This interview with Anant Singh happened mere hours before the Oscar 2014 nominations were to be announced, this past Thursday, which is why, the looming-large topic had to be dealt away with first. And because of the uncertainty of the result at that time, Singh sounded slightly wary, brushing off talk of Oscar expectations for Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom with a succint reply, “Well, you know, we are very pleased, happy with the work we’ve done and we will hopefully get nominations at the Oscars. I very well think that our actors have given performances worthy of nominations, and because we have just won a Golden Globe award (for Best Original Song-Motion Picture), I am hoping that that should work in our favour.”
As things stand today, the movie has received one nomination at the Academy Awards, once again in the Best Original Song category for the song Ordinary Love by Bono, U2 and Danger Mouse.
Now there’s something to look forward to in March when the awards get underway.
That said, it would also be too superfluous and stilted to only look at the movie under the glare of awards. Because the truth is, as most critical reviews of the movie attest to, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom has managed to appease critics just as its managed to impress audiences owing to inspired performances by its lead cast: Idris Elba playing Nelson Mandela and Naomie Harris playing Winnie Mandela.
Rewinding to the beginning, the story of the making of this movie goes back almost 20 years back when Singh first met Mandela for an interview. Eventually, after Singh managed to get the world leader to grudgingly accede to his request to make a movie based on his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, it ‘s really taken more than 16 years and 50 screenplays for the movie to finally realise. Explaining this delay Singh says, “As a South African, Mandela chose me as his custodian to make the movie and that came with a huge set of challenges and responsibilities.
One of the difficult things was to the determine what to put in to a two-and-half hour long film, because if you put in everything, it could end up becoming a 10-hour mini series. Also, because the movie spans from 1948 to 1994, there was huge cost involved — the budget for the movie was $35million dollars, and because it was an independently-produced film, financing it was complicated.
Besides, there was also the question of getting the right actors to play the parts — these were three huge aspects that we had to consider before setting out to make the movie.”
Now, considering himself as a custodian of the movie simply meant that Singh was involved in almost every aspect of the film. “I pretty much have been intrinsically involved with the movie,” accepts Singh, “right from the script stage — the movie has seen 60 drafts of the screenplay— with different writers and different directors who were part of it over the years.” And so, on what about this script finally clicked with him, Singh says, “When director Justin Chadwick came on board — we’d worked together on another movie before, Singh informs — he decided to hone in on the love story between Nelson and Winnie and that, we thought, was a key element of the story to be told.”
Call it a quirky twist of fate, but it was during the premiere of the movie in London, on December 5 that the world leader quietly passed away. So, did he get to see at least a few rushes of the film, we wonder. “I got to spend a day with him and I got to show him scenes and stills from the movie,” Singh reveals before sharing that Mandela’s only instruction to him before the movie even got started was, “Just don’t bother me, I trust you.”
Winding down the interview, the question that deems to be asked is: What was that one quality of the late leader that’s inspired Singh the most? “He had this remarkable ability to respect people, make them feel comfortable no matter what their station in life was. So whether they were the King, Queen, a bell boy or a waiter at a hotel, he treated people with the same respect and sense of equality,” recalls Singh warmly.
And finally, on the impact he hopes the movie leaves on audiences everywhere, Singh says, “The movie celebrates Mandela’s life and so, I hope audiences get inspired by his life. That would make me a happy man.”