You started with Jajantaram Mamantaram, which was screened at the Cannes and International Children's Film Festival also, getting you good reviews. What was your experience?
There is no fun watching a film like Jajantaram Mamantaram in a festival like Cannes. It was more of a producer's screening rather than a director's.
Children's Film Festivals however are a completely different ball game. There cannot be a bigger high than to see hundreds of kids of all sizes, completely glued to your film, reacting to every shot, every emotion. In fact the whole experience of a children's film festival is extremely electrifying. There are no pseudo-intellectuals trying to give gyan on cinema. There are no filmmakers and technicians bitching about each other in the foyers or coffee-shops. There are just children, children and more children. They are hungry for something new, something that fires their imagination. Hungry for images never seen before.
I love to attend children's film festivals even if my film is not being shown. I see a lot of hope there.
You have used animation in all 3 of your feature films. Will every movie of yours have Animation?
Actually I see animation or VFX more as a tool. It's just a device, a very exciting device to tell a story, to capture an image on celluloid. Animation/VFX gives me the abstraction that I am looking for when I make a film. I cannot for the life of me understand the concept of 'realism' in cinema and find 'realistic' films big turnoffs. Here I am not just speaking about the image quality but the overall attitude of the maker - the acting style, the production design, the sound design etc.
Even in my personal documentary on Afghanistan, which incidentally was made on a shoe-string budget, I spent a pretty hefty amount to treat the image quality. Footage straight out of the camera is unacceptable to me. Maybe it has something to do with my visual-arts background. And yet I agree that some of the films of the Italian Neo-Realism era are masterpieces. But these films had a socio-political purpose then. They had a context which is no longer relevant now.
You have also made so many documentaries? What made you think of commercial cinema?
Actually I never thought of commercial cinema. It was the other way round - commercial cinema thought of me. There obviously was a need for me or people like me. That's why I got the call. I was pretty happy making my documentaries. I also made an experimental feature film in Marathi. Then I think it was time in our history that we had to begin making films purely for children, films with huge special effects and animation, films that confront reality. That's when I came into the picture.
What inspired you to make Khoob Asti Afghanistan? (Are You Alright Afghanistan?)
Number of things. I had spent my childhood in Kabul. We were there for 4 years when I was 13 to 16. It's a very critical age in your life. You are seeing the world with your own eyes and not by those of your parents. You are undergoing physical changes. You are looking at the future; you are debating over what you want to be. All kinds of things are happening in your mind and in such a scenario if you find yourself in a place like Afghanistan, suddenly the space around you becomes colossal. At the age of 15 I saw burnt bodies on the roads. I saw Russian planes bombarding the Kabul valley and two shells fell over our house. The Indian Embassy called us and asked us to keep all the important and precious things in one bag, since we might have to be evacuated. While my parents took all the passports, money, jewellery etc., I had this letter from Sunil Gavaskar that he had written in response to my fan mail. That was the most precious thing for me then. Today we still have those two bomb shells and I still have the letter from Sunil Gavaskar.
Living in India we have taken our political stability for granted. In Afghanistan no one knows who would be the ruler tomorrow. And when the new one comes, the first thing he does is to assassinate all other opponents. When we were in Afghanistan, Indira Gandhi lost the post-emergency elections. Our neighbors asked us if Morarji Desai will now have her killed!! It was completely out of the realms of their imagination that Indira Gandhi could continue to live as a free citizen in India.
And the people...! They are the most humble, cultured and peace loving people. They are the ones who have been suffering for centuries…Millions dead and thousands living as refugees. The film is a tribute to the Afghan spirit. Some films just have to be made...this was one of them.