Just 15 minutes of inspired film-making! That’s what it takes for one to be the toast of the nation. Director Ashwin Kumar’s 15 minutes-long film Little Terrorist has received the coveted Oscar- nomination in the Short Films- category and if all goes well, then he might well become the first ever Indian film-maker to win a competitive Academy award.
This Oscar- nomination has suddenly turned this till-now- a- little-known Delhi-based film-maker into a much sought- after celebrity, so much so that he has to reschedule our telephonic interview thrice to accommodate local newspapers and TV-channels. Finally I manage to get him on telephone and although initially he sounds tired and apologetic, he soon warms up about his dream project which has literally taken the world by storm.
Here are the excerpts from the interview:
It must be a hectic schedule for you, since the news (of Oscar nomination) broke out.
(Laughs) One good thing about this event is that everything is happening so fast that I have hardly got any time to think about it!
After winning the top honors at film- festivals like Tehran, Montreal and Manhattan; what do you feel different about American Academy (Oscar) awards?
For any film-maker, it’s like a dream come true. Oscar is perhaps the biggest honour in international cinema and the competition is also going to be much tougher.
Do you think that a well-concerted publicity campaign is needed to get an Oscar?
Actually I am still learning about that. Luckily I have got a producer who is based in Los Angeles and she is in much better position to guide me through this process. In general, I don’t think we can match the big films like Aviator in terms of wooing the Academy members to view our film but I am sure we will come up with some innovative promotional strategy.
What was your vision behind the making of Little Terrorist?
I have always felt strongly about the tensions between India and Pakistan. It is absurd and ironical that these two countries with such similar customs and cultures end up pointing nuclear weapons at each other. I wanted to reflect this irony through my film and wanted to show that there is hope at the end of the tunnel. Since the time I had heard about the real life incident of a Pakistani boy who had crossed over to India by mistake and was sent back to Lahore by former Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee; I had the theme in my mind.
Why have you chosen ‘Short Films’ as your medium?
I have always wanted to make films in an international milieu and to do that, you have to first prove your credentials with artistic projects, which will be appreciated at international film festivals. Just like taking a small step before taking the big leap; you start with short- films hoping that it would finally open doors to bigger film-making opportunities.
Have you always tried to be different? If your Doon-school magazine interview is to be believed then from school-days you were never a part of the herd.
(Ponders awhile) It is an interesting observation. If I had wanted I could have done three Bollywood films by now but I have always acted according to my convictions and yes, I have never been a part of the herd!
You have also acted in some of your earlier films.
Yes, in fact I consider myself an actor first and director next. It was through my stage- performances, I graduated to directing stage-plays and finally I was drawn into film-making. I would like to continue acting even in future.
Tell us something about Salim – the child prodigy actor in Little Terrorist.
At the age of seven, Salim got lost from his parents in a Delhi slum. Later he was found by a NGO and handed over to Mira Nair’s Ambala Trust for under-privileged children. I found him when I had gone there to conduct acting workshops. This kid is a fabulous actor and has a cinematic understanding and maturity much beyond his years.
On a wider canvas, have you planned anything?
Yes, I am already working on two feature- films. One of them is called Forest and is a thriller with a background of environmental issues of deforestation and dwindling tiger population. Irfan Khan- who in my opinion is one of the finest actors of this generation, is acting in it. The other one is a feature-length adaptation of my earlier short- Road To Ladakh.
Trying to fetch a ball, Jamal- a Pakistani boy accidentally crosses the mine-laden Indo- Pak border. Hounded by Indian soldiers who unwittingly brand him a ‘Terrorist’, he is helped by Bhola- an orthodox elderly Indian fellow to return to his home-country.