A few months ago, Shazia Iqbal’s Bebaak (The Defiant) was dropped from the MAMI (Mumbai Academy of the Moving Image) festival following #MeToo allegations against producer Anurag Kashyap. There weren’t direct allegations against Kashyap, but a story about his former business partner named him as ‘an accomplice’ in the alleged misconduct.
Emotions were running high, the #MeToo movement had (rightly) taken over social media. When Iqbal’s film on misogyny (under a religious garb) was dropped from the festival, she wrote an open letter to the MAMI board. That letter went viral on social media. “I didn’t honestly write it thinking it would get so much play. I did it primarily because the MAMI team weren’t responding to mails or messages” – says Iqbal during a phone interview with InUth. Bebaak‘s world premiere will take place at the 2019 edition of the Indian Film Festival Of Los Angeles (IFFLA), starting next week.
The 20-minute short film traces an episode in the life of a cash-strapped Muslim girl (Sarah Hashmi). Needing money for her architecture school, she applies for a scholarship at a conservative Muslim trust, where a dogmatic officer (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) tests her liberal Muslim values. “It’s based on true events. It is something I have experienced, I was studying architecture during my second year in college. It was something that stayed with me after all these years, and I thought that by making a film on it might help me exorcise it,” says Iqbal about what prompted her to take on a short film in spite of a career as a production designer of nearly 13 years.
Neck-deep in work after the ‘MAMI fiasco’ with the second season of Sacred Games coming up, Iqbal speaks at length about her mentor/producer, Anurag Kashyap. “Mukkabaaz was my first film with him, and he makes the whole process of telling stories look so easy. You look at him and feel like if he can do it then even you can do it. I had these stories I wanted to tell, but that push came after working with Anurag.” Writing the script as soon as they wrapped Mukkabaaz, Iqbal showed Kashyap the script asking him if he would like to present it. “My idea was that if Anurag presented our film, then it would make it easier to send the film to festivals. But he liked the script and decided to come on board as a producer,” says Iqbal.
The shooting had to be quick considering a star like Nawazuddin Siddiqui was involved with the film. The entire process of writing, pre-production and shooting took around a month and a half. But it was during the post-production that things started to get delayed. “There were the Mumbai rains that stalled our shoot, we were thrown out of the mosque because half of our crew were girls. And then finally after nearly six months of post production, when the film got pulled out of it first festival, it began to seem like no one wanted the film to get made.” However, those dark days are a thing of the past. Bebaak will be sharing the dais at IFFLA with titles like Ronny Sen’s Cat Sticks, Rishi Chandna’s Tungrus, Sandhya Suri’s The Field and Anand Patwardhan’s award-winning documentary, Reason.
Iqbal refused to treat her film as a ‘short film’ while shooting, something she explains in more detail – “With short films, you don’t necessarily need to compromise on quality and scale. Anyone who has seen Bebaak, tends to say that it doesn’t look like a short film.” The festival journey is only beginning with IFFLA 2019, after which the film will be playing at the New York Indian Film Festival, International Film Festival for South Asia (in Toronto) and Imagine India Film Festival (Madrid), all taking place in the month of May.