After the hard-hitting Khuda Kay Liye, Pakistani director Shoaib Mansoor says he wouldn't mind an India-Pakistan production, though creating a sequel to his film would be tough because of the "misbehaviour" of some cast members.
On the possibility of collaboration with India, he said: "I'd like that. I feel the predicament regarding religious bigotry is the same in both the countries. I feel Pakistan and India are casualties of wrong policies. I wish to address my films to these issues.
"It's important to bring about an awakening in people. Not that I feel cinema can change mindsets. I don't think Khuda Kay Liye has revised Muslim bigotry."
Mansoor had planned a sequel to Khuda Ke Liye, but the project may not happen because of the nightmarish experiences the director went through.
"I wonder if I'm equal to the task. I had members of the cast who didn't behave well during the shooting. How can I work with them again? My lead actor Shaan gave an interview before the movie's release where he said I had made the film only for myself and for my close friends. These commercial actors believe audiences actually want potboilers," Mansoor told IANS.
So did Shaan apologise after Khuda Kay Liye succeeded?
"Apologise? He hasn't called me once since the release. The whole of Pakistan has changed their mind about Shaan after my film. Believe me, I could only realise 50 percent of my script. I don't want to go through that suffering. Whatever I make, it would've a powerful message. I feel I've to use the cinematic medium to say something meaningful."
Shaan, a big star in Pakistan, apparently gave Mansoor hell.
But he evades the question, saying: "Maybe these stars behave the same way with all directors. Later, I found out that these stars were being far more disciplined with other Pakistani filmmakers. I wish they'd have looked at Naseeruddin Shah. What convictions and integrity he has! After hearing my script, his first condition was, 'I'd do it for free'. My other actors first wanted to know how much money they'd get."
The director says that his film made it to the theatres because of Pakistan President Pervez Mushraff's support.
"My kismet (luck) was with me. If in Pakistan we didn't have President Musharraf in charge of the regime, my film would've been in serious trouble. Yes, he openly supported the film. He saw Khuda Kay Liya and made his appreciation and approval so apparent that the work of the censors became quite easy. Otherwise, I don't think my film would have made it to the theatres."
Surprisingly, Pakistani fundamentalists also kept their peace.
"The majority of the audience reacted so positively that they didn't have the guts to raise their voice. Also, I covered my bases well. If Naseeruddin Shah's anti-fundamentalist rhetoric had any flaws, I'd have been hauled over the coals."
"I've a fair command over my religion. However, if you ask a maulvi (cleric) about it, he'd say I'm not Muslim at all specially after seeing my film. But I'd like to say I'm a far better Muslim than any maulvi. Just as they say they're doing a jihad, I'd like to think I've done a jihad through my film. If I've shown so much courage and taken such a personal risk to depict the true meaning of religious faith, it's a form of jihad born of strong convictions."
"If you and I travel together, you can sail through customs, but I'll be grilled despite the fact that I dress conventionally. Intolerance is a way of life in every culture. Even today women are treated as commodities in many countries. Through my leading lady Iman Ali I wanted to show how women are treated."
On the film's box office performance in India, Mansoor said: "I keep myself away from such things. But I wish the film's Indian distributors had treated it with more importance. It's the costliest film ever made in Pakistan. And I raised the funds somehow on my own."
The director is all praise for Ashutosh Gowariker's epic romance Jodhaa Akbar.
"The effort and the funds are evident. I was awed by the film's magnitude. I wish I could make a period film like this. History and fiction are my lifelines. I'm very interested in the life of Akbar. And I'm very impressed by Jodhaa Akbar.
My only grouse is that Hrithik Roshan is miscast. It was important to make sure that the actor who plays a historical character is correct in posture and bearing. In my own film some actors were miscast. But then I wasn't in a negotiable position."
Mansoor admits Khuda Kay Liye got recognition outside Pakistan only at film festivals.
"The film went through a nightmare in the US. I had no distribution set-up, so I negotiated with some people on the e-mail. On trust I sent them the prints of the film. They ran the film for a month in the US and then vanished with the funds and the prints.
"In fact, I should make a film on my experiences while making the film. For example, the actor whom I initially wanted in the lead was my close friend Junaid Jamshed. I introduced him on TV and promoted him to become a top musician in Pakistan. When I offered him the role, he said yes eagerly. But then he became a mullah and lost nerve. I lost precious eight months in his dillydallying."