Actor Aamir Bashir (Peepli Live, A Wednesday, Split Wide Open) makes his directorial debut with Harud (Autumn). The film will have its world premiere at the upcoming Toronto International Film Festival (Sept 9-19) in the discovery section that showcases emerging and new talents. The film, set in contemporary Kashmir, captures the life of Rafiq who has lost his tourist photographer brother to insurgency. Renowned Iranian actor Reza Naji (Best actor at Berlin for the Song of the Sparrows by Majid Majidi) makes his first appearance in an Indian film with Harud.
Aamir Bashir speaks to Bikas Mishra on “Harud” and challenges before Independent filmmaking in India..
How and where did “Harud begin?
The idea came to me nearly five years ago. It was an impulse. It took four years to translate that impulse into a screenplay. Then in August- September 2009, we decided, again on an impulse, to shoot it in November in Kashmir during the autumn season or else we would have had to wait for another year. We had very little seed money and yet we went ahead, with a small crew of eighteen people.
Is the film based on/inspired from any real incident?
The film is a work of fiction. I have tried to go beyond what you see in the news: beyond the politics, to look at the human cost of the conflict.
What are your reasons of self-producing the film?
Where is the funding for independent films in India? Even NFDC (National Film Development Corporation) looks for commercially viable films now. Now the West is looking at our industry because this is where the money is. But that is not a good thing for independent films in my opinion. Here the moneybags would want to deal only with big ticket players from the West. We were lucky to get the Hubert Bals Fund for post-production when we needed it most. Not so much for the money, but for the credibility it gives to our film. We didn’t want a producer to throw one or two crore rupees at us and own the film; also because they would not know what to do with a film like this.
How did Reza Naji respond to your proposal to act in the film?
I contacted Majid Majidi, for whom I had done some research for a project he was planning in India. Reza Naji has worked in a majority of Majidi’s films, so once Majidi suggested it to him, he agreed, at very short notice. I had also supervised the German subtitling of his film Song of Sparrows, for which Naji won the best actor at Berlin in 2008. So he owed me one.
Have you shown the film to Indian distributors? Has anybody shown interest in the theatrical release of the film in India?
We intend to earn our word of mouth publicity through international festivals starting with Toronto. We don’t have the money to publicize the film. Neither do we have a distribution system to back a film like this. Unless you have a big name attached to a film, it can be dismissed as a festival film here. So we will see how people react before we show it to distributors here. In India, as of now it is easier to sell crap than it is to sell a quality product.
How was your experience of shooting a film in Kashmir?
Shooting in Kashmir was tough because of logistical reasons. We have made the entire film without a permanent production office. It can’t get more independent than that. Also, the people in Kashmir, unsurprisingly, don’t trust outsiders with cameras. So there was a lot of diplomacy and negotiation on a day to day basis.
Between directing and acting, which is your priority now?
I am an actor first. I directed this film because I thought I had a story to tell. I don’t see myself doing the “proposal” kind of film making that happens in this town (Mumbai), where you have such and such stars dates and you make anything you want. In either case, acting or directing, I am an outsider.
Was it difficult not announcing the Toronto selection despite knowing it for two months?
Yes it was. For a small film that does not have money to spend on publicity, to hold back the rare piece of good news, that we could share for people to get to know about our film, was tough. But that’s part of the package. We have no illusions about who we are.
What’s your next project?
Since I have co-produced the film with Shanker Raman, our responsibilities are not yet over. So till Harud sees the light of day, in terms of a theatrical release etc., this is our only project.