” Amar Akbar & Tony is a film with British humour and an Indian heart. I felt it was imperative that this character based film be as honest and believable as possible so that the viewer starts to feel a real part of this world – so that they can almost smell the curries and share the swagger of the protagonists lives.”
Below is an excerpt from an interview with film critic Nandini Ramnath from Livemint.com
Q. The title suggests a movie that is a comedy, with spoofy Bollywood sketches thrown in, but the story treatment is anything but that. Is the story based on any real life characters, and were there any other titles under consideration?
A. I’d been to see a retrospective of John Cassavettes work at the BFI and it was when I was watching his film ‘Husbands’ that the core inspiration for ‘Amar Akbar & Tony’ came about. I loved the fact that even through tragic circumstance and personal challenges the spirit of the characters’ friendship and their often ridiculous moments of banter and behaviour gave the film it’s authenticity.
I was also conscious that British cinema’s representation of Asian people is very two dimensional and abundant with caricature and stereotype. In this regard I wanted to put Asian characters on screen in a way that they rarely get depicted – put simply, as real people with real dilemmas.
The third thing of influence in it’s genesis was a love of Hindi cinema and the title came about when I realized I was writing a positive film reflecting integration in multicultural London where different religions and races coexist in relative harmony…hence a somewhat spiritual connection with the Hindi film title ‘Amar Akbar Anthony’ which embraced multi faith solidarity.
Q. Did you also consider making a relationship drama with characters who were not of Indian extraction? What were the advantages of doing so?
A. I knew that I wanted to deal with a mix of characters…for example Tony is of Irish Catholic extraction…and that once these characters were established within the film that it would be more about relating to them and their situations rather than their heritage. In this regard I feel that once a viewer gets past the veneer of ethnicity, it’s the human dynamics and the universal themes within the film which take over.
Q. What were the challenges of getting the production off the ground -what are the funding issues facing filmmakers like yourself?
A. The challenges of independent film making are the same worldwide – lack of money , lack or resource and lack of support – but the independent filmmaking roadmap has been created by the likes of Cassavettes and Spike Lee – ‘by any means necessary’.
A potential investor I met gave me an interesting piece of advice – he said ‘if you can’t spend money , spend imagination’ – it was an interesting perspective and a brilliant piece of advice. He didn’t end up investing but gave me a thought process that I found valuable.
At the end of the day you come across hundreds of people telling you thousands of reasons why you can’t and why you shouldn’t make the film but you’ve got to hang on to the one reason why you can and why you should…because you believe in it.
Q. Where is Brit Asian culture, which for some of us in India is synonymous with Gurinder Chadha, Meera Syal, Goodness Gracious Me, and East Is East? How has multiculturalism affected British Asian film?
A. Personally I don’t think there is such a thing as Brit Asian cinema. There’s a handful of films over an expanse of 25 years which have British Asian characters in them. It’s even rarer that they are directed by a British Asian. So I think the notion that such a cinema exists is a delusion.
Multiculturalism is very much a part of the Brit Asian experience and that is a huge positive for storytelling as it gives scope for wider reaching narratives.
Till date my favourite representation of British Asians onscreen is the adaptation of Hanif Kureishi’s ‘Buddha of Suburbia’ which I thought was brilliant. It was also made nearly 20 years ago.
Q. Indian origin filmmakers get singled out for making films about their own community, but this does not usually happen with filmmakers from other races and cultures…What will help Indian filmmakers go mainstream?
A. I think you raise a really interesting point. For example Italian American filmmakers are not solely expected to make films about the Italian American experience. Personally I would like to be in a position to make both Hindi and English speaking films with the latter not exclusively bound to Asian subject matter.
I think filmmakers like Mira Nair and Asif Kapadia have traversed this particular pidgeonholing very well but for a lot of other filmmakers of Indian origin even getting to a second or third film can prove monumentally challenging.
But to some degree the responsibility for overcoming this and becoming more mainstream sits with the filmmakers and the stories we choose to tell.
ABOUT THE DIRECTOR
After completing his graduation in Film & Media from Brunel University with the short film ‘Stani Delirium’, Atul Malhotra was recruited by Granada Television for their New Talent Training Scheme. At Granada, Atul specialised in Avid Editing while using his spare time to write, produce and direct ‘If It Don’t Kill Ya…’ a short fiction film that won rave reviews in the festival circuit.
Atul followed this up by directing an award-winning documentary ‘Big Time’ – about a dwarf rock band trying to be taken seriously in the music business, which was aired by the ITV network.
Since then, Atul has produced and directed a wide range of documentaries, comedy and entertainment content for all the main TV channels in the UK. His directing credits include ‘Ross Kemp on Guns’ (Sky), ‘The Big Experiment ‘(Sky), ‘The People’s Book of Records’ (Ch4), ‘Solomon: The Escape Artist’ (Ch4), ‘Breaking Magic’(Discovery) and ‘Cardshark’ (National Geographic).
A passionate filmmaker, Atul has written an original screenplay for ‘Amar Akbar & Tony’ as his debut feature film. The title is a nod to the seminal Hindi film of the 1970s, though the film itself is a romantic comedy drama set in present day multicultural London.