Irfan Kamal's Thanks Ma is wowing critics at Cannes. The debutant director, who has a strong Bangalore connection, gets candid about filmmaking, acting and the inevitable comparisons between his movie and Slumdog Millionaire
For someone who loved to grab hold of unsuspecting cousins and narrate the story of his most recently watched film, Irfan Kamal has done himself proud. At eleven, this completely-in-love-with-cinema brat was the despair of his friends because he dragged them to watch Superman with him, eight days in a row, at the Galaxy theatre on Residency Road in Bangalore. At 37, the dude is now at Cannes, where his debut film, Thanks Ma, has just completed three screenings.
At the Edinburgh International Film Festival 09, Thanks Maa has been nominated for the Best New International Feature Film Award. And Irfan is living out his dream.
Shifting gears: Irfan Kamal says he's been offered the hero's role in a Kannada film but hasn't made up his mind yet on taking up the offer
Slumdog vs Thanks Ma
"I am not a trained filmmaker. I didn't attend any fancy course in any fancy institute because story telling is not about fancy technique. The meat, which is the story, must be real and juicy. It should touch my heart as a filmmaker. It should draw me to the studios every morning to work on it," he says.
That's why, he thinks, Thanks Ma is winning such acclaim. Of Slumdog Millionaire, he quips, "In my film, no kid starts speaking English with a Brit accent! They all speak Mumbaiya Hindi."
Comparisons to the Danny Boyle blockbuster are inevitable, considering both films deal with kids in Mumbai, but Irfan painstakingly plots the differences. "Slumdog is the story of a game show. It's high on technique. Mine is a film on abandoned kids. Poverty is not the only reason why kids end up on the streets," he says.
Thanks Ma is about five street kids, who find an abandoned baby and want to reunite him with his mother, lest he share a fate as their own.
"Runaways have always intrigued me. I had read a newspaper article on kids abandoned in the womb. During my research, I learnt that there are close to 12.66 million street kids in Mumbai alone. As a country, we are not equipped to handle the issue of abandoned and destitute kids. The streets are not safe for kids of any gender," he says, his voice breaking.
Admitting that Thanks Ma changed his perceptions about many things, he says he had to distance himself from the gritty reality he encountered outside his own privileged world. "Had I not distanced myself, I would have started an NGO, not made a film," he observes matter-of-factly.
Before Thanks Ma hit the international film festival circuit, it won its first award right here in Bangalore. "The Lankesh Award for Best Debut Director, which I received on March 8 this year, is close to my heart because I have strong Bangalore roots. My grandfather, an advocate, also owned a flour mill in Shivajinagar. I spent all my school vacations, watching movies in Lido, Plaza, Galaxy and Symphony. In those days, English movies were released in Bangalore before they hit the screens in Bombay, so trips to Bangalore were much looked forward to," says Irfan, who treasures memories of riding a luna, which was the rage in Bangalore in the 1980s, around Ulsoor lake.
Multiplexes have replaced most of his erstwhile favourite theatres, which brings us to Thanks Ma's commercial release in India. "As the talks between producers and multiplexes are still deadlocked, I don't see Thanks Ma being released before July-August," he says.
Caught up as he is with promoting his film, now at Cannes and next at Venice, he believes that small-budget, non-formulaic films need more support to thrive. "In the international market, such films get subsidies, multiplexes also charge different rates for them. In India, we desperately need such incentives."
Hatke scripts interest him as a director, but as a movie buff he indulges in all genres. He counts Anand; Amar, Akbar, Antony; Mother India and Mughal E Azam (Hindi) among his favourites. "I love Madhubala in black and white, and Madhubala in colour," he gushes. "Not only was she a stunner, she was a brilliant comedienne. But as a kid, all the movies I liked had super heroes, no heroines," he says, chortling.
Closer home, it is Mani Ratnam whom he looks up to. "I loved Agninakshatram and Mouna Raagam," he says, letting on that on his recent trip to Bangalore he got offers to act in a Kannada film. Having begun his career as an actor in Hindi films like Chahoonga Main Tujhe, Apne Dum Par and Angarey, the good-looking dude believes in keeping all options open. "I love to act because the actor always walks away with the glory." And, we thought the awards he's winning by the bushel for Thanks Ma would keep him firmly behind the camera!