‘Allah ke Banday’ ('Children at War') has been generating buzz and expectation for several weeks by unraveling a powerful soundtrack, unique promotional visuals, a deep subject and a golden cast including actors Naseeruddin Shah, Sharman Joshi, Atul Kulkarni and Rukhsar Nirmala ('Nishabd', 'Sarkar'). The film is Faruk Kabir’s first venture both in terms of acting and directing, and if this was not enough, Faruk is also behind the screenplay, which focuses on a subject dear to him: the flame that creates incredible potential within each child.
HCB - Hello Faruk, ‘Allah ke Banday’ being such a social, emotional and intellectually relevant film, we are eager to know what inspired you to write and direct its story.
FK -Well, the trigger and the imagination for ‘Allah ke Banday' started from my documentary film called ‘The Unheard Voices of the People of India’ and it is while I was shooting for that documentary film that I came across a couple of kids in the red light district area of Varanasi who had been exposed to crime and were juvenile offenders themselves. I also met Mahesh, a lovely man who was teaching them, because he runs a balwari* for children of prostitutes and convicts in Varanasi... (It is Mahesh the person who inspired the AKB character of Ashwani, played by Atul Kulkarni).
When I started talking to the kids, I realized that they had a very strong zest and spirit for life despite all the conditions that surrounded them. My idea was to really capture the feel and zest for life that these kids have. You see, I see them more as achievers rather than kids who are committing crime. For them, they think about something, they plan it, they execute it, they give it a result, you know... they achieve it. The only difference is that they are thinking about crime and are trying to achieve criminal acts whereas if that same energy is channelized into the right direction, it can transform into them achieving something more beautiful in their lives. So ‘Allah ke Banday’ started from this documentary film experience of mine.
* Balwari: small and independent school
FK – Well, I gave the screenplay to Naseer sahib and 15 days later he called me to his house and the first thing when I walked into his house he said was “first of all, I want to congratulate you for the script” and secondly he said, “which part do you want me to play in this film?”. I was extremely excited! I said, “Sir, I want you to play the juvenile prison warden.” He absolutely almost within a minute agreed and said “I'm a part of this film” and he has been most graceful ever since.
Atul was also tricky casting because I really wanted the character to be portrayed absolutely perfectly, so Atul being the powerful actor that he is… I did not want to compromise as to who was going to play that role because I really needed a powerful actor to come and say a lot in a little time.
I then approached Sharman Joshi and narrated the structural outline of the film. He immediately reacted to it very positively and strongly. From then on he read the screenplay twice over in the following 2 to 3 days and decided he was on board the film. He said “I want to be a part of this film” and he wanted to immediately dive into Vijay's character, who is the intelligent brother with the dangerous ideas.
HCB - Why was Sharman chosen for Vijay’s character instead of Yakub’s character, his friend in ‘Allah ke Banday’, whom you play?
FK - Vijay is a character who is a thinker and who has a slightly more restrained demeanor in his agression and personality. He thinks out and executes things. He does not get into something without having evaluated it from all corners, whereas Yakub is more like a hot-headed unguided missile. Yakub doesn't wait for any kind of reasoning or logic or rationale. There is a real contrast in both these characters.
Somehow Sharman has been in a more orchestrative space of performance before. An orchestrative character requires the actor to be a little bit louder, your hands are going up and down, your body language is much more energetic... In this character (Vijay), the body language and restraint had to have a certain sense of maturity to it. I liked the fact that Sharman had always acted out characters that are orchestrative and I have never done characters that are this way. So I guess it was interesting to cast him in this character because it put him in a situation of restraint and limitation. To put someone in a limitation and in an uncomfortable space is always nice because then something interesting results from it.
HCB - You are acting in ‘Allah ke Banday’, you are have written the film’s screenplay and are also directing the film. In doing all this, what would you say has been the biggest challenge for you?
FK - Well, the biggest challenge has not been any of these three but has actually been the marketing of the film! (laughs). It is the enormous budget of marketing a film that has been the biggest challenge for me. Otherwise, I have really enjoyed the process of writing and I wind up writing for 5 to 6 months for one screenplay. I love giving it that time, that nurturing and that pampering. Then for me the stage of shooting is just like being on a picnic! Having it extremely well-planned and executing it with a lot of fun and spirit... and then obviously thirdly lies the acting.
HCB - This is your first role as an actor. How did you feel working alongside a cast of such experienced actors? Were you intimidated at first or were you like “Hell, I'm the director and they won't say anything to me!”
FK - (Laughs) No. There is nothing like that. I'm a young guy, I’m 28, so I am very open to anything that people want to suggest and to what they have in mind. As far as I am concerned, I simply do not feel like I am going to a job or executing a task. I do what I love doing. I love the spaces of acting, writing or directing because they all are in the realm of the performing arts and since I just love to be in that space… There is nowhere else in the world I would rather be.
After having acted in the film, I realized that acting is a very instantly gratifying experience whereas being a director you really have to wait for a long while for that gratifying experience to reach you through the release or appreciation of your film. In acting you either feel you have performed well and you know it or you have not.
However, beyond sharing a frame with Sharman or Atul Kulkarni, for me what was most important was Yakub’s character. I as a director and as an actor wanted the character to be a certain way. Hopefully enough the character has been played well. If that happens, then the battle on the acting front has been won. If Yakub’s character comes across earnestly and honestly that will blend in further into the film.
HCB - You and the team have truly put lots of time and energy into the film’s promotional music videos. Part of the audience is now wondering, does the film have a similar visual feel than that of the innovative Maula and Kya Hawa Kya Badal videos?
FK - The film is absolutely a lot more real, edgy and raw and it has been shot in a more restless space than the music videos. In the case of the music video called Maula, it was really shot as a graphical visual interpretation of the film and was intended purely for the youth audience because they like this visual space. The song itself is Sufi-mellow hip-hop so I wanted to do justice to it and that triggered the use of 2-D matt paintings. We shot the song in about 4 days, but the work as far as preproduction and postproduction of the graphical music video was concerned took about 5 to 6 months. It has worked because the kind of downloads and hits we are getting on that song just goes to show that it is reaching a much wider audience and hopefully it will pay off as far as the visibility of the film is concerned.
HCB - You also worked on another beautiful video with Kailash Kher for song Kya Hawa Kya Badal. How did your collaboration with him come about for a video that would promote the film using the UNICEF's image archives?
FK - Well, I had gone to meet Kailash Kher for this one particular song that I wanted in the film. At the time the situation of the song was not so clear for me so I tried to explain to Kailash the entirety of the film itself and gave a narration to Kailash and Kailasa’s Paresh and Naresh. They really liked the idea of the film and reacted to it both emotionally and intellectually. After that, within two days they had something beautiful ready as far as the thought of a song was concerned. I walked in there, I heard it, I loved it and from then on they continued working further into it.
Finally, when the whole film was shot and the Maula video was shot, my producer and the entire team felt that Kailash’s song was also extremely beautiful, so we decided to shoot a song with kids and Kailash.
The UNICEF also got involved because Kailash had earlier worked with the UN on a certain album. I pitched the idea of the film to certain members of the UNICEF and they were kind enough to say “you can use whatever footage you want of our 50 years of archives” and that is exactly what I did. So Kailash, 1000 kids with candles in their hands at the Gateway of India, help from UNICEF and kindness of strangers made this song happen...
HCB - You have studied filmmaking at the New York Film Academy in the USA and we were wondering: if you had the choice of working with any actor or any filmmaker from the West, who would be your choice?
FK - Any actor or filmmaker… well that is a tough question! How do you really choose just one of them? I think if you tell me to pick an actor I would definitely pick somebody like Denzel Washington who has always been one of my favorite actors. Now a filmmaker... There are so many talented filmmakers! I cannot take a name, which name do I take? (pauses and gives up) There is just too many of them.
HCB - Have you given thought to acting in somebody else's film instead of your own in the future?
FK – You know it is funny because I have already been offered something just about 2 to 3 days back and I am in a funny way kind of considering it.
I guess that the acting bug has fed and tasted upon me rather than me tasting upon it, so let’s see (smiles). As I said before, acting is a nice and instantly gratifying space to be in because as a director there is so much time until the gratification comes across. I guess to keep a balance it would be interesting to explore maybe a role or two each year, just to explore a new space.
HCB - We have recently read that you are working on a new film called ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ and that you would be shooting it in South America. This is not very frequent, as South America has not appeared as one of the favorite locations of Indian cinema. How come South America?
FK - I want to be shooting this film in South America because I am definitely interested in shooting in the Amazon. So I guess I will have to go to the South of America and… unless of course the sheikh of Dubai decides to create an Amazon in the Middle East or in this part of the world, I guess we will have to travel to South America (smiles). That is a bad joke by the way, so you can cut that out (laughs with interviewer).
HCB - What other plans do you have for the future?
FK – I am definitely going to be writing and directing because that is my first love and my focus and will always remain so. Acting is going to be my second priority. If acting roles come along the way, I will pick and choose out of the three or four things that I may be offered and will try to work with something that satisfies me in a different kind of way than writing or direction does. So I will have to strike a balance in my life. I am quite a workaholic and have an obsessive compulsive disorder as far as it comes to my work. As I said, I don't go to a job. I love what I am doing, I do it every single day. So I can handle both acting and writing/directing because that's the kind of preparation I have as far as giving time to my work is concerned.
The Hindi Cinema Blog has had a great pleasure in speaking to Faruk Kabir and we wish him the very best with the release of ‘Allah ke Banday’ on 26 November 2010.
Check out the Allah ke Banday Youtube channel