The three pillars of Maatr – director Ashtar Sayed, producer Anjum Rizvi and writer Michael Pellico – in conversation with Team Box Office India, talking about why they’ve made a film on women’s empowerment
BOI: Anjum Rizvi, you are the producer of the film. How did you put the team together?
Anjum Rizvi (AR): The captain of the ship Ashtar Sayed and Michael Pellico are collaborates on this project. They came up with the idea and were charged about the story. That’s how the project was initiated.
BOI: Michael, for you, how was this collaboration initiated?
Michael Pellico (MP): I met Ashtar Sayed through a mutual friend. And after talking to him for a bit, I realised that he was adventurous and had a passion for social justice. I was very sure after I watched his short film about a woman from a small village. I had written a story a couple of years earlier, and it was a story about a woman who is raped. We started talking and I thought he was the perfect director to make my movie.
We had a liking and respect for each other and in his hands, I felt my story would blossom. So I said let’s make this movie. Frankly, this movie is far, far better than the story I had actually planned. There’s something very important that I want to point out – even though this film has been made and produced in India, it is a universal story. We made sure it had an international feel because this movie is going to be shown around the world. It’s a story that is happening in every country, not just in India. I hope that it comes across in the movie.
Ashtar Sayed (AS): I met Michael three years ago, through a mutual friend, and he told me about this idea. I have always felt very strongly about injustice towards women. Like he said, this problem is not peculiar to India but is a universal problem. So I believed in the story and that’s how the relationship began.
BOI: As a producer, what was it that convinced you that it was a financially viable project?
AR: Stories like these are not new. Even, commercially, these are very potent subjects. People want to see films like these and women do identify with them. It’s cathartic for them. They want to be in that place…
AS: Some kind of gratification is associated with it, like everybody wants to see a winning story. Everybody wants to see something they can’t do and want somebody else to do. Such films will always be the need of the hour because, for instance, they teach, and that’s what we want. It’s an effort to reach out to as many people as possible. More than a film, I would call this a voice.
BOI: As you mentioned, this is a universal story but to connect with Indian audience, what kind of incidents have you included in this film?
MP: I think there are a couple of stories going on in this movie. Of course, you have rape. But in a country such as India… I think rape is common in every country, although, in America, women who are raped have a lot of avenues to get justice from the system. Whereas in India, I feel that is not the case.
So you have rape, and then you have the injustice that follows the rape, and then you have the corruption that makes the woman a victim again and again. This can happen in every country.
AS: To Indianise it, the biggest factor is Raveena Tandon.
BOI: Speaking of Raveena Tandon… who was responsible for the casting and how did she come on board?
AS: The character demanded a lot of physicality in terms of… like it’s rape-related revenge. She has to deal with a lot of physicality and she has a strong persona. She is also a real mother and just fit the role perfectly.
MP: I wasn’t aware of her as an actor nor had I watched any of her films but I liked the character of her face. When you look at her face, you can see determination. Among the pictures of the actresses that Ashtar sent me, she stood out in my mind. I said, ‘Ashtar, look at her face, she has a strong, powerful face,’ and I loved that look. Even when she is talking to you, you know she is talking right at you and she means it.
BOI: Anjum Rizvi, as a producer, were you creatively involved in the film?
AR: Yes! I was involved throughout the making of the film.
AS: Three men are making this film. We are trying to correct things in our own way.
MP: I don’t know how to say this in words but men never ask permission to do anything but a woman feels she has to ask a man for the right to do this or that. So, should be, like, why do I have to ask you for this or that? If men can take advantage, why not women?
AS: The attitude of women needs to change in a positive direction.
MP: And if men can’t accept that, that’s too bad. (Laughs)
BOI: What kind of response has the trailer received and was there any controversy?
AR: There is no controversy. The response we have received so far is very good and we are hoping the film too is received with as much love.
BOI: How happy is the producer now that the film is complete?
AR: I am super happy, actually, we are all happy with the product and we are confident that it will reach the audience in the right manner.
BOI: And what kind of response are you getting from the trade?
AR: Well, people are looking forward to this film.
MP: Well, mosquitos were a problem, otherwise, it’s been a great experience. People are very professional, dedicated and hardworking. I have seen people work from 6 am to 6 pm the next day. I don’t know where they get their stamina. I was impressed with their professionalism, and sincerity and I hope I get to do this again.
BOI: What can the audience expect from the film?
AS: It’s a simple story and I want the message to be delivered in a simple and decent way. We didn’t add any glamour to the film as a subject like this doesn’t need it. You need to be real, as direct and as simple as possible.
AS: It’s a tangent (Laughs)
AR: Since we are talking about empowerment, it’s a message that should reach women not only in India but across the world. If that come across, I think it would be a winning proposition for us.