Actor-producer Arfi Lamba talks to Padma Iyer about his Marathi film Trijya doing the festival rounds, the genres he wants to be associated with both on and off camera and his penchant for telling humane stories
You started as an actor and now have turned producer as well. How did this transition happen?
Acting was actually a result of heartbreak. I often blame it on Akshay (Kumar) sir and Shah Rukh (Khan) sir saying that I got inspired, they came from nothing and made it big. But actually a girl friend of mine ditched me and came here. She is an actor now and I wanted to prove that I could be an actor as well. But I think it was a call of destiny. With production, it was because you don’t get many acting opportunities when you are an outsider. I got lucky with Slumdog Millionaire, which led me to Cannes. Then I met Katharina Suckale who wanted me as an actor in her project but we ended up starting a production company together and it has been 8 years now. So it was not a transition, rather a progression. I have been trying to build the company for the last two years. So now the focus is going to back to acting.
Tell us something about Trijya. How did you become part of the film?
We saw Trijya at the NFDC work-in-progress lab, which I recommend to all producers. There are a lot of these independent filmmakers who don’t know how to take their films forward who bring their rough cuts or partially cut films without post-production there. We saw the film there. Chitrakathi Nirmitee is the producer of the film. We loved the film and decided to come on board for the post-production. We were offered for the film to be part of the competition at the Shanghai International Film Festival. We are planning a European premiere, a few more festival rounds and then we will release the film in theatres.
It is such a universal story, about how in today’s day and age we are lost. It is about kids who come from villages to metros like Pune. How do they fit in or can they fit in? Not everyone does and they want to go back to their roots. So it is for those young people, to tell them that you are okay the way you are and it is okay to take that journey.
Do you think showcasing films at international festivals helps a film get a wider theatrical audience?
I think in the last 10 years the kind of festival run that Indian regional films have had, it has given credibility as well as raised an audience that goes to watch these films. We are counting on the niche audience that has been built by filmmakers like Anurag (Kashyap) to come out and watch the film in the theatres.
What kind of films do you want to be associated with as a producer and what are the genres you’d like to act in?
As a producer, the vision for films is different from that as an actor. So my favourite character is Ajay Devgn’s in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. Roles like these matter, these are the roles that stay with the audience so it is not about the length of the role.
As a producer I want to make humane stories. I am very much inspired by Manto (Saadat Hasan) saab. He said that if you find a story like Kali Salwaar bad, don’t blame me. I am just showing you the mirror. So we want to tell stories that people can identify with, that touches them, leaves them thinking.
As an actor, I have grown up watching Bollywood films. I am not saying that I want to do crass entertainment, but I am very much into doing a film like Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam or a Badhaai Ho, films that have a fun element but also a human angle. They work at the box office and make money.
As a producer we have been lucky that we have not lost any money on our three films. As an actor you always dream of a 100 crore product. There is no harm in dreaming.
What is next on the cards for you?
We have been raising the bar for ourselves. We will be producing our next Bollywood film and two independent films. As a company our vision is to support debut directors because we feel that they have a lot to give and they need a lot of hand-holding.
As an actor, I am doing four short films. I have signed a film with Naseer saab (Naseeruddin Shah). I think it is a dream role for me.
The digital space holds massive potential today. As a producer, are you looking at exploring it?
We have the option of two books that we are looking at making. One is a graphic novel on the life of Savitribai Phule. While Jyotiba’s work is widely available and recorded, her work is not. And it’s not just because she was from a low-caste, but also because she was a woman. We are trying to make it a Canadian-French-Indian co-production. We want to make it as a Marathi-English bilingual. Another one is an anthology story on caste politics, which we want to make on the lines of Bombay Talkies with four directors attached to it. This will be in Hindi.