“It’s not easy in India to convince people to watch your film” – Irfan Kamal

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If you haven’t seen Thanks Maa! yet, we suggest you do. The film released much before Slumdog Millionaire and is easily a more candid perception of how slum kids really do live on the streets of Mumbai. The film has already won immense accolades from critics who believe that the film is honest and brutal. Director Irfan Kamal has already picked up a National Award for his debut film and while it wasn’t heavily promoted, it did manage to gain much hearsay via the chatter of those who had seen the masterpiece, as it has been deemed by many. The film follows the life of slum kids who find themselves in a rather strange position after they find an abandoned baby. But enough praise for the film from us, BollySpice speaks to the director of the film as he talks about the difficulties of making such a film and the critical acclaim Thanks Maa! has received. On a side note, we are convinced Thanks Maa! will be India’s entry into the Oscars next year.

First and foremost, congratulations on the success of Thanks Maa! How does it feel to be the director of such an acclaimed film?

It’s very humbling. I feel honored and I’ve been lucky.

Have you always been interested in films and filmmaking?

Yeah. I always wanted to do something with storytelling. It is very fascinating to tell a story in films.

How did you come up with the story of Thanks Maa! which took three years to put the script together right?

To put the script together took a lot of research. It has more than a year’s worth of research behind it. I had a basic idea about our family kids. What if they were misplaced and one was found by a rat pickers. So how hard would it be for one of those rat pickers and the slum kids to return the child? Because the authorities are not going to listen to them, as you know what happens in India. And there are so many other various issues. So how difficult would it have been for them. When we were writing the screenplay, myself and my co-writer, Vishal Vijay Kumar, there was an article that came in the newspaper. It was called, “Orphans in the Womb”. When we read that, we came to know that there are 12.66 million street kids in India. And there were so many other issues. There were a lot of people who were abandoning their kids much before they were born. When we got into the depths of it, we saw that the issue is very strong. We have incorporated that issue into the screenplay. And that is how Thanks Maa! happened.

This is your first film, am I right?

Yeah, this is my first film as a director.

So why did you choose to direct and write a film that is so close to real life?

I wanted to do something that was not done before. And I always believed that art has to be beautiful and truthful. So to get the truth out of art, you have to be honest. That’s what I feel.

How did you decide on the cast? Especially since you had to work with street kids.

There was a lot of effort behind it. First when we started auditioning, we thought we would just go onto the street and pick up a kid from the signal, train them and make them actors. And we did that. We got some kids and trained them in our workshops. But then as they realized it was getting boring, they used to run away. So everyday some character used to disappear. It had become a big problem. So we then decided that we should get hold of street kids who have residential addresses or somebody who was taking care of them. And that is how we got hold of serious street kids.

What is most interesting is that film bears an uncanny resemblance to Slumdog Millionaire although Thanks Maa! is a lot more sincere and true.

See, my film was premiered in 2008 at the Goa International Film Festival. And Slumdog released in January across the globe. So for me getting influenced by Slumdog is no chance because I released my film before that.

Right. But Thanks Maa! is a lot more honest while Slumdog is a lot more glamorous.

Yeah but it happens sometimes. Right now everyone is making 3D films so it happens. It was just pure coincidence. I wasn’t concerned that there were two films made on similar premises and characters.

You’ve said that you’ve tried to convince a number of actors to watch the film. Who has actually taken out time to watch the film? What have they said about the film?

Well, I have asked a lot of people to see it but no one has come down to see it. So I don’t know who has seen it. It’s not easy in India to convince people to watch your film.

How did you come up with such interesting and yet humorous names for the children in the film?

It’s very common actually! It’s just that you see things around you and it goes unnoticed because it is a part of your life. There are kids in Mumbai who are serving at the chai shop and they are called ‘Cutting’; a half cup of tea is called Cutting in India. There are street kids that are very aggressive so they are called ‘Soda’. And there are some kids who are very intelligent so they are called Super Intelligent so they are called ‘Dedh Shana’.

How did you manage to get veterans like Alok Nath and seasoned actors like Ranvir Shorey to be a part of the film?

I just went to them with the story; they believed in me and agreed to do it. They are some senior actors who have love for cinema. And they love to do things that are out of the box. They don’t want to do regular cinema which they don’t get to do every day. And so they did it.

You’ve won a number of awards for the film. Did you expect that the critics would appreciate the film as much as they did?

The critics really appreciated the film and I got best debut director from Karnataka State and the National Award from India. It has been screened at many international film festivals, and was in a number of competitions too. I am very happy with what Thanks Maa! has given me; the kind of acclaim, the kind of love. People write to me every day.

You’ve been offered a number of acting opportunities. Why have you chosen to focus on direction?

(Laughs) No, no. It’s nothing like that. In India everybody wants to become an actor so they push everybody to become an actor. I’m not acting! I’m happy directing.

What is coming up for you next? Anything more commercial?

There has to be a balance. Even for Thanks Maa!, it’s is a film which keeps you entertained with a very hard message. You enjoy, laugh, and cry. So for me the commercial aspect is only when you have a star in the film. So even tomorrow if I have a star in the film, my film is going to be on the lines of realism. It is going to be a realistic commercial film.

Are you working on anything right now?
I’m writing a couple of things and when it’s done, I’ll pitch it to the actors.

By now, you should be more than convinced to catch the film for a number of reasons. But most importantly, Thanks Maa! is a must watch because of its beautiful screenplay and the fantastic performances.

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