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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 



MFF 17, by Jio-MAMI, Festival Diary, III

MFF 17, by Jio-MAMI, Festival Diary, III

For me, MFF 17 began on 31st October, with Star India’s Movie Mela (Fair), India's first movie carnival, where, over the whole day, a reported two thousand movie fans and celebrities tuned-up.

The event was open to all delegates and was held at Mehboob Studios, in Bandra, founded by one India’s greatest ever film-makers, Mehboob Khan. It was kicked off with a session by director Rajkumar Hirani (Munnabhai, 3 Idiots, PK) and his writer, Abhijat Joshi, on their creative collaboration. This was followed by reunion of the team of blockbuster, Mr. India, directed by Shekhar Kapur and loosely inspired by The Invisible Man. Leading lady Sridevi, hero Anil Kapoor, Boney Kapoor (producer), Satish Kaushik, Aftab Shivdasani and Ahmed Khan (actors) took a walk down memory lane, and narrated anecdotes of how the much-loved classic was made.

Simultaneously, on Stage 2, Kabir Khan, Dibakar Banerjee, Zoya Akhtar did sessions that explored their creative process. Later in the day, Sonam Kapoor and Rohan Joshi of the stand-up/insult comedy portal AIB (only the acronym is generally used, since the full-form includes a swear word) were in conversation about the challenges of being a celebrity in times of social media. STAR is actively involved with streaming AIB content on their app, Hotstar. Actress Huma Qureshi was in conversation with director Gurinder Chadda and Ajit Thakur, CEO of Trinity Pictures, and Shridhar Raghavan conducted a master-class on script-writing.

More was happening in the afternoon sessions: Varun Dhawan was in conversation with journalists Anupama Chopra and Rajeev Masand on the films that shaped him. Deepika Padukone spoke about her eight-year journey in the industry. The evening also saw a congregation of the leading talent from Bollywood for a panel that explored the altering landscape of the film industry. Alia Bhatt, Arjun Kapoor, Parineeti Chopra, Ayushmann Khurrana, Aditya Roy Kapur and Kriti Sanon spoke candidly about the challenges of being a next gen actor. The day concluded on a musical note, with composer Pritam strumming his popular hits and talking to the audience on how he made his signature tunes.

When I reached the studio at about 12.15 pm, I was told that the session with director Kabir Khan (New York, Ek Tha Tiger, Phantom, Bajrangi Bhaijaan) was over. On reading the programme, I found that it was scheduled for 12 noon, so it must be far from over. Rushing in, I realised that it had just begun, and it turned out to be rewarding experience. Kabir gives the false impression that he is shy and reticent, whereas, in reality, he is expressive and forthcoming.

Kabir’s grandfather was a judge in the Nizam's (ruler) court in Hyderabad. When his father Rasheeduddin Khan married his Hindu mother, Leela, the inter-religious alliance was “a big deal”. He was born in Hyderabad and then the family moved to Delhi. A professor at Hyderabad’s Osmania University, Rasheeduddin was invited to join the founding team of professors of Jawaharlal Nehru University, set-up in the late 1960s, where he taught Political Science. Due to his work in academics, he was later nominated to the Rajya Sabha, where he was a member for two terms, passing away in 1996. Leela, Anushka and Kabir watched a lot of films at Vigyan Bhavan, where special screenings were organised for members. Director Shyam Benegal, who has roots in Hyderabad, was a family friend, and they saw all his films. The family also admired Amitabh Bachchan, and saw all his films on the day of their release, in the first show.

Kabir grew up in Delhi and got an Honours degree in Economics. When his sister Anusha asked him to pick up an application form for Jamia Millia University, also in Delhi, he picked up one for himself to. Both brother and sister, who are separated by just over a year (Anusha is older), went on to study Mass Communications at the university, in the same class, and both started their careers with documentaries. Anusha, who is married to director Vijay Krishna Acharya (Tashan, Dhoom 3) was present too, as was Kabir’s wife, TV anchor and actress Mini Mathur. One might note that father, son and daughter have all married outside their religion! Incidentally, Anusha is derived from a Persian name, which should be spelt Anusheh. Anusha told me she wished it was retained as Anusheh, but it is too late now.

One of Khan's great loves is travelling. He jokes that one criterion upon which he decides where to shoot his next film is figuring out which country he wants to visit next. Before he turned director, Khan worked as a cinematographer for the Discovery Channel and for independent documentaries. These titles include Beyond the Himalayas (1995, directed by Gautam Ghose). He then made his own directorial debut with the documentary titled The Forgotten Army, based on Subhas Chandra Bose's Indian National Army and The Journalist and the Jihadi: The Murder of Daniel Pearl (2006). The Bose film was shot in Singapore and Malaysia, where a lot of non-Indians supported the Army and where there are memorials in Bose’s honour. A lot of his camera-work has been with the acclaimed journalist, Saeed Naqvi, during which time he travelled to about 60 countries.

Kabul Express (2006) was his feature film debut. It is loosely based on his and his friend Rajan Kapoor's experiences in post-Taliban Afghanistan. Rajan is his trusted lieutenant, and while shooting in Afghanistan, both suffered serious accidents while shooting the horse-based Afghan sport, Buzkashi. His next attempt at wielding the megaphone was New York (2009), about three students studying at the fictional New York State University, whose lives are changed by 9/11 and its aftermath. In 2012, he directed Ek Tha Tiger, produced by Aditya Chopra, starring Salman Khan and Katrina Kaif in lead roles. The story revolves around an Indian Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) agent who falls in love with a Pakistani spy. Then came Bajrangi Bhaijaan, starring Salman Khan, Harshaali Malhotra, Kareena Kapoor and Nawazuddin Siddiqui. Narrating the tale of a Pakistani girl who is escorted home by an Indian, it is considered the biggest hit of all time, based on box-office collections of the first two months. His other 2015 release, Phantom, is an action thriller about an Indian mission to Pakistan , to eliminate a terrorist supremo.

One of the visiting documentary film-makers at Jamia had said in a lecture, “If you want to travel the world, become a documentary filmmaker,” and that just stuck in Kabir’s head. While working with Naqvi, he realised that there was a difference between the socio-political stories he had been told, and the ground realties, and that is why all his films, make a strong political statement. He had received all kinds of threats from extremists, who tried to block the release of Bajrangi Bhaijaan, but Kabir wasn’t ruffled. Talking about his star actor Salman Khan, he praised him for being averse to clichés and for agreeing to act out the climax of Bajrangi Bhaijaan, where the action superhero has little to do, besides limping! Unlike Kabir, Salman hates travelling, while all of Kabir’s films involve a lot of national and international travel. “Given the choice, I would never shoot indoors,” says director Khan. Salman grumbles and complains, but with his track record, Kabir gets him going!

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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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