Many pasts, many stories at the Mumbai International Film Festival
How did your love for filmmaking begin?
I began wanting to make movies when I was about 12. From the age of 13, I started making a short film each year. All were 8mm movies, low-budget, and very rudimentary in technique. It started from my love of looking at photos, which I still like to do. There was a photography shop near our house. When I looked at those portraits, a story in my mind developed naturally. Images make me travel to another world. The first time I went to a cinema hall, I was perhaps five or six years old. When I entered, half of the film was already gone. It was an Eastern European film with a very young boy as the protagonist. When the movie ended, I kept thinking about what might have happened in the first half. I imagined that I was the protagonist, and thought about what could have happened in the first half. Without even realizing it, I was making a movie in my mind.
Being trained in Iran for arts, do you feel that it makes a difference, or perhaps filmmaking courses abroad alienate the person from his own emotional and social nexuses? How would you look at a film while heading the jury?
I studied theatre in Iran. There is no unique rule that says whether you will be more successful if you study in your own country or abroad. Studying at home may be better for some, and others may choose to study outside their country. But what is important is not what you study when you are a student. It is important that you study all the time. You can study in a university and at the same time study the life of people around you as well. I think if an Indian guy studies in India, he will have a better chance to study Indian cultures and families in a better way. Still, as the jury I am going to look at the movie.
How familiar are you with Indian cinema?
When I was young I watched Indian commercial cinema a lot on Iranian TV. Now there are so many Indian directors who work independently, and they are coming up with good work. I particularly like Deepa Mehta’s films. And from the old generation, I know of Satyajit Ray’s films. Regarding young filmmakers there are a few that I have met at festivals such as Ritesh Batra, maker of The Lunchbox. And I like Irrfan Khan’s acting.
What is it about relationships or families that draws you?
Family for me is like a small society, very rich in nature. In a family you can find children, grandparents, mother, father -- all belonging to different ages. And because all of us have the same experience of a family, I get the possibility to talk about these shared experiences.
The family in The Past is quite a departure from the generally understood Irani or Indian family, as Marie Brisson (Berenice Bejo's character) has multiple partners…
In The Past, the situation of the woman is quite difficult to understand. Her position is more complicated. The story of A Separation is more probable as Iranian and Indian society are quite the same. Even in Iran it is not usual for a woman to have many partners.
The non-selection of The Lunchbox as India’s official entry for the Foreign Language Oscar has been criticized a lot. What do you think about this?
I can understand how much your country wants to get an Oscar. Because I think when you get an Oscar in a category, which is very hard -- a foreign language film -- then it’s not about the director or the film getting an award. It’s about the country receiving it. I can understand how proud the people of the country would be to get an Oscar. But we should always understand that we are not making a movie to win an award.And there are so many movies which never got an award, but they are fantastic.