The world will test you, your patience, your belief, but the trick is to hang in there and be strong – Nitin Kakkar
From doing odd jobs to becoming an acclaimed director, Nitin Kakkar talks to Pandolin about his film Filmistaan and his love for cinema.
Where did you grow up and what were your early influences?
I was born and brought up in Andheri, Mumbai. My dad was a still photographer working on films. We had a lab in the house, where I had seen photographic images come alive. I had seen the transformation from black and white pictures to colour images. As a kid I had never thought that I would make films but now when I look back I feel it was meant to be.
Did you pursue any other career before landing into television and then films? How did films happen?
I started working very early in life. From filling up market research forms to selling vacuum cleaners to taking home tuitions, I have dabbled in everything. After a point I started feeling claustrophobic as I was doing these jobs for survival. One day I gave it up and decided to do what makes me happy rather than just survive. My first instinct was to take up photography but I could not afford to buy a camera. I was lost for two years and was trying to find my footing. My sister backed me up during those times.
I joined theatre to explore what I was good at and what I would enjoy doing. So I did everything from acting to production to lighting. During those times Amarjeet Amle had a belief that I could direct and allowed me to direct a play at amateur level. That experience made me realise, I wanted to direct. I wanted to go to FTII but those days there was a major strike in the institute. I wasn’t a graduate as well. I haven’t really understood why a person needs to be a graduate to pursue films.
I started assisting on music videos and then graduated to doing fiction. I produced and directed my first short film Black Freedom in 2004 which opened doors to television. Around then, I began working on my scripts simultaneously.
How did Filmistaan come about? What prompted you to choose this subject and make the film? Did you hear a lot of stories about partition while growing up?
I was working on a script based on the partition stories of Saadat Hasan Manto. I wanted that to be my first film (my short film was also based on his stories). I had bounced off the basic idea of Filmistaan to Ashok Purang who was a well wisher and had liked my short. One day out of the blue he called me and said that Satellite Pictures were looking for scripts. They were looking for a film to be made at a shoestring budget and so Manto script was not possible. But Filmistaan stood a chance. After a few rounds of meetings, they agreed to produce this film.
I did hear stories of partition not only from family but other Punjabi friends as well. Those remained in my thoughts. There is not one trigger point as such which prompted me to make this film. Its an amalgamation of different observations.
The film did quite well at the festivals but it took a while to get the studio to back it… what was the process and journey like?
Every film has its own journey and so did Filmistaan. Film Festivals and commercial release are two different things. To release a film there is huge amount of cost involved, at times more than the cost of production (in case of smaller independent films) which we did not have. So the need to have a studio to back us was strong. On one hand where buyers didn’t believe in the film on the other people at festivals poured a lot of love and affection on the film. And then Sringar Films showed strong belief in Filmistaan and also brought UTV on board. It all took a while to happen. The world will test you, your patience, your belief, but the trick is to hang in there strong. In short, honesty pays. It has been a journey which has made us wiser.
What is Filmistaan about? I gather it’s quite filmy in its own right? Is it your love for cinema that reflects in Sharib’s character?
The word filmy is most of the times used derogatorily but I won’t feel offended if I am tagged filmy, I am proud to be one. Filmistaan is a tribute to all the Hindi films which have entertained us for years and continue doing so. It is about the influence of cinema across the globe irrespective of the country you live in. It’s about free spirit, lots of love and laughter. Sharib’s character, Sunny Arora is a mix of Sharib and me and a lot of people around me. We are all filmy.
What was the writing process like? What does this film focus on?
Filmistaan was written in one month at one go. Once the casting was done we had readings with actors who were given full freedom to improvise. Their suggestions were included and the shooting draft was ready. The film focuses on love for cinema and free spiritedness.
Where and how was the film shot? What is the look and feel of the film ?
The film is shot in a village near Bikaner and small portion in Mumbai and Jaipur. The look and feel is realistic and the look of the truck is a part of it, as the trucks in Pakistan are very beautifully dressed. For me everything I do is generated from the script itself.
Where do you draw your personal creative influences?
Life itself is a great creative influence. It has amazing visuals and beautiful sound and smell of its own. For me every person I meet has multiple chapters in the book of their life. People and the surroundings inspire me. I try and recreate them on screen.
Name some films and filmmakers you like and or admire.
Guru Dutt, Bimal Roy, M.S. Sathyu, Hrishikesh Mukherjee have made films which are timeless. Kagaz Ke Phool, Pyasaa, Do Bigha Zameen, Garam Hawa and Abhimaan are my all time favourites. I am also in love with movies made by Majid Majidi, Giuseppe Tornatore, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen.
In today’s times I look up to works of Shimit Amin, Anurag Kashyap, Dibaker Banerjee and Raju Hirani.
– by Priyanka Jain