Bryan Durham (MID-DAY; April 7, 2017)

Getting to Yari Road is something of a chore. But the lure was worth the effort taken. Iranian auteur Majid Majidi is in town shooting Zee Studios and Eye Candy Films’ Beyond The Clouds. It’s a film that has captured public imagination more for Deepika Padukone being considered for a look test and not making it to the cast than for it being the debut of Shahid Kapoor’s brother Ishaan Khattar.

It’s early evening, the sun’s still beating down on us and Majid finds the time to sit down for our interview, interpreter in tow, and he’s probably been out and about the whole day, but he betrays no signs of fatigue.

We get down to it and he’s every bit as genial I’ve imagined him to be. It’s easy to see why mainstream actors have been clamouring to work with this director. Excerpts from our conversation…

You’re working in India on a Hindi/English film. You only speak Farsi. How do you manage?
The film has very few English dialogues. It’s mostly in Hindi. That’s why I selected most of my team exclusively from India, because they are well accustomed to the culture here and that helps me a lot. I have called hardly one or two of my crew members from Iran. One of them is my interpreter. Since the team is totally Indian, it helps us build the plot organically. Moreover, I’ve made several trips to India over the years. For this film, too, I kept coming back and trying to study everything around me, before I got started. I’ve specially focussed on Mumbai with this film and you’ll see the city from all angles, once I’m done.

In earlier interviews, you’ve mentioned watching the works of Satyajit Ray. Have you seen any Indian films or Hindi ones? What kind of films do you like to watch?
I’ve watched Indian cinema since a very young age. Over the years, I felt a closeness to Ray and his movies and the persona he carried as a human being. Many years ago, I made my acquaintance with Shyam Benegal as well. I’ve seen him and his work. Mrinal Sen, also I’ve met with.

You mentioned somewhere that our cultures are similar. How do our working styles differ?
(Breathes heavily) Cinema is cinema. The basic formula remains the same. India has professionals in this field. As far as my own DoP, Anil Mehta is concerned, I find him exceptionally professional and his experience has impressed me.

We hear that Deepika Padukone auditioned for a role. And was dropped from consideration. Could we know the reason for that?
My producers tell me that Deepika had shown some interest in the beginning and it is because of that, that I wanted her to be part of my movie. And when I asked her for a look test, it was not to doubt her professionalism. She is an excellent actress. But how much she befits the role, that is in my vision, I wanted to see. Let me tell you though, that the circumstances were such that they weren’t favourable and nothing materialised of it.

The Hindi film industry is India’s biggest. Why not work with mainstream actors? Why a newcomer like Ishan Khattar?
I work with professionals in my movies. If you see my films, I pick up people randomly from the actual habitat. In my movie, if there is an old lady or a young man, a small child, if I picked them before they had ever seen the lens (of a camera), they come out as natural actors and I get the maximum out of them.

The last time you worked with A R Rahman, it took him six months to understand what you wanted. A year-and-a-half to compose. Will it be easier this time around?
We worked together on The Messenger. There’s a big contrast between these two films. There were many things he had to understand and learn with that one. He had to come to Iran, to the sets. Get accustomed to the history of Prophet Mohammad. I had to give him pointers. He had a lot to learn before he could begin to produce the music. Finally, he was interested and made several trips to Iran. This one has nothing complicated for it to be time-consuming. I’m sure this will be a different experience for him.

Most of your film titles have to do with freedom or the expanse of the sky or paradise/heaven. As does Beyond The Clouds. Is there a connection?
I’d like to be honest with you. I don’t ponder. I do not plan think or select names. It comes to me from nowhere. Automatically. For example, once we were on location, in a jungle. It rained, there came a clear bright sky after. I looked up at the sky and asked the children in the film what name they would give the sky. They all came up with colours to describe it. But I said to them, if I’d call it something, I’d call it the Colour of God (the film would eventually be called Colours of Paradise). It came to me spontaneously. And then, I saw that it merged with the subject of the film as well.

From what we’ve seen in film after film from you, is the innocence of children and grown-ups learning from them how to really live. What did you learn from the youngsters on your set here?
It is my experiences during my childhood and my youth that have made me the mature man you see today. When I connect myself with the children, I feel they play a vital role in building a character in adults. My overall experience has been that a particular cleanliness of the soul of a child, the originality that comes through, helps me envisage, create and build something in a very original manner.

Most of your feature films tend to have bittersweet endings. Has that changed with Beyond the Clouds?
This film is in continuation with the films that I’ve already made. Whenever I make a film, it’s a part of a whole. Think of it as a continuity of movies. On the whole, it’s one single move. Like a trunk that is the main tree. The other films are like branches, part of the tree, yet going in different directions with different characters. Films are a process, you’re not cutting it and making something else. All my successive films are part of my first film as well. Here’s an analogy. As one single tree, not all branches are alike or as strong as the other. There are branches that don’t get proper nourishment. We don’t chop it off, we prune it. And pruning doesn’t mean letting it go. It means filling it up with more energy. The energy coursing through it, gives us a better idea how to groom the whole tree, make it stronger and more stable.