Mumbai Film Festival Day 8: Chatrak and Conversation with Salim Ahamed, director, Abu
On the last day of the Mumbai Film Festival, I spotted Salim Ahamed, the director of Adaminte Makan Abu standing in a corner all by himself and the temptation to go chat with him (after having seen and praised the film here) was too much to resist. Aware of the problems language may pose, I walked upto him and was surprised when he agreed to spare some time. We were limited by his knowledge of Malayalam only and my lack of it, which prevented this from being a full-fledged interview. Nevertheless, here we go:
Salim Ahamed got the seed of the idea of the film while working in a travel
agency ten years back. He had known right from his college days that he wanted to make films, but kept on working in sundry places after leaving college. He already has a bank of ideas which he has been approaching producers with but nothing worked out. In his own words–“No one understood my subjects. So I spent last ten years adding up money to make my film.”
Ahamed chose the story of an old couple wanting to go on Haj for making his first film and produced it himself with the help of a friend. According to him, the film is based on his observations made while working in the travel agency for 5 years. Later, he worked in a private Malayalam television channel, all the while looking for an opportunity to make a film. He has also been performing on stage as a mimicry artist for around 15 years. Most of the actors in Adaminte Makan Abu including Salim Kumar who won the National Award for Best Actor are well-known mimicry artists. “I had very good artists and technicians in my film. I was the only newcomer.”
“I wanted to make a good film that audiences can take something home from. I never thought about winning so many awards. But I am very happy that everybody recognized my film,” he says. Ask him about his favourite films, and he names Tamil film Moondram Pirai (which was remade in Hindi as Sadma) as one of his favourites. He looks up to Mani Ratnam and K. Balachander but makes it a point to mention that he does not have any ‘guru’ or ‘godfather’.
He is now being approached for a Hindi remake of Adaminte Makan Abu but hasn’t struck the right deal so far. “I am ready to remake it in any language because I want everybody to see this film.” He, however, doesn’t want to make films in any other language than Malayalam as of now.
Ahamed is now working on the script of a period film in Malayalam. He also very innocently admits that they are ‘lobbying’ for the Oscars and looking for sponsors to fund it, along with seeking help from the state and central governments.
Does he think his film stands a chance at the Oscars? He says a “yes” assertively. “Because my film communicates a universal subject.”
My highly anticipated film of the day was Vimukthi Jayasundara’s Chatrak (Mushrooms) which has been doing the rounds of film festivals like Cannes and Toronto. The film didn’t attract much crowd as the screening clashed with Once upon a time in Anatolia by Nuri Bilge Ceylan and Faust by Alexander Sokurov.
The film borders on self-indulgence and in spite of its surreal feel and strong visual quality, fails to connect with the audience. First fifteen-twenty minutes of the film, one witnesses a strange camaraderie developing between a mad-man and a French soldier in the jungles outside Kolkata. Though inexplicable, the sequence is silent, powerful and appealing. The film has few dialogues and banks on sounds. One is acquainted with the characters in the film not by their names or other marks of identity, but for what they are in the film: a depressed architect who has returned from Dubai in search of his mad younger brother and his estranged wife who seeks sexual gratification for money. The filmmaker refrains from getting deeper into the lives of these characters and there is a strange sense of distance, shallowness and darkness one feels throughout the film. An interesting film that falls short of leaving an impression on the audience.