Deepti Kakkar and Fahad Mustafa’s documentary KATIYABAAZ is creating a decent buzz. It’s perhaps the first Indian documentary which is getting a wide release and has the potential to change the fate of Indian documentaries. We caught up with the directors who spoke at length about their journey which had a few shocks (pun intended) but was eventually fulfilling.
What inspired you to make KATIYABAAZ?
Fahad: I wanted to make a film on Kanpur. I was born there. We moved out when I was very small. I grew up in Saudi Arabia. My parents are now living in Canada. We were living in Vienna before this. So there was always this thing of going back to Kanpur in my head. And whenever we went back to the city in between, we found out that it was stuck in this miasma. There was no change at all in that city in the last 20-22 years. And I was fascinated to see what used to be a very proud industrial city of workers and having a certain working class culture, sort of crumbling apart without infrastructure. So that was interesting for me. I think electricity became a peg to tie a lot of these stories of Kanpur together. And the film really took shape when we met Loha Singh.
You apparently had a tough time getting a katiyabaaz
Deepti: Yes, the main people instrumental in getting the characters, especially Loha Singh’s character are Iqbal our production manager and Jamal Mustafa our assistant director. Since they live in this area called Chamanganj, they knew best how to approach these people and how to get them involved in the project. So they had introduced us to someone and the entire crew landed in Kanpur. We were all very excited for the project. And on day one that guy started asking for money, which we obviously didn’t have. So everything was cancelled. Three days we did nothing. It was during the Independence Day weekend. So we were really getting worried that we have put in so much investment. But when we finally met Loha Singh, it was love at first sight.
'KATIYABAAZ can open the space for other documentaries in India'
How did you get the finance to make this film?
Deepti: It was very difficult. For any indie film, that is perhaps the biggest challenge when you are in production. We finally got funding from eight countries. Sadly there was no funding from India even though we tried. It was a continuous process. Even until 2013, we were trying to raise funds. It took a long time.
How difficult is it to not take sides while making a documentary?
Deepti: It’s not that difficult actually. It will be easier to take a side. It’d be much easier if we decided Loha is our hero or Loha is our villain. We could have edited accordingly. But that was not the idea. It was really hard for us to convince the Kanpur administration to let us film. That’s one thing that’s never been done before - showing bureaucracy in that way with that access. But we really kept going back to get those permissions. We felt the story would be completely unfair and incomplete if we told it without KESCO (The Kanpur Electricity Supply Company Ltd). We wanted to strike that balance.
Fahad: We are not the people who can point fingers because if you go to a place like Kanpur or any other place, people tell you it’s a very complicated situation. So who is right and who is wrong no one can say. We can just point towards the meaning of these events or what has happened. And that’s what we have done.
Did you have any idea where the film was headed while you were shooting it?
Fahad: No, we didn’t. There was no way that we could know. When we started shooting the film, we didn’t even know that the elections were going to happen. We just knew that we had to be around the main characters and for us the city itself was a character. So we had to film everything in there. Thankfully our production values were in place to be able to capture everything.