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STUDENT ZONE

Masterclass: Govind Nihalani talks about the making of Tamas

Govind Nihalani is an Indian film director, cinematographer, screenwriter, and producer. He has been the recipient of six National Film Awards and five Bollywood Filmfare Awards. His first directorial venture was Aakrosh, which was scripted by noted Marathi playwright Vijay Tendulkar. It won the Golden Peacock Award for best film at the International Film Festival of India held in New Delhi in 1981. He got his first National Award for Best cinematography in Junoon. He was also 2nd Unit Director/Cameraman for Sir Richard Attenborough’s “Gandhi” which won many Oscar Awards. His script for Droh Kaal became India’s first official entry for the 68th Academy Awards Best Foreign Language Film category.

His idea for creating Tamas was very personal to him. It goes back to his first memory of blood. In 1947, he saw a man being stabbed in the back by a knife, when he was only a little boy. During that time, there was curfew and his mother pulled him inside the house. “It’s a memory made of few moments” he says, while reminiscing the incident.

When Mr. Nihalani entered the field of cinematography, Tamas became his ambitious project. He had felt strongly for the refugees crossing borders on bullock carts or on foot. “First thing that occurred to me was to make something about the partition”, but he said that over time, the idea faded away. He, from his childhood had seen the repercussions of the partition and the everlasting impact it left on individuals, including himself, around him.

He went on to shoot for Sir Richard Attenborough’s movie “Gandhi” in Delhi. He discovered a book in a place called Mandi. There was a small book store where he went and saw a book named ‘Tamas’ at the top of the bookshelf. Mr. Nihalani was purposively finding for literature related to the partition, when he stumbled upon Tamas. But, with the hectic lifestyle of a filmmaker, he was often too busy and the book was side-tracked and left on the table.

Days after the shoot for Gandhi was wrapped up, he finally found time to read Tamas. First paragraph into the book, he knew he wanted to make a movie on it. Before the book he did not even know who Bhisham Sahni was. Much later did he realize that he was a renowned author his time.

He had several doubts regarding the making of Tamas. He put the thought of Tamas on hold and made Aakrosh. As the movie was nominated in the International Film Festival that year, he went to New Delhi. Since it was nominated in the Panorama category, Mrs. Gandhi (then Prime Minister) wanted to meet all the directors. Mr. Nihalani was only allowed to speak for two minutes since there were a lot of directors in the queue. Initially, he didn’t know what to ask. His mind was only on Tamas. He was so obsessed by the thought of Tamas that he ended up asking a question about it.

“Madam would the Government support the film? A realistic, serious film about partition,” he asked Mrs. Gandhi. He then continued asking if the government will sponsor or fund the movie if someone was willing to portray the happenings of the partition on the big screen. “It will depend upon the time when you make it” replied Mrs. Gandhi. Mr. Nihalani understood that she was trying to point out the political situations in the country when he makes it.

Looking upon the favorable political situation of the country, he finally decided to make Tamas. He had no money to make the movie. He somehow convinced an advertisement company, Blaze to finance the movie and the rest is history.

Mr. Nihalani then went on discussing about the power of cinema. He said, “Cinema has the power to move people, their minds, and their emotions.” One starts to think about the causes and situations that are somewhere buried deep inside the subconscious mind. He continued saying, “Cinema transforms emotion to action.” People then try to act upon the situations and emote it through their actions. “The power of interaction lies between your mind and what is happening on screen. A good director is one who can manipulate minds of people,” he advised the students of SPICE, while talking about the art of directing.

Tamas is a movie about survival and migration of humans. “The partition happened the day it was decided. Not on paper, but when it was thought of, by the then ruling people,” says the multi-talented filmmaker. There were two different parties, two different leagues and two different nations. The central character Nathu is portrayed from an unprivileged and lower caste society who kills pigs for tan and hide. Tamas is basically a compilation of different stories that is linked with one thread. It is about different people and their approach to different things. Tamas is a good example of how people respond to status in society, religious beliefs, education and income. What triumphs is the humanity. Human survived in spite of different point and acceptance on religious and political beliefs.

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