A class apart
Sharda Kaushik

Prof. Anil Zankar is known for his contribution to the film industry. With 22 short films, two books on cinema, two National Awards, one for a feature script-writing competition organised by the NFDC in 1982 and the other for his book on the History of World Cinema, won in 1997. Zankar has more than 30 years of professional experience in writing for films, making films, teaching and media planning. Excerpts from an interview:

Prof Anil Zankar
Prof Anil Zankar

What inspired you to be so closely associated with the world of films?

When I was studying in Fergusson College, Pune, I began watching different kinds of films in the FTII. A lot of the films that I watched initially were from Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary and Yugoslavia. They were different in every way than all other films that I had seen before. These left a deep impact on me and I was inspired to choose films as my career.

What is the most interesting aspect of being a filmmaker and how would you describe your filmmaking process?

Writing stories, thinking of social issues, meeting all kinds of people, travelling, overcoming problems during the shooting and expanding one’s knowledge of the world are some of the things that are part and parcel of a filmmaker’s life and the process of filmmaking.

What do you consider to be the elements of a good film ?

A well-made film is one that has clarity about its purpose, content and form. A good script always forms the basis of a cinematic narrative. How the form is realised through acting, cinematography and other technical areas is the hallmark of a good filmmaker. If you are a film professional, then you do watch films analytically, but it is far more important to reflect on your impressions later on. Your understanding and perception deepens in the process.

You wrote a book on the epic film Mughal-e-Azam. What fascinated you the most about it?

The film has always been an overwhelming experience. And when I began using it as text, I discovered many aspects of a certain kind of cinema and cultural details in it that demanded a detailed study. The sheer doggedness of the talented filmmaker, his sensibilities, the all-round technical excellence and acting of a very high calibre are the hallmarks of this work. Music and its rendering on the screen are extraordinary. It is truly an epic experience.

Why is your documentary on the Rise of the Studio System in Western India made for Films Division, a permanent exhibit at the museum of Indian cinema in FD?

It is a film that deals with history. The studio era was a crucial middle stage after the pioneering work of Phalke, Torne and others. Indian cinema made the important transition from films being an individualist enterprise to films being a part of the money economy. Studio was the mechanism through which this was achieved. In this phase, a definite form of Indian mainstream evolved, some social taboos were challenged, and increasing participation of women in filmmaking became a reality. This era laid the foundation of the resurgence of the Indian cinema that happened in the 1950s as all stalwarts of the 1950s were groomed in the studio era. The film tries to express all this in a space of 26 minutes, using locations, film clips, properties stored in the museum and other audio-visual material of that era.

A filmmaker opts for a certain style of presentation which reminds us as viewers of a particular art form. Like Delhi-6 reminds one of theatre art; My Fair Lady of course is a musical and watching Lootera, at times, felt like reading literature. Does each theme lend itself to a certain form of expression?

Cinema is a composite art that is capable of incorporating and creating many new forms. We in India have unfortunately reduced the purpose and expressive range of cinema to an almost unitary experience like it must have songs and dances for entertainment. If the writer’s mind is open and his innovation is respected, then we can get a variety of expressions in our cinema.

What are you working on currently?

I am currently working on a couple of ideas for documentary films and on a script for a feature film. I am also adding a chapter to my book in Marathi initially published in 1997. The book is about the history of international cinema. This year I have to complete a book for Harper Collins. Its working title is Daastan-e-Mumbai. It will be a study of the city of Mumbai as seen in our literature and films.

What advice do you have for anyone interested in pursuing a film career?

Primarily you should be in it only if your heart is in it. You must face the ups and downs. There are no shortcuts here for those, who want to be here for a long time. You may or may not go to a film school, but you have to train yourself all the time. It is hard work all your life.