Why Albert Pinto is still angry
Soumitra Ranade, Manav Kaul and Nandita Das on the relevance of an Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyun Aata Hai remake in election-bound India
The anger lives on. 39 years after Saeed Mirza’s epochal Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyun Aata Hai, an unexpected remake strives to adapt its rage to contemporary times. There isn’t any overlap in terms of plot: the 1980 film starred Naseeruddin Shah as a car mechanic caught up in a mill workers’ strike; here, Manav Kaul plays an upper-class hero out on a mad rampage. That was Bombay and this is Mumbai. Yet, the underlying themes bleed through: societal alienation, cynical banter and… anger.
“My film is a spiritual heir of Albert Pinto,” says director Soumitra Ranade. “I have simply borrowed the core of that film, which is the anger of a common man.” Best known for the 2003 Gulliver’s Travels adaptation, Jajantaram Mamamtaram, Soumitra agrees Albert Pinto is a departure for him. A gold-medallist from Sir JJ Institute of Applied Arts, the visual artist-turned-filmmaker has largely operated in children’s fiction. These include books, short films, documentaries, and animated and live-action features. In 2013, he co-wrote Goopi Gawaiya Bagha Bajaiya, an animated adaptation of Satyajit Ray’s Goopi-Bagha series, which was directed by his wife Shilpa Ranade and released in March this year. Soumitra’s latest animation film, Alibaba Aur 41 Chor, is stuck with the producers, while prep has begun on Kabuliwala, an adaptation of the classic Rabindranath Tagore short story.
So what stirred this sudden turnaround? To answer this better, the filmmaker urges us to think back to the time of the original Albert Pinto. “When Saeed made his film, India was at a crossroads. It was the post-Emergency era. The entire Janata Party experiment had failed. People didn’t have a choice but to side with Indira Gandhi. I feel, in 2019, we are at a similar crossroads. The elections are upon us. India has the largest youth population in India, but most of them are unemployed. They are extremely angry, and that anger has to be catalysed in the right direction. I’ve made the film with this context in mind.”
Manav Kaul made his Bollywood debut in Soumitra’s Jajantaram Mamamtaram. The revered theatre director played Jeeran, a Lilliputian solider helping Javed Jafferi fight off a hungry giant from their island. Albert Pinto, by comparison, is certainly a life-size character, but his demons are no less monstrous. “When Soumitra came to me with the script, I could understand his anger and where he is coming from,” Manav says. “Since my background is in theatre, and that too experimental theatre, we have all been through this phase and continue to go through it.” On stepping into Naseeruddin Shah’s shoes for the film, Manav confesses he has faint memories of watching the 1980 classic. “I have great respect and admiration for Naseer sir. He was done amazing work both on theatre and film. I’ve always wished to become his best friend but unfortunately that’s been our only association.”
In the new film, Nandita Das plays the role of Stella, named after Shabana Azmi’s character from the original. The Manto director cites the parallel cinema movement of the 70s and 80s — of which Saeed Mirza was a blazing luminary, alongside Shyam Benegal, Mani Kaul, Gulzar, Govind Nihalani and others — as a big influence. “I began watching films in college with a bunch of film buffs who introduced me to parallel cinema. The stories were compelling; they reflected realities that were unfamiliar to me, depicted cultures, people and places I knew little about. They triggered thoughts and feelings about people and their predicaments.”
Nandita signed on to do the film out of nostalgia for the original. Her last Hindi film appearance was in Onir’s I Am (2011). Shot on a tight budget, Albert Pinto has been partially crowdfunded. Both Nandita and Manav are stakeholders on the film. “I’ve known Soumitra for over decade,” says Nandita. “Friendships are never transactional. Besides Manav and me, many actors and technicians are either stakeholders or have worked for free or very little. We can all add our bit to the cycle of goodwill.”
Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyun Aata Hai is slated for release on April 12. The film is edited by Aarti Bajaj and shot by Rahul De. The music is composed by Abhishek Majumdar.