A year ago, Nitin Kakkar was a worried man. His movie Filmistaan had been complete for months, had been part of international film festivals, including the Busan International Film Festival in South Korea, but the distributors stayed resolutely away.
"My producers had enough for a movie with a shoestring budget, but distribution required a lot more. It was a difficult phase," says Kakkar, whose film on Indians, Pakistanis and their great love for Hindi films was finally released across 450 screens last week to critical acclaim.
The months preceding the release were tough. An avid motorcycle enthusiast, the 39-year-old says he took to the roads to "keep Filmistaan out of my mind." "I was down but not out. So, I decided to go on a trip to Kochi on my bike; I set out from Mumbai to Goa, then Gokarna and then on to Kochi."
A year on, Filmistaan has been a part of 18 film festivals and picked up several domestic awards, the 60th National Award for Best Feature Film in Hindi being the most prominent. Speaking to dna on the eve of the movie's theatrical release, the soft spoken director is busy managing calls from friends and the media, patiently replying to every query that comes his way.
Filmistaan, he says, is a movie built around the "power of cinema to be the universal panacea for co-existence". It revolves around portly assistant director Sunny Arora (Sharib Hashmi). Kidnapped by Pakistani militants while on a shoot with an American team working on a documentary in Bikaner, Sunny is taken across the border and confined in the house of Aftab (Inaamulhaq) who rents out pirated Bollywood CDs for a living. When his kidnappers find out he is Indian, they decide to retain him till they find the American crew they were looking for. Under their prying eyes, Sunny and Aftab bond over their love for movies and realise that culturally people on either side of the border share the same practices and preferences.
While Shringar Films came on board late last year, UTV decided to play a part and distribute the fim early this year. Shot in Bikaner, Mumbai and Jaipur over 20 days, the movie comes at a time when bilateral relations with Pakistan are again looking up with Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif coming to Delhi for his Indian counterpart's swearing-in ceremony. "We wanted to make a movie that is honest at its core. I am sure people will like it. What I am not sure is whether people will come to watch it or not," says Kakkar. There are many moments to watch out for in the film whose production values exceed expectations, and Arijit Datta's score makes for good listening.
Kakkar, who was directing TV shows for seven-eight years before stepping into cinema, is now set on a black-and-white period drama based on stories by Saadat Hasan Manto. "I wanted to set the story in 1947, but the movie never happened. I hope that with my debut feature making a stir, I get to make my period drama," he says.