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Interview

Kabaddi has unique audio-visual element, says Habaddi director Nachiket Samant


The film, about a 10-year boy suffering from a speech impediment, has been selected for the prestigious Indian Film Festival Of Melbourne.

Suyog Zore

Nachiket Samant, who is over the moon about the success of his recently released film Comedy Couple, has one more reason to celebrate. His next feature, the Marathi film Habaddi, is being screened at the ongoing Indian Film Festival Of Melbourne.

In an exclusive chat with Cinestaan.com, he talks about his inspiration behind Habaddi, directing children and his experience of shooting amid the coronavirus crisis.

First of all, congratulations on Habaddi being selected at the Indian International Melbourne Film Festival. Comedy Couple is also being appreciated by audiences as well as critics. What is going on in your head right now?

I am excited and nervous at the same time. We finished work on Comedy Couple just two days before it was released on Zee5.  Habaddi has been a long journey. We were making it for around two years and, finally, people will get to watch it. Habaddi is a story of a 10-year-old boy suffering from speech impediment who wants to make it to the school's kabaddi team. The last two-three months were quite hectic, but I can relax now.

How did writer Yogesh Vinayak Joshi and you come up with the story of Habaddi?

The film is not just about a speech impediment, it's about overcoming the obstacles that life throws at you and facing all challenges with a smile on your face. I have been a big fan of Kabbadi because it has a beautiful audio-visual element. All sports have a visual element but Kabaddi's uniqueness is that it has an audio element as well. I always wanted to do a film around Kabaddi, but I didn't want to do another run-of-the-mill sports film, so I came up with this character of a 10-year boy who is agile but has a speech impediment. Though it has got a kid in the lead, it's not just a kid's story; it will also appeal to adults.

How would you describe your film?

It's a mixed-genre film. It's partially a sports film, but it's also a coming-of-age film, it has also got some romantic and fantasy elements as well. There is a well in the film, which we created with the help of CG.  The main character, Manya, dives into it to retrieve a toy that his friend had lost. We have a ghost-like creature sitting inside the well. None of the villagers wants to go near the well and they feel the village is cursed by the ghost. The well symbolizes facing your innermost fear. It plays an important part in the film's narrative.

How easy was it to shoot sports scenes?

As it's not a full-fledged sports film, there was no burden of showing professional-level efficiency in those scenes. I intended to capture the emotion, rather than realism. From the start, I was sure that I didn't want to make it hyper-realistic. Some filmmakers want to show everything realistically and I admire their dedication, but I'm not one of them. I'm attracted to the fantasy side of films which take you on a journey that you don't see in reality.  But we did train those children. We had workshops with proper kabaddi coaches. There are two teams in the film. The team which bullies our protagonist has older boys so it was easier to train them. The protagonist is a complete misfit in the team and that is what we wanted.

This was the first time you have worked with children. How was the experience?

It was very difficult. I have two daughters. Despite that, I found it challenging to direct children. It's quite easy to communicate with adults and tell them what exactly you want from them. Also, they are professional actors so you kind of take them for granted because it's their job to understand you and perform as per your wishes. But with kids, you have to understand their psyche and where they are coming from. Sometimes you have to make the actors work long hours and shoot at night. So you need to earn the trust of kids to extract the right performance from them. Adults understand the importance of time and money, but kids don't understand such things. And you cannot reason with them. You have to convince them somehow.

While Habaddi is about a boy in rural Maharashtra, your previous films — Gachchi (2017) and Comedy Couple — are about two strangers stuck on a terrace in Mumbai and Delhi-based stand-up comedians who are trying to balance their career and personal life. How do you choose your projects?

Gachchi was a very easy choice for a first-time director in many ways. Firstly, the story totally appealed to me. It was written by my friend Yogesh Joshi whom I write with constantly. Also, it was a small story that didn't require a huge budget. I had written Habaddi a long time ago. I had been wanting to make that film for a long time so that happened after Gachchi. It was different for Comedy Couple though. I was hired by Zee to come on board and direct the film. I had a lot of fun shooting it, but it's not something I had planned. 

Despite dealing with serious topics, your films are quite light-hearted and humorous. Especially in Gachchi. Do you always gravitate towards humour?

I'm not sure. Maybe it's true to some extent that I'm a fun guy, I like to joke around people. I like to see the lighter side of things. But it's not like I only prefer light-hearted comedies. As a filmmaker, you want to experiment and I also want to write dark stuff. Maybe my next film will be a dark one.

Does your approach change when you are hired to direct a certain project as opposed to one in which you are involved from the scripting stage?

I would say that these two processes are very different. Even though I didn't write Gachchi, I was involved in the film from the scripting stage. I would go do producers with theYogesh's script because I wanted to make that film. When you are involved in the process of writing you have a sense of ownership towards the film. But when you are hired to direct a film, you have to cultivate that feeling.



You shot Comedy Couple during the lockdown. What is it like filming in the time of COVID?

It was a strange and very unique experience. The first few days of the shoot felt surreal. People were roaming around with masks and PPE kits. It was unlike any other experience. It's very uncomfortable to shoot in a fearful atmosphere because you are constantly thinking about the pandemic. But once you get involved emotionally in the shooting process, fear takes a backseat. The producers took all the necessary precautions so we could relax and focus on the job at hand. Because everybody was experiencing the same fears and everybody had been sitting at home for months waiting for work to resume, the bonding that happened on the sets was on another level.

Do you think COVID-19 will have a long-lasting impact on how stories will be told in the future? 

I don't think it will have any long-standing impact. I mean we shot Comedy Couple during the pandemic but our film has got nothing to do with COVID. But it's such a global event that I'm sure a lot of stories will include COVID. But I think people want to move past it and forget it as quickly as possible. We are dealing with COVID on daily basis anyway, so why would anyone want to relive this experience while watching a film?

Can you tell us about your future projects?

Yogesh and I are toying with few ideas. But I just got done with the hectic schedule of Comedy Couple last week. So right now I'm trying to relax for a little bit.

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Indian cinema