'Bollywood lacks scripts'

Cannes premiere

Rahat Kazmi’s dark satirical movie Mantostaan, based on legendary Urdu writer Saadat Hasan Manto’s work, will be premiered at the 69th Cannes International Festival under the Le Marche du film category on May 14. The movie is an amalgamation of four of Manto’s most controversial short stories — Thanda Gosht, Khol Do, Aakhri Salute and Assignment — set during Partition in India. In a freewheeling chat with Metrolife, Kazmi, whose last movie Identity Card highlighted the problems faced by people living in Kashmir, shares more about Mantostaan and his experiences. Read on.

Your movie has been chosen for Cannes. How does it feel?

It’s a great feeling. Cannes is a huge platform for a film to reach wider audience, and for a filmmaker the most beautiful feeling is when his film is watched, loved and appreciated.

How was the movie conceptualised?
I started reading Saadat Manto long back. The best thing about Manto’s writings is that  each of his story intrigues you and it stays with you forever. I have never read such strong and powerful literature before. While we were shooting for a project a year back, Raghubir Yadav started talking about Manto. Like me, he too was dying to do something on his stories. Initially, I narrated Khol Do to him and we thought of making it into a short film. But later we decided to make a feature film with four of Manto’s best stories as they have a wider range.

Why did you choose controversial stories?
Frankly speaking, I never thought about controversies. It’s just that I found these stories so heart-warming that I could not resist myself. Filmmaking is not like running a shop, there has to be something worthwhile in it for people to come and watch. Today, Bollywood lacks scripts because nobody is ready to experiment with mainstream cinema. India is a land of wide range of cultures, folk tales, colours, complexities, issues and emotions; we have so many stories around us! We should focus more on these to bring out diversity in our films. Thanks to a few filmmakers who are still trying hard to make content-driven films, things are changing slowly.

Did you face any problems while working on the project?
Thanks to the Almighty, there were no big issues during the making. Yes, hardships did exist as shooting in Kashmir and Pakistan in the month of December is not an easy task. However, it was great fun.

What kind of movies interest you?
I always wanted to make cinema I can relate to. I am a Punjabi from Kashmir border, Poonch and I am quite connected to both Indian and Pakistani cultures and emotions. So, Manto’s characters were never new to me. One should do what they love. It does not matter if I am not making a 100-crore-budget film, because a film with substance is much more satisfying.

How do you see the future of small-budget, content-driven movies in India?
Such films are very well received in any other part of world, but in India the problem lies with distributions networks and studios. We have many examples where such films have worked — Masaan, Lunchbox, Filmistaan, Jolly LLB and Tere Bin Laden. But I still can’t understand why such films are not regular. With big budget films, the risks involved are always bigger. A studio, if it plans to make 10 such films in a year investing 100 crores (which is the budget of one big film), it can yield them double revenue. This will only add to the quality of Indian cinema.

What are you working on next?
I am starting my next film in July. It is based on an English literature story Country of Blinds, and we are also producing couple of films including a thriller Warning to be directed by Mujeeb Ul Hassan. After that, I have a film with Naseer sahab Side A Side B and then Sheikh Abdulla’s biographical film.

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