As this year’s London Indian Film Festival came to an end last Thursday with the world premiere of Toba Tek Singh, the audience had the opportunity to interact with director Ketan Mehta about the making of the film and Zee’s Zeal for Unity initiative, along with producer Shaili Kejriwal.
“I have been admirer of Manto’s work and specially Toba Tek Singh. It’s such an incredible story, and ever since I read it many many years ago that I’ve been wanting to make a film.”
The director knew that Toba Tek Singh was the right story for the Zeal for Unity initiative. “The idea was fascinating, and when they asked me what I would like to do, the first story that came to mind was Toba Tek Singh, which was I think one of the greatest Urdu short stories of the time as far as the Partition is concerned, and Manto is one of the greatest Urdu writers of all times.”
The producers agreed with the director and quickly came on board with the project. “One good thing about this entire experiment is that there were no preconditions. The filmmakers were given complete freedom to do what they wanted to do”, the director added.
However, the project was very challenging. With a budget of under £70,000, the film was completed in 11-12 days, but the director praised the commitment of the whole team, including the lead actors. “All these actors worked for really nothing, just for the passion of it, just for the good will of it, just for the joy of it. That’s how this type of films are getting made.”
Producer Shaili Kejriwal also talked of the challenges of the project. “This is the first time in the history of India and Pakistan that filmmakers from both sides are coming together, and that was the real challenge of convincing twelve people and getting them to make films in trying conditions with no budgets.”
The director added: “I believe that films don’t get made with money, they get made with passion. And this film is a good example of that.”
The Zeal for Unity initiative is an ambitious project that aims to bring together nations in conflict through their creative thought leaders. This is just the first project in the initiative which will be followed by other campaigns on other creative platforms such as music and television.
About the impact of the film on the audience, producer Shaili Kejriwal was very clear. “I hope this film offends people, I really wanted to offend people. Only then something will change. The fact of dividing people senselessly, mindlessly is offensive; the act is offensive. I want people to feel offended and do something.”
The premiere at LIFF is just the first stop in the journey of Toba Tek Singh and the other films in the project, as producers are planning to take them to several festivals, and then they will be broadcasted on the Zee network, which is available in 171 countries. “We want as many people to watch it as possible”, she added.
Despite being conceived decades ago, Mehta felt that the story of Toba Tek Singh is still much relevant today. “The lunacy is actually multiplying. The fanatism, the intensity of violence, internal as well as external, is galloping away.”
The director stressed the social responsibility of artists and how their work can contribute to a better future. “It cannot be left to the politicians to harmonise; the artists have to do their bit. I am proud that twelve filmmakers, six from this side and six from that side, actually came forward for this initiative. I think it’s a great first step; I think we all should applaud that.”
This was a very interesting Q&A to conclude this year’s LIFF. We hope to hear from Toba Tek Singh and other Zeal For Unity projects in the near future.
We have pictures from the Q&A as well as pictures from the red carpet!