inaamulhaq into Aftaab, a Pakistani who makes a living selling pirated DVDs of Indian films in Pakistan?
It was not difficult. If the casting is right, 80 per cent of a director’s job is done. In that way my casting was perfect. I have known Sharib since a long time, and knew he wanted to act. He was a lot like Sunny Arora and perfect for the role. I had seen Inaamulhaq in Firaq in which he had played a small role and told my AD to search for him. I liked his look when he came to meet me. He is a great actor and he works really hard to get under the skin of the character. Sharib is more spontaneous and relies on his instinct, while Inaamulhaaq is more of a method actor who believes in rehearsals. Both approach their work differently, but the result is great in both the cases.
How did the idea to make an out-of-the-box film like Filmistaan germinate?
I cannot pinpoint on any one thing, because the film is a culmination of so many influences and things that I have done and read somewhere. My grandfather is from Lahore, so the Pakistani aspect came in, and I am a huge Bollywood fan, so the wannabe actor. And I think that there is a Sunny Arora in all of us. When I put all these thoughts together, I could see Filmistaan. But unless you are a film buff, it is not possible to make a film like Filmistaan. The film’s simplicity was an influence of watching Iranian films which are known for their simplicity. There are no big camera movements and they concentrate on story- telling. In our industry, I admire Anurag Kashyap, Vishal Bharadwaj and Dibakar Banerjee’s work. Shimit Amin’s films are out of this world— simple with no frills.
Filmistaan won the National Award for the Best Feature Film in 2012. Why did it take so long to release it, and what’s next?
We all know how the industry functions. We had the budget to produce the film, but not for the marketing as the cost to release the film is much more. We were hoping to get someone to back us with their experience and money, as there were no names attached— no one knew Nitin Kakkar or Sharib Hashmi. It took time to gain momentum and come to a point where we were able to crack the bigger network. Shringar Films, who bought the film got in touch with UTV which set the ball rolling. I have no complaints and I am glad that it has got a release. When one small film works, other producers are open to backing others. It’s not for me or my producers, for the whole market I wish that Filmistaan works. My next is a content- driven film which I shall be directing for Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra.