By Nadira Khan
It’s ten past one in the afternoon and I am already late. I am sitting on the seventeenth floor of a corporate house and the cacophony of traffic on the streets down below can barely be heard here. The silence of the floor is punctuated by the noise of typing on a computer keyboard. A receptionist emerged abruptly and told me, “You can go in now.” I went inside a private room and got a warm welcome from a middle-aged, handsome, and amiable person. He stood-up from his chair and we had a formal handshake.
I said, “I am so sorry for being late”.
“That’s fine. Actually, it’s difficult for everyone, especially who are new in this area, to find this building. Would you like to have some green tea?” he asked.
I replied in the affirmative while arranging my recorder and interview guideline with too many queries in my mind. Finally, I managed to have the interview with the ace Hindi film director, Kabir Khan, after a month of waiting and following-up.
I remembered my first rendezvous with the film stars during my childhood which I spent in a tiny town, surrounded by paddy fields and which had one concrete main road branching into muddy lanes. Living there the film world was beyond my reach. But I always wanted to meet those people and wanted to know if they were real. My first chance encounter with film heroes happened when I was in Class IV. I went to Puri (in Orissa) – a well-known sea-town known for its beaches and for the Jagannath temple – with my mother, father, and elder sister. My brother was always deprived of these family outings as my father had put him into boarding school for good education.
While coming back in a bus from the beach, a few co-travelers spotted a film shooting. We got down from the bus to see the film stars. I saw Prosenjit chatterjee and Satabdi Roy who were prominent film personalities in Bengali film industry those days. They were doing a song sequence on the beach. Our fellow travellers enclosed the shooting spot in no time and started requesting the lead stars to click photos with them. In my nine years of life, I had never seen such a beautiful woman and my young mind was fascinated with the pink glow of the heroine’s cheeks. My mom also clicked a few photographs with them and she kept them very carefully in her cupboard. After coming back from the tour, my mom, my sister, and I described our encounter with the stars to all our neighbors and school friends.
Green tea was served on our table with some cookies.
Kabir Khan asked, “What’s your research topic?”
I replied, “Imagining Muslim identity: A study of Hindi cinema and its audience”.
We started our conversation about the Hindi film industry. During the interview, he shared the mechanics and his personal experiences of film making. He spoke of the representation of Muslims and how it differs from an earlier time, how Islamic terrorism has made an important space in the representational scheme of Hindi films, how reaching a mass audience is really important for a film maker, about the importance of entertaining elements in a film, and about the difference between mainstream cinema and parallel cinema.
Kabir Khan also shared his personal experiences of making his three major films Kabul Express, New York, and Ek Tha Tiger. He explained the stereotypical representation of Muslims throughout the history of Hindi cinema. When I asked him about the possibility of Muslims ever being represented in an unbiased manner in Hindi films, Kabir was very forthcoming with his answer: “Hindi mainstream films will come of age when we have a central character who is a Muslim but his religious identity has nothing to do with the plot of the film.”
[Due to confidentiality of research protocols, I couldn’t reveal the details of the interview here.]
Nadira Khan is a doctoral student in the Department of Social Science, Tata Institute of Social Science, Mumbai. Currently she is working on her doctoral dissertation, “Imagining ‘Muslim’ Identity: A Study of Hindi Cinema and its Audience”. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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