The fluency of his thoughts is admirable while his cockney accent betrays his Indian origin. Asif Kapadia, whose The Warrior won the BAFTA for Best British Film back in 2003 and Senna won the BAFTA for Best Documentary in 2011, loves to highlight the significance of documentaries vis-à-vis movies. The diehard Liverpool fan was recently in Mumbai as a mentor for this year’s National Film Development Corporation of India (NFDC)’s Film Bazaar Screenwriters’ Lab. In a freewheeling chat, the London-based filmmaker shares his thoughts on cinema and its various forms.
You are mentoring eight upcoming filmmakers at Screenwriters Lab. Excited?
Indeed. It’s nice to see people coming up with brilliant stories and sharing it with others as well. Independent cinema is only growing stronger and it’s good news for everyone. I hope the next stage of progress takes us to independent documentary makers since I’m more attuned to documentaries as of now.
What role did Senna play in your shift from films to docus?
The very success of Senna was unprecedented. We weren’t expecting it to be big and now people approach me with ideas and the resources required to make them happen. Yes, it’s very encouraging.
As a director, how different is helming a documentary from a feature film?
For a director, both are same. You’re just directing a film be it a docu or a drama. However, when you’re making a documentary it’s very realistic so you need to have an element of surprise whereas a film requires you to do just the opposite. I try my level best to make a documentary look as dramatic as possible. For instance, when you’re watching Senna, you can notice that there are no interviews. It looks like fiction but it’s non-fiction.
And what is more challenging?
With documentary, you can get going (snaps). You don’t need a lot of money either. There is a lot of waiting with movies because the number of people attached increases. In fact, I feel you spend more time waiting than directing when you’re making a feature film!
The Warrior quite literally ‘discovered’ Irrfan Khan. How do you feel about that?
I feel happy for him. I feel lucky to have crossed paths with talented folks like him. For example, this little boy from Delhi named Noor Mani had a small part in the film and he went on act with Shah Rukh Khan. He is now even working as an assistant director.
So do you see yourself directing a mainstream Hindi film?
As of now, I can’t direct a Bollywood film. I feel there are people out there who can do a far better job than I can. I’ve been offered scripts over the years but I couldn’t bring myself to pick any of them. Maybe one day I will (laughs).
Do you visit India often?
As often as I can. I last visited in November to attend the Dharamshala International Film Festival. Earlier, I used to be here for family but lately, it has become all work-related.
A documentary on economics set in Azerbaijan about oil and farmers who got rich overnight.