‘We’ve been brainwashed and made into the real cattle class’
..says Arfi Lamba in an exclusive interview with CE, as he and Ruchi Joshi talk to us about their new short film Murakh (The Idiot) and their production house Bombay Berlin Film Productions
You may have caught Arfi Lamba in popular films like Singh is Bling (2015) and Fugly (2014). But Arfi Lamba wears many hats. He is also a producer and the founder-promoter (along with Katharina Suckale) of an Indo-European film production house – Bombay Berlin Film Productions. One of their in-house productions, Loev, directed by Sudhanshu Saria, opened to positive reviews at the 18th MAMI Mumbai Film Festival 2016 and is now available on Netflix.
Lamba and Bombay Berlin Film Productions are now back with an 18-minute short called Murakh (The Idiot). Directed by Ruchi Joshi and Sriram Ganapathy, the film recently had its world premiere at the 40th Asian American International Film Festival in New York. Coming from a multi-cultural production house, The Idiot also deals with an issue that resonates world over – Islamophobia. Lamba also plays the protagonist in the film.
We spoke to Arfi Lamba and Ruchi Joshi about the film, the issues it tackles within the constraints of a short film, the production house and their future.
Murakh does have a core issue, but it also references multiple ones plaguing the country right now. Is there any socio-political event that drove you to this film? How did it come about?
Ruchi: Looking at the atmosphere of paranoia and prejudice in the world right now, manifesting in the refugee crisis, the Muslim ban and the beef lynchings in India, it became necessary for me to express my outrage. Since a lot of the issues touched upon in the film - discrimination against certain communities, selective coverage by the media, sensationalising of news, politicians serving their own agendas - are interconnected, they all came together in organic fashion. The intention is not to say it all in one film, but one almost feels incomplete without the other. The main issue driving this film however, is the blatant stereotyping and prejudice. While we were already thinking about doing something along the lines of this theme, Sriram came across a newspaper article about an Egyptian man who hijacked a flight and was immediately presumed a terrorist primarily because he was Muslim. This news gave us a great platform to express ourselves and talk about the issue plaguing the world right now, not just India. The outlandish event, which once again proves that reality is stranger than fiction, also gave us a chance to use humour as a tool to say something serious. I feel that humour is a very strong tool that prods us to introspect and question our own beliefs.
Does Bombay Berlin strategise associating itself with such films? Almost every film (among the ones concerning the subcontinent that have become popular) - Loev, The Road to Mandalay, and Murakh now (homosexuality, immigrants, Islamophobia) - so far has delved into topical subjects though they tell compelling stories on their own.
Arfi: There is a conscious effort to tell stories that matter and that are relevant. Cinema is a powerful medium and we would rather let ours reflect the life and times than be senseless entertainers.
Staying with the political - as someone with an eye for scripts, what do you think about the kind of scripts you see today? Is the environment (the right-wing influence, censor troubles) ripe for markedly political films that would need a backer like Bombay Berlin? Or do people not want to be political in this stunted system, and would rather go easy with current issues?
Arfi: Trust me, people are writing stories where they are being vocal and political. Some trying to reflect the truth and some trying to appease the establishment. There is a constant attempt to rewrite history, and cinema is the strongest tool for that purpose. Just like some won’t stop at any cost to misuse the power, we will also try with all our might to make sure we tell stories that are reflective of our times. The job is to say it as it is. And if it seems like a blot on our era, so be it. We live in a strange India where cattle matter more than humans. Where religious beliefs are leading people to carry out jihads or to lynch others. Where farmers are dying and our women are unsafe, but we are forcing the most important organisation of our country, The Supreme Court, to advise us on cattle. It just amazes me how we have all been brainwashed and made into the real cattle class for the benefit of the establishment and their friends.
Was Murakh always going to be a short film? Is there an idea in there to make a feature (with it being a fascinating subject)? It should help that nowadays we have mainstream publications (especially online) reviewing short films and web series on a regular basis.
Ruchi: When Sriram came up with the concept, it was meant to be a feature. But later, he suggested exploring the idea as a short film. I was excited and we started working towards it. Once we were done with the film, we knew that the subject and the story deserved to be told in a more detailed and nuanced manner, so we immediately started writing the feature. We have just finished writing the first draft.
Arfi: Ruchi and Sriram are wonderful writers. They have a knack for tackling subjects like this in a very contemporary way, often laced with dark humour. If they get inspired and write one, I will be the first to jump on it.
Any major influence of Dostoyevsky’s Idiot? Or just the title?
Ruchi: Both Sriram and I like Dostoyevsky a lot, but no influence at all on this one. Coming up with a name was a whole different process, quite tedious too. 'The Idiot' came out of nowhere and we were using it only as a working title but it just stuck. Katharina and Arfi liked it a lot, and then we couldn’t come up with anything better. I thought of many Indian equivalents, but none of it was satisfying. Finally, my brother suggested ‘Murakh’ and I just loved the sound of it. It is also Punjabi and felt far more rooted. ‘The Idiot’ became the official English title.
What plans beyond Asian American International Film Festival?
Arfi: The film is getting accepted at some more festivals. At the same time, we are also looking at a release platform for India. We should have more clarity on the next steps post New York.