National Award Winning film-maker Feroz Abbas Khan talks to Pandolin about his latest release Dekh Tamasha Dekh.

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What was your childhood and growing up years like?

I was born in Mumbai. I grew up in three places: Fort, Dongri and Andheri. I lost my father when I was only 7 years of age and saw my mother single handedly bringing up 6 children against all odds. As the youngest in the family, I was dealt with special care. Those years were very difficult and painful. I must have erased a large part of those memories and found refuge in playing cricket and playing parts in school drama and participating in elocution competitions.

What things influenced you creatively as a young kid and how did it go on to shape your mind as a creative individual?

Drama helped me to deal with my pain, bear the loss and find an identity and validation. I acted in many plays and in various languages. I have never consciously thought about creativity. My life experiences have instructed my work.

How was your journey in theatre?

Mumbai has a great tradition of intercollegiate drama competition, which has produced some of the finest actors working in television and cinema. The standards were very high. I was studying in Narsee Monjee college and amongst my senior actors were Paresh Rawal and Arundhati Nag. Shafi Inamdar and Mahendra Joshi were our Directors and our college would sweep most of the awards. I was one of the leading actors winning many awards. Although, I was studying to be a chartered accountant, it was theatre that possessed me.

We formed a theatre company performing regularly at the Newly built Prithvi Theatre. I quit my studies to be a C.A. and soon joined Mrs. Jennifer Kapoor to hold the First Prithvi Theatre Festival. She inspired me to become a full time theatre professional but passed away soon after. Kunal Kapoor and I worked together to realise the vision and dream of Shashi and Jennifer Kapoor. I directed two massive productions; Peter Shaffer’s “THE ROYAL HUNT OF THE SUN” in English and “EVA MUMBAIMA CHAL JAIYE” a musical play in Gujarati.

In 1992 I did Tumhari Amrita as a tribute to Jennifer but it turned to be a turning point in my life and career. It became a huge success and theatre became my abode and profession. It travelled all over the world gathering an audience for theatre in large numbers.

Saalgirah with Anupam and Kiron Kher, All The Best, Mahatma v/s Gandhi with Naseer, Salesman Ramlal with Satish Kaushik and Seema Biswas, Kuch Bhi Ho Sakta hai with Anupam and Dinner With Friends with Perizaad Zorabian.

Since all my plays have been successful, I could support myself financially.

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Has the theatre scene in India evolved over the years from the time you started?

In a diverse and huge country like India it is very difficult to generalise. I can talk about Mumbai. The theatre evolution here has been staggering.  There is variety of genre and intensity. It has never been so good.

How did your debut film Gandhi My Father happen?

Anil Kapoor heard the screenplay and wept. That’s it.

What was the inspiration for the film?

Gandhi could transform the soul of a nation but could not save the soul of his own son. How a family paid a heavy price for the freedom of India. The complex and compelling Gandhi and his extra-ordinary journey was my inspiration.

Though Dekh Tamasha Dekh and your debut film are 7 years apart and yet both have a strong socio political backdrop and religious comments. Do these stories come naturally to you or do you consciously weave your stories around them?

I got engaged with the social and political ideas very early. My day would begin with TOI where I would first check R.K.Laxman’s cartoons and then I would jump to the edit page. I would attend political rallies, campaign during elections, attend lectures by leaders from the entire political spectrum. The demolition of the Babri Mosque led to a disturbing awareness of my religious identity. Lately religious bigotry is instructing the social and political dialogue and so these stories come very naturally to me.

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Explain your writing process – for theatre and films.Why was there a long gap between these two films? 

I wanted to do Dekh Tamasha Dekh after Gandhi My Father but the 2009 recession delayed the making of this film. I was offered many other films but I could not do another film till I had got this one out of my system.

The film came at a good time during one of the most important elections in our country? Was it timed accordingly?  

It is a mere coincidence but it seems to work out well. People are concerned with the political future of India and this film holds a mirror to our society. It is a strong warning about the consequences of the politics of hate and identity.

Where all did you shoot the film? Is recreating a riot for a film a difficult proposition?

We shot in and around Murud Janjira, the picturesque coastal region of Maharashtra. Shooting riots is always a challenge and most of the time it looks fake. We decided to put a lot of the riots in the imagination of the audience. We shot it with great restraint and aesthetics.

Tumhari Amrita played for 17 years. I loved the play and Farooq saab in it. What do you miss most about him? 

The loss is very difficult to bear and his absence, almost impossible to negotiate. He was an extraordinary human being. He was like an elder brother to me. At this point of time I cannot think of Tumhari Amrita without him. I miss his strength, I miss his compassion, I miss his humanity.

What are the current plays that are going on?

Dinner With Friend and Salesman Ramlal

Will you do your next film sooner?

Absolutely. I am very excited to start a new film.

What kind of films do you like watching?

Political dramas

Do you read a lot? What books have made an impact on you?

I am an average reader. Hundred years solitude by Gabriel Marquez. The outsider by Albert Camus & Bhagvad Gita have had a great influence on me very early in my life.

– By Priyanka Jain