On Monday, Women’s Day, Kathryn Bigelow made history by becoming the first woman ever to win an Oscar for Best Director.
Yeah, and I’m absolutely thrilled for her. As Barbra Streisand who presented the award to her said, "The time has come." (Chuckles) Actually, the time had come a long time ago, still, it’s great to see a wonderful filmmaker like Kathryn whose The Hurt Locker is one of the most powerful films I’ve seen, being felicitated. She truly deserved it.
The Golden Globes are believed to be an indicator to the Oscars but this year the Academy chose to travel down a different path. Did your personal list match the eventual list of winners?
To a large extent the results were quite predictable. But there were a few surprises. I thought the award for Best Foreign Language Film would go to Jacques Audiard’s French movie, A Prophet, a rivetting masterpiece. But the movie from Argentina, El Secreto de Sus Ojos (The Secret In Their Eyes) edged it out.
Also, though I’m happy for it, I honestly hadn’t expected the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay to go to Precious.
When Amelia released, many believed that it would get a few nominations, including one for Hilary Swank in the Best Actress category.
(Sighs) It should have made it to the top list in certain categories, including Best Costume, Best Cinematography and Best Original Score. Also, certain performances should have been recognised. But an Oscar nomination has to be earned. The Academy members pick their bets depending on the hype surrounding a movie. And in the case of Amelia, the studio chose not to campaign for the film.
Agar thodi bahut tomtoming kiya hota (If only they had publicised the film a bit), it might have helped. Some makers are fortunate to get the full support of the studio. It’s a game, it really is, and in this case, due to lack of campaigning, Amelia was not remembered in the race to the Oscars.
Two years ago, it was the same story with The Namesake.
Yeah, that film too didn’t get the benefit of a full on, powerful campaign during the Oscars despite some wonderful performances. The Namesake was robbed of Oscar nominations, so too was Amelia.
After The Namsake, you will be returning to Indian shores as director with Amelia. Expectations are rising everyday.
(Laughs) Beware of expectations. Just the thought paralyses me. I do my work and hope it emulates on screen. Period.
Besides, Amelia is a very different film from The Namesake.
But isn’t it also about a woman’s journey of self-discovery?
It is but The Namesake was a completely independent film that I produced myself. So I was in total control. Every frame was the way I wanted it to be. Amelia is a studio film, made on an epic scale. And though I was fortunate to be working with my own creative family, it was still a very different experience.
Studio support would have meant that you did not have to worry about money.
Yeah, I could experiment with aerial action for the first time. I didn’t want computerised special effects so I used real planes and real locations.
I wanted the audience to feel as if they were sitting next to Amelia Earhart in the cockpit as she travelled around the world. It was an exhilarating journey!
Some of the critics wouldn’t agree. Your script has come in for some sharp criticism, you’ve been accused of being too "tentative" and not wanting to "offend, shock and confuse".
When you make a film on such an epic scale, you are subject to previews and market research. It’s not just you, me and the screen. There are a number of people involved whose opinions matter.
Also, Amelia is the portrait of an icon and so came with its own baggage, any bio-pic does. She was an interesting subject but there were biographers involved, and at every step, your script was subject to scrutiny.
The producer had bought the rights to two biographies, Earhart—Susan Butler’s East To The Dawn and Mary Lovell’s The Sound Of Wings. He also brought in Elgen M Long, co-author with Marie K Long on Amelia Earhart: Mystery Solved, as consultant.
It was difficult with all the writers around to strike the right balance between what people know as fact and
Your casting was bang on with Hilary Swank bearing a striking physical resemblance to Amelia Earhart.
(Laughs) Hillary is a consummate performer who approached the journey with a lot of zest. She’s serious and humourous too, a pleasure to direct.
Even though there is little physical resemblance in your case, one would think that as far as personalities go, there’s a lot in common between Amelia and Mira too.
(Laughs) Well, I did feel a certain affinity with this kid from nowhere. She had grown up in a small town, Atchison, Kansas. I also spent my childhood in Bhubaneshwar, Orissa. That didn’t stop her from dreaming of seeing the world.
What’s more, she lived out that dream too, without fortune or privilege, on the strength of pluck alone.
I did not read her biographies but watched 16 hours of newsreel on her. And whether she was flying, cutting medals or receiving medals from kings and queens, it was her goofy humility and passion for flying that shone through and drew me to Amelia’s story.
It was a roller-coaster ride for me too because within weeks of okaying the project, I plunged into it. It was shot it in three months flat.
Amelia is described as a pioneering feminist in a man’s world. Doesn’t that description fit you too?
(Chuckles) Well yes, Hollywood is a man’s world.. a boy’s world actually.
Run by girls?
(Laughs) How I wish! A few of us independent filmmakers--men and women—are trying to stake a position for ourselves, make the kind of films we believe in. But it’s not easy competing with the super boys.
Not even for a super girl?
(Laughs again) I wish I were one but honestly, there’s nothing super about this gal!
‘I experienced a sense of empathy with my father’s city’: on the reluctant fundamentalist
My father was from Lahore and I grew up hearing Urdu being spoken and ghazals being sung. Farida Khanum sang a ghazal for Monsoon Wedding, Ab jaane ki zidd na karo… that was a huge hit. And I went to Pakistam with my film.
Almost immediately, I experienced an enormous empathy with the country and my father’s city. The people I met were like an extension of my aunts and uncles back home. Farida sang for me again, Mohsin Hamid and I became friends.
Mohsin’s book, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, struck a chord because it portrayed the schism in the subcontinent but presented it from the South Asian point of view. That’s rare and it was that dialogue that set me up to make a film on contemporary Pakistan. We have just finished the screenplay and should start shooting by October.
Recently, I saw a film, My Name Is Khan, and loved it. I sent a message to Karan (Johar) immediately after coming out of the theatre.
I’m also hard at work… creating new songs and writing the script for the Monsoon Wedding musical. These things take time. Hopefully, we should get the play on the road by next spring.
‘We are all waiting for Johnny Depp to decide’
Will Shantaram get made?
I hope, I wish, I pray that it will be made. But Shantaram at the moment is asleep and not ready to wake up.We were ready to go on the floors with the film when the Writers’ Strike in Hollywood created the first of many roadblocks.
Now the ball is in Johnny Depp’s court and going by the commitments he has, he is definitely the busiest actor on the planet. So I doubt if could start shooting this year.
The decision is not in my hands, it’s Johnny’s call. When Shantaram starts will depend on his time and interest. We are all waiting.
It was Johnny who wanted me to direct him in the movie based on the best-selling book. A lot of time and effort was invested into getting the project to the shooting stage.
Having come this far, I’d still drop a lot to get Shantaram rolling once Johnny gave the nod. But till that happens, I’ll
concentrate on The Reluctant Fundamentalist and the Monsoon Wedding musical.