Back from the 70th Cannes Film Festival after giving the global film industry's creme de la creme a dekko at her ambitious project Manto, Nandita Das says she is confident that her film — about celebrated Urdu writer Saadat Hasan Manto — will appeal to audiences across the world.
For her directorial project, Nandita has roped in the talented Nawazuddin Siddiqui to play Manto, and Rasika Dugal to essay his wife Safia. The three of them were at Cannes and celebrated a Manto night in the French Riviere.
Excerpts from the post-Cannes interview with Nandita:
Q. How was Cannes?
Just got back. It was exciting and exhausting. With all its glitz, its primary purpose of being a haven for films and filmmakers cannot be undermined. It was a bit insane to take ten days off in the middle of one's shoot to want to go to Cannes to share the journey thus far. But it was a worthwhile one. After all Cannes won't happen for another whole year!
Q. How was your biopic on Saadat Haasan Manto received in Cannes?
I feel fortunate that we have HP Studios as one of our main producers and as HP is one of the official partners of Cannes, they could host a wonderful evening at Le Majestic, one of the prime hotels, on May 22, where we showcased a compilation of three-minute footage.
Q. I believe Paulo Coelho is supporting your Manto biopic?
Yes, Paulo Coelho sent a video message supporting the film and Manto's ideas. Finally the evening ended with Nawaz reading from Manto's writings in Urdu which I translated for the foreign audiences in English. The response was overwhelming. Sales agents, distributors, film festival directors, friends and film lovers, all seem to have connected with the spirit of Manto. The curiosity about the film was palpable.
Q. Nawazuddin Siddiqui, who plays Manto, got rave responses in Cannes.
He was loved by all. There was a tete-a-tete with the lead actors, Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Rasika Dugal along with me and our producers Jean-Pierre Le Calvez, representing HP Studios and Ajit Andhare, representing Viacom18, at the India Pavilion.
Namrata Goyal of FilmZtoc, a new independent company, had to leave that morning. We also have Film Caravan, Movie Makers – two other independent companies as co-producers and the mix gets complete with Sandrine Brauer and Marie Masmonteil as my French producers.
Q. You seem to have attracted quite a lot of producers for this one?
It has not been easy to raise funds for this film. And while it is quite small for the canvas and vision we have for the film, I am glad at least the film is being made. It is important for me that the investors make their money, so that such films are not tagged as festival films and dismissed at the box office. I strongly feel it has the power to transcend borders and markets, reaching out to audiences both in India and the world. And for this I am fortunate to have a cast, crew and producers that share my passion.
They all seem to have a 'Mantoiyat' in them and that is what we want to invoke in every person that sees the film.
Q. Do you feel Cannes helps a film to find a larger audience?
Manto's free spirit and the compulsion to tell the truth have inspired me to want to share his story. Now that the necessary buzz has been created in Cannes and thereby back home, to ensure the film reaches to more and more people, I can get back to what I need to do for now. Another twelve days of shoot and that too some of the most difficult scenes. But I have come this far, despite many challenges, so I know I will go till the end, come what may. Manto's spirit will continue to be the spirit of the film.