Who is the real idiot? Arfi Lamba, Ruchi Joshi and Katharina Suckale on Murakh
Short films, as a medium of storytelling, are growing by leaps and bounds. While there are several players dabbling with the short format, there are only a few who have managed to strike a chord with their films. Bombay Berlin Film Production is one such platform.
The latest from their stable is a political satire called Murakh (The Idiot), which is a humorous take on the bigotry of our society that is growing on religious stereotypes and baseless paranoia. Directed by Ruchi Joshi and Sriram Ganapathy, the short features Producer cum Actor Arfi Lamba, who has gained appreciation for his performance in films like Gift, Slumdog Millionaire, Fugly and Prague among others.
Murakh, which has been selected for the 40th Asian American International Film Festival (New York), will have it World Premiere on July 30. Watching the film certainly piqued our interest and we caught up with Ruchi, Arfi and Producer Katharina Suckale (of Bombay Berlin Film Production and Executive Producer of Murakh) to know more about the journey of The Idiot.
The film is said to be inspired by true events, what drew you to the story?
Ruchi: Looking at the current political atmosphere, not just in India, but all over the world it is impossible to not talk about the subjects the film is dealing with. This story is not only about India; you had the Muslim ban in America, the refugee crisis in Europe, beef lynching in our very own country, events that have of course become far more prevalent after we finished making the film, but the seeds of hate had been sown for a while. Looking at that, it felt very natural for us to tell this story and incidentally, around the same time, we came across this real story which gave us the opportunity to talk about the theme that we wanted.
Katharina: The subject itself became very urgent to talk about. It’s been a long development for me. For me, it actually started in the 90s, at least of what I know in Germany, and it really began with 9/11. A lot of people face difficulties for being Muslim, regardless of them being from India or Iraq or any other place, they are all put together.
There is a naivety that the protagonist has till the end, what was the importance of this characteristic?
Arfi: If you look at it from the character’s perspective he is trying to find a way, and is also learning along the way. He learns that he needs a passport to travel, then he learns that he also needs a visa, so at every point, he is learning. He did not even know that there is a world outside his village. He doesn’t even know where Australia is! He thinks that he can take the cheapest flight and tell them to take him to Australia. A simple interrogation tells the police inspector that he is an idiot.
Ruchi: That was the exact idea of the film, which is why we have this character based out of a village. Someone who has never stepped out of his village. If you were to go to a rural area, they don’t know much about the world, they don’t even know the geography of India. They are unaware of what is happening beyond their village. In fact, there is a line in the film where he says that he has never even been to Amritsar. That signifies that the boundaries of his village are the end of his world. He doesn’t know about terrorism or any of these things, which he is now learning within this interrogation room.
It just seemed more natural to have it in black and white because our perspectives have become so binary, things are either good or bad
What is the significance of the title ‘Murakh’, does it convey a lager message?
Ruchi: The question that we are asking the audience is, “Is the character a Murakh or is it the people who are believing the story?” He is an idiot in the sense that he is not aware of what is going on in the world. But the world is an idiot for assuming that there is only one perspective. People think that there is only one particular way of looking at things or information. That is exactly the question that we are asking.
Arfi, did being the producer and acting in the same film help, or was it challenging to handle the dual role?
You definitely become a better actor; you are not just in your own cocoon. I did act in our last film as well, which was a German film and I learnt the language for it. The process can be quite tedious, but I had huge help. For Murakh, I focused only on the acting and these guys took everything off me. I personally feel that every actor shouldn’t just be an actor, you are part of cinema and you should know how it works. This also makes you a sensitive actor on the sets; you are not demanding, but understanding of how everything works on the set. The only drawback is that every good script that I come across now, I want to own it. An actor is just an actor, a producer owns the film.
What about you Ruchi, was it easy to work with Arfi since he is a producer and understands the requirements?
He is a brilliant actor and producer, there is no doubt about that. He is very supportive as a producer, but at times you must make sure that he is able to divorce one job from the other. While he was acting, I had to constantly ask him to stop being a producer. Apart from that, it is great that he is both the producer and actor because like he said, you become far more sensitive about the making of the film. But even as a producer, he understands that if you need 10 takes, you have to take 10 takes.
The question that we are asking the audience is, “Is the character a Murakh or is it the people who are believing the story?”
Another noticeable thing about the film is its lack of color, why the monochrome approach?
Ruchi: To be very honest, this wasn’t the intention when we started shooting the film, but when we started editing the film we decided to go with black and white. It just seemed more natural to have it in black and white because our perspectives have become so binary, things are either good or bad. A person is either a terrorist if he belongs to a community or he is a completely honest and nice person.
Arfi: Also, currently life is either white or black, either you are with us or against, so the colour also stands for the dual sides.
Arfi, you have worked across various platforms, be it theatre, television or films, does the medium alter the way you approach the role?
Yes, the approach is quite different, but you can never take away the affinity that an actor has towards theatre. If you have done theatre once, you will always want to go back. It is just that the greed of fame and money might keep you away. In theatre, you breathe as an actor and it is there that you become yourself. Mediums like short films also allow you to explore different characters, but films are totally different. Films require very different kind of acting where you are talking to the camera, so the camera is your everything. Your love for the camera is different while your love for a live audience is different.
Katharina, how do you see short films growing in the near future?
Digital! I think short films as a medium will definitely head towards digital. Everybody is watching films either on their phones or Ipads and most people like to watch shorts on the go, so digital is a great opportunity. Television in Europe still picks up short films, but very few of them and nobody is watching television anymore.
If you were to go to a rural area, they are unaware of what is happening beyond their village
And lastly, what is the way forward for the film?
Katharina: I would like to bring the movie to Germany because they have a section for short films. In any case, we can find a market for the film in Europe because the subject occupies the mind of many people. And it is interesting to see this (subject) from an Indian’s perspective. Other than that, digital is where we will go with the film.