Many years ago, Bosnian director Danis Tanovic, had come to the Cannes Film Festival with his No Man’s Land, and it won the Best Screenplay Award there. Some months later in early 2002, the movie won the Best Foreign Language Oscar.
A still from An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker.
Tanovic, who was virtually unknown then, shot to fame, and I remember interviewing him along with other journalists at Cannes. And so dashing good looking he was that some in my group asked him why he should not be acting.
But then No Man’s Land – a gripping story of three soldiers caught in no man’s land between the borders of their respective countries -- was so well talked about that even if Tanovic had the slightest inclination to step in front of the camera, he would have brushed it aside. I do not think he ever wore grease paint.
Now at the ongoing 7th Abu Dhabi Film Festival with his latest work, An Episode in the Life of Iron Picker – which won the Grand Jury Prize and Silver Bear for Best Actor at Berlin last February, and which is also Bosnia’s official submission for the 2014 foreign language Oscar – Tanovic tells me in the course of a interview that his movie stands no chance of making it to the nomination basket of five.
“But India’s The Lunchbox (by Ritesh Batra) had a very good chance of being nominated for the Oscars. It is a pity that it missed out being India’s official submission. I have not seen The Good Road (by Gyan Correa) though. But can you tell me why this happened”, he asks me.
The Lunchbox has been raved about from Telluride to Toronto, and “I would have withdrawn my work to accommodate this Indian picture. If it could have been nominated as Bosnia’s entry, I would have done it. It is such good cinema with fine performances…The Good Road stands no chance”.
Tanovic is understandable disappointed that The Lunchbox was ignored by the Indian selection panel which picked The Good Road. For, he along with Anurag Kashyap had collaborated on The Lunchbox.
Tanovic, who describes Kashyap as a guy with a larger-than-life attitude who helps youngsters find their feet in the difficult world of cinema, has just finished helming White Lies (the title could change), starring Emraan Hashmi, Geetanjali Thapa and Supriya Pathak, and produced by Kashyap. The film, largely shot in Punjab’s Patiala, centres on a poor Pakistani and his struggle against a corrupt system.
Back in 2001, one could have never imagined that Tanovic would someday make a movie in India with Indian actors. Well, the shoot is almost complete now.
Returning to his last film, An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker is quite akin to No Man’s Land in treatment. Shorn of frills, Iron Picker appears bare and blunt, talking about an unhappy incident in the life of a Roma (gypsy) family in Bosnia. The wife suffers a miscarriage, but the hospital will not perform the procedure unless her husband pays the bill. The family has no health insurance, and eventually with the woman in a critical condition, the husband finds a way to save her.
Tanovic says he read about this tragic episode in 2011, decided to make a movie out of it. However, unlike other films that have been inspired by or actually based on true stories, Iron Picker uses the same family which suffered to play the parts. Here was a man, his wife and child, all real Romas with no exposure to cinema, carrying a movie with engaging authenticity.
“There is no magic realism about the tribe”, Tanovic avers. “So why would I want to create music and melody around this family in my work”.
There is nothing magical about Bosnian cinema either. “Come on, we are just four million people. It is like a village in India. When were part of Yugoslavia, we were 20 million. That was something. There is hardly anything called Bosnian cinema today”, Tanovic adds.
So, it would appear logical that someone with brilliant credentials like Tanovic would try and find an outlet for his artistic expression in India, which affords a million possibilities.
After No Man’s Land and An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker, Tanovic’s bar has been raised high. Will White Lies help him stay there?