Saeed Akhtar Mirza,who made Nukkad,Saleem Langde Pe Mat Ro and Naseem,is back after a 14-year break with Ek Tho Chance,a film on Mumbai and its people: insiders and outsiders. He talks about the changes in the fabric of a city earlier known as Bombay,its politics and his love for cinema
Why the 14-year gap between the National Award-winning Naseem and your forthcoming Ek Tho Chance?
If you remember,when I made Naseem in the year 1995,it was an insane time in our country with riots everywhere. The demolition of the Babri Masjid was the last straw. Naseem was almost like an epitaph. After the film,I had really nothing to say. I needed to regain my faith and retain my sanity. So I decided to travel around India and document it on a video camera. It wasnt that I was doing nothing. I wrote a book,Ammi: Letter to a Democratic Mother. Theres another book in the pipeline but then I got the idea to make Ek Tho Chance for Pritish Nandy Corporation (PNC). I took it up because once again I feel I have something to say.
What compelled you to make Ek Tho Chance?
Though these days I spend more time in Goa,Bombay is my city. Ive always been fascinated by the magnetic pull of Bombay and how it draws dreamers from all over the country who genuinely believe that they can make it. All they need is ek tho chance (just one chance). The film is an ode to this quality of Bombay. There are about seven stories crisscrossing in the narrative. The city is treated as a metaphor,a machine where we dont realise how conjoint we really are. Weve shot all over the city and weve tried to depict its character.
What do you think is its character?
Its like a roulette wheel. Its spinning fast and you are just waiting for your number to hit the jackpot. Everybody who comes to Bombay believes ki mera number zaroor aayega aur main nikal jaunga.
You were born here in 1943. How has the city changed over the years?
Bombay was always inclusive but now fascism has started raising its head. Whenever there is economic and political unrest,this is bound to happen. There was a time when Bombay was non-divisive but now its a divided city. Now you can see crevices across the board. These crevices are at time linguistic,at times ethnic.
After 26/11,Salman Rushdie commented that Bombay had been attacked,not Mumbai. Do you agree?
Look,Mumbai,like Bombay,is just a name. If Mumbai as a name satisfies someones need for identity,so be it. The real point is: what is the need for that identity? We need to comprehend the underlying insecurity behind this need. Ive always maintained that its easy to make a film on Adolf Hitler. What is difficult is to find out why he struck a chord with the German people; what is the nature of fear,aspiration and identity that he evoked in them that it became Hitlers Germany. Names are immaterial; the reason behind the need for a name is what is fascinating.
Since Ek Tho Chance also deals with the immigrant issue,are you prepared for controversies,especially with regards Raj Thackeray?
The intention is not to ruffle anyones feathers. The film includes everyone who has made Bombay their home,insiders as well as the outsiders.
What do you feel about Raj Thackerays Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS)?
Its not just the MNS. I dislike fascism of any kindreligious,social or economic. Anything that tries to be exclusive stops being democratic. Id rather embrace anything that is inclusive.
You started the trend of naming films after character names (Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyon Aata Hai,Salim Langde Pe Mat Ro,Mohan Joshi Haazir Ho etc). Was this deliberate or just a style statement?
See,all my earlier films were essays; they were like a long dialogue with the audience. You could say they were a thesis of a character. As a film-maker,I feel,when you enter the hall,you should know why you are entering it. The democratic process starts from there. As the audience,you make a choice to see a film. So you should know what youre going to get. The film title gives you the information and knowledge and then we can have a debate.
Is it true that you named Naseeruddin Shahs character Albert Pinto just because you were shooting in a house that belonged to a Mr. Pinto?
(Smiles) Oh yes,youre right. We shot it in (the) Pinto house. But the character was named after a young man I knew. It was my little salaam to a bright boy who died a tragic death on the rail tracks. He was an alcoholic but he was a great kid.
Do you watch the current Bollywood fare? Name some favourites.
I find the whole process of watching films in Bombay very tiring. Its almost dehumanising to find parking (space) and then enter an imposing mall to watch a film. These days I watch films in Goa,which is so relaxing that I almost buy the popcorn! I see all kind of films from Welcome to Chak De! India.
But my absolute recent favourite is Dev.D. That film rejuvenated me. I told myself that all hope is not lost. I texted Anurag Kashyap: Long live your anarchy. I loved Anurags presentation and his anarchic vision. It takes guts to take a sacred novel and turn it on his head.
The genius of Anurags Devdas lies in the bordello. And those women,Mahie and Kalki,they were full of blood and sensuality. They were incredible. I also liked Abhay Deol immensely. I marvel at the fact that this guy came most unannounced and is really doing different work. You wont find him catwalking on the ramp but he delivers where it matters the most.
Name some directors whose work you like.
Guys like Sudhir Mishra,Tigmanshu Dhulia,Anurag Kashyap,Rajat Kapoor and Dibakar Banerjee. Another guy to watch out for is Pankaj Advani who has made Sankat City. These guys are from another street,God bless them all.
Why havent we had another sparkling gem of a serial like Nukkad?
Thats because,my dear,a show like Nukkad will not be allowed on television now. What products will you sell with a show like Nukkad? Today everything is about sponsorship; nobody gives a damn about audience participation.
Is it true that you added Akhtar to your name on the insistence of legendary director Ritwik Ghatak?
(Smiles) Woh kahaani suni hai aapne? Yes,he used to feel that creators should have solid names. He felt that Saeed Akhtar Mirza has more weight. So people would take me more seriously.