The 63rd National Film Awards, announced last week, saw some of the best talents from Hindi and regional cinema on the receiving end of the honour.
Mithila Makhaan won the National Award for Best Maithili Film in the Language section, becoming the first Maithili film ever to receive recognition. Here’s the film’s producerNeetu Chandra along with director Nitin Chandra in conversation with Rohini Nag
How did you get into the Maithili film industry?
First, let me clarify that there is no such thing as the ‘Maithili film industry’. I have been associated with cinema in different languages and have also produced a Hindi film, Once Upon A Time In Bihar in 2015 and Bhojpuri film Deswa in 2011. As an actor, I have done films in many languages. The script of Mithila Makhaan required it to be made in Maithili and we went ahead with it. This film is my way of going back to my roots.
Mithila Makhaan is the first Maithili film to be extensively shot in the US and Canada, besides India. Did you worry about going over-budget and also about the commercial viability of the film?
As a producer, we had a fixed budget and I knew that, come what may, we had to make this film within that budget. We shot the film at foreign locations but we still stuck to the budget. Creative freedom is more important than commercial viability, at times, and since we were making a film in Maithili, we didn’t want our film to suffer in any way. We wanted the best of everything for this project. That being said, I am proud to have completed the film within the budget that was set and also finishing the shoot on time.
The film won the National Award for Best Maithili Film. How does it feel to receive a prestigious honour like this?
I was a little flabbergasted, to be honest. I couldn’t believe it and even Nitin was stunned. Apart from us, our entire family and our friends were rejoicing but it took some time for the news to sink in. It is a great honour and I am grateful to the dignitaries and officials who selected our film for such a prestigious award.
Will we see you turn director as well?
No, not at all. I am in a very happy space right now, being an actor and a producer. I am very proud to have worked with many acclaimed directors, as an actor, and now also as a producer. I have worked on National Award-winning films like Madhur Bhandarkar’s Traffic Signal and Dibakar Banerjee’s Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! So I am not only happy to have been part of National Award-winning films as an actor but also as a producer withMithila Makhaan.
What’s next for you as a producer and an actor?
We have three films which will start to roll in August. Two are yet to be titled and the third is called Company Ustad. As of now, all three are Hindi films but we are still working on them. Apart from that, as an actor, I have an English/Hindi bilingual film titled Ladaaku in Hindi.
How was the film conceived? What is it about?
The initial idea of Mithila Makhaan came to me when I was working with an NGO during the Kosi floods back in 2008. There are no employment opportunities in Bihar and that is why they travel to other states and countries for works. The story that came to mind during that time was about a man who works in Canada and returns to his village in Mithila, and restarts his grandfather’s business of makhaana.
Your film won the National Award for Best Maithili Film. How does it feel to receive such a prestigious honour?
I couldn’t believe it. Actually, the last day for submissions was January 15 and since we submitted our film on January 14, we thought they wouldn’t even consider it as we sent it in so late. I want to thank the National Award panel for this honour.
When will the film have an India theatrical release?
We are taking the film to many international festivals starting in May, when we will travel to the Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival. We will release the film in India later this year.
Do you think the Bhojpuri film industry eclipses the Maithili film industry?
Bhojpuri films cater to a very select audience and these films don’t even release at multiplexes, not even in Bihar. They cannot represent the cinema of Bihar as they focus only on ‘skin show’. Bhojpuri films are not relatable and their concerns and sensibilities do not mirror those of Bihar. Maithili cinema is on the verge of a breakthrough, with Mithila Makhaanwinning the first-ever National Award for a film from the Bihar region. Maithili cinema will steadily grow with time.