Indian audiences are happy to see content – driven films
An artist, and producer, Sorab Irani has worked with the likes of Dev Anand and Vijay Anand and has been an integral part of Indian Cinema for almost four decades. In an intriguing interview with Pandolin the renowned personality talks about his latest film, The Path of Zarathustra, his involvement in the project, being a producer in the industry and more.
How did the idea of The Path of Zarathustra first come about?
I am a Parsi myself and produced probably the only Parsi Gujarati language feature film ever made called Percy which won the National award and an award at the Mannheim Film Festival, Germany. It was also screened on Channel 4 TV, London. The Parsis are an endangered species as such and this remains a burning concern in my mind. The idea for The Path of Zarathustra actual evolved from this concern. I have travelled widely and realized that leave alone us Parsis, people the world over have forgotten who the First Prophet Zarathustra was. He was the first to proclaim that there was One God, and his Prophecy was more ethical, more about how to live a good life in harmony with nature and all mankind. It occurred to me that this ancient wisdom was even more relevant today as the ethical code would be so beneficent to us amidst all the chaos that we find in our world. The basic idea was to make a feature film that will bring to center stage the ethical, simple message of the First Prophet Zarathustra while helping showcase the unique identity of the Parsis and preserve the same on film for posterity.
Your daughter, Oorvazi Irani, is the Director of The Path of Zarathustra, so was it a natural choice to produce the film?
Yes, you can say it was sort of a natural choice because my daughter is a director of my production banner SBI Impresario Pvt. Ltd. incorporated by me in 1975. The central concern and theme of the film was deeply shared by the both of us. I was convinced of Oorvazi’s talent as a filmmaker and her experience in cinema and believed that together we could bring in a good artistic film if I produced it. Normally production and the direction departments are at logger-heads with each other but for a film with an artistic vision there is a strong need for these two elements to work in perfect harmony and fiscal balance.
What were the challenges you faced as Producer on The Path of Zarathustra?
One of the primary challenges was the screenplay for a subject like this. What was needed was scholastic knowledge of Zoroastrianism and some strong ideas for the screenplay, which could translate into a unique narrative for the film; something out of the ordinary had to be conceived first. My dear friend of many years and world-renowned author Farrukh Dhondy agreed and came forward bravely to face this challenge and in him the dual requirements needed were in ample supply. Then of course finding funds for a content – driven artistic film with a rather radical approach was the next big challenge to overcome. Luckily certain philanthropy Parsi community members came forward with financial support and the balance was chipped in by my company, both in cash and kind.
Next was the challenge to bring crew to the project who shared the vision of the film. Again, we were lucky to find such a crew that believed in the merit of the screenplay and agreed to work at very basic salaries. Next, was finalizing the locations as orthodox Parsis will not allow filming inside the inner sanctums of the Fire Temple leave alone letting non Parsis inside. All this was achieved at the private Fire temple of Mr.B.P.Sachinwalla at Vasai and on his farm where other scenes were filmed. To get a real Parsi ambiance for the film we needed a real Parsi home and thanks to Firdausi Jusawalla we got such a home with very genuine Parsi ambiance.
What did you have in mind while deciding on the cast & crew for The Path of Zarathustra?
We basically needed dedicated professionals who believed in the vision of the screenplay, the motive for making such a film and who had the right sensibility that was required for an art film at a low budget. This required sheer dedication to the film and not so much on making money. Our Cinematographer Subhadeep Dey was uncompromising in his compositions and lighting and made each frame a work of Art. Pooja Shetty did an excellent job of Production Design with her attention to details, a brilliant contribution which helped the film to be a true work of art. Vasuda Sharma provided excellent music, creating distinct music motif themes for important elements of the film. Her subtle music score lifted the film to new heights.
Tushar Ghogale contributed immensely in creating the final form of the film. I have never met and worked with a more dedicated Editor who even chose to be on the sets of the film proving his total involvement in the project. Mazid Qureshiwas was totally involved in the making of this film proving his love for cinema. Though he was Chief Assistant Director he wore many hats doubling up to help me with production matters and went to great lengths to ensure that the filming went of smoothly, tackling all kinds of problems single-handedly. He worked tirelessly pre and during production and his contribution and team spirit went a long way in achieving what we did achieve in this film. Just goes to prove that a small and dedicated team of professionals who are well knit together, almost like a family, can achieve great heights of excellence.
How creatively involved were you in the project?
I was very involved in the creative part, right from working on the screenplay to improvising on set and in post-production, sound design, sound mixing, color correction and final DCP.
The Path of Zarathustra is different from mainstream Bollywood so what convinced you to produce the film?
Cinema is a very powerful medium for bringing about social change. Yes, largely cinema is for entertainment but it’s a strange mix of art and craft. In this film it was content and art and the message of the film that convinced me that it had to be made.
What are the factors in a script that persuade you to produce a movie?
A script must have some relevant social message and must also have artistic merit. The script must engage the audiences, help them to participate and move along the emotional lines. However, there is no standard definition that I believe in, each subject you choose will demand its own scriptural treatment.
You are essentially an artist, so what drew you to be a producer?
Yes I am an artist, a musician. Cinema is both an industry and also an art form. In my very early years when I was working with Chetan Anand, I came to realize that a happy marriage had to exist between industry and art as normally if one does not compliment the other, the end result will be a sad compromise and a bad film.
You have been producing films for the European & Indian market. What are the differences between the two, according to you?
Basically it is a matter of different sensibilities. I don’t believe that there is really any cross-over film. The sensibilities are routed in culture and in language, which are poles apart.
You have been a part of Indian Cinema for more than 40 years. What are some of the changes you have seen, especially as a producer?
Before we were granted an ‘Industry’ status things were very chaotic. Anyone glamour struck with money would want to produce a film and majority films never saw the light of day. Now, we have a bit more order with corporatization at least people start with a script. However I feel that the essentials have not changed radically, the star system still rules, the game may have changed but the goal is still the same – let’s make money. However, because of the global village we live in, Indian audiences are exposed to world cinema and slowly but surely Indian audiences’ tastes are changing. Indian audiences are happy to see content – driven films or films with social messages. But largely as long as the star system remains, the audiences will lap up star – driven entertainment and keep the box office ringing. I have no problem with this.
What are you currently working on?
Tossing around a few good ideas, let’s see what shape they take. That’s the best part of filmmaking.