By Binita Das
Kolkata, Nov 18 (IANS) A man who wanted to visit India after watching Mira Nair’s “Salaam Bombay”, Australian director Benjamin Gilmour was here to screen his film “Jirga”, which has been nominated for the prestigious Academy Awards this year. He said he wants to “make a life here” in India.
“I am looking forward to the Oscars but not really anxious. If it increases the audience then I would be really happy,” said Gilmour.
“When ‘Salaam Bombay’ came out, I had seen it. And I loved India. Seeing that movie I really wanted to come here,” Gilmour revealed in an interview with IANS on the sidelines of the 24th Kolkata International Film Festival.
Gilmour, who worked as a paramedic, revealed he was a big fan of Bollywood filmmakers of the 1960s and 1970s. “I am a big fan of the golden age, the Bollywood filmmakers of the ’60s and ’70s. I like Shammi Kapoor’s and Dev Anand’s acting. I love the music of R.D. Burman and Asha Bhosle.”
Gilmour, now 42, saved money when he finished school to travel all the way to India on his own at the age of 19.
“I came here to volunteer with Mother Teresa, I washed dishes in Kalighat (in South Kolkata, where one of Mother Teresa’s homes was located). I witnessed people dying and it was quite confronting at that age,” he said.
“Jirga” is about military man Mark Wheeler (played by Australian actor Sam Hill) who returns to Afghanistan after two years to apologise and help the family of a civilian who he had mistakenly shot during a raid. The title refers to an Afghan tribal council.
Sharing the danger-filled experience of shooting the film, Gilmour said: “We planned to shoot in Pakistan, but the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) blocked the shoot as they thought this would be particularly sensitive. They wouldn’t let us film in the Khyber Agency.”
Instead of returning, he flew to Afghanistan and shot the film in guerrilla-style filmmaking (shooting secretly) though they had the necessary permits. While making a film on the kidnapping of a foreign soldier, the actors and members of the crew were “worried about becoming hostages in the process”.
Asked if he had received any help in Afghanistan, the writer-director said: “We had permits; the local police, local collaborators and Afghan producer Amir Shah Talash helped. He appealed to the governor of Nangarhar to give us full military and police escort into the mountains to shoot very close to ISIS positions and not far from Taliban positions.”
The film was extensively shot in the mountains and caves.
His previous work, “Son of a Lion”, about a Pakistani boy and “paramedico” is a documentary on emergency ambulance workers.
“I feel for the people who are suffering under oppressive military regimes in the official sense. I had an affinity towards the Pashtuns, people who have been suffering for years,” Gilmour said about his choice of subjects.
The impact of these violent conflicts moved him deeply.
“I wanted to use my privilege as a Western filmmaker, who had access to resources, to help fight nonviolently. I see this film as my nonviolent competition to the wars”, he remarked.
Gilmour loves music and, in “Jirga”, music connects the foreigner soldier with the Afghan taxi driver. Sher Alam Miskeen Ustad, who lives as a refugee in Pakistan, willingly took the risk to arrange the shoot in Afghanistan.
“My wife was a part of a traveling magician show with Jadugar Samrat Shankar in 2001 and did a performance with him in Amritsar. We stayed in an accommodation inside the Golden Temple,” Gilmour revealed.
Sharing tips for an aspiring filmmaker, Gilmour said: “You need to have a burning passion for other people’s stories, get out into the world and interact with people from different classes.”
He is looking for Indian collaborations as he really wants “to make a life here”.
(Binita Das can be contacted at [email protected]