“Everyone has a crazy uncle in the family, right?” he asks. Mahamat-Saleh Haroun had one, he says, sitting at the hotel lobby of Taj by Vivanta in Thiruvananthapuram. The uncle took him to a cinema when he was nine. That’s when he watched a movie for the first time. He asks you if you can imagine that, never having heard of cinema before, a time and place without television, forget smartphones! He still remembers the smiling face of a woman on the screen, a close-up shot. It was an Indian film and he would like to believe it was Hema Malini. Back then they showed only Bollywood and American Western movies at the only movie house in Chad. No films were made in Chad, by a Chadian. Until Haroun grew up and began making films set in his beloved homeland.
You really can’t take Chad away from the man, you gather, even after he was forced to flee his home as a young lad and live elsewhere for decades. His story has been told before, he has written about that Indian movie that made him want to be a filmmaker in a novel. But Haroun doesn’t seem to mind repeating it again, as we talk to him in the middle of the 22nd International Film Festival of Kerala. His films including the newest A Season in France are part of the IFFK in a category ‘Contemporary Filmmaker in Focus’. “It is the first time I am coming to Kerala though I was invited before. Kerala is a kind of a paradise compared to Bombay and its pollution,” Haroun says. He wants to talk to the culture minister of Kerala, so there will be some kind of cooperation between Kerala and Chad. Haroun too is culture minister in Chad, appointed this February.
“Young people in Chad watch a lot of Bollywood movies so they start talking in Hindi, without going to school! Every year for India’s Independence Day, they organise songs inspired by Bollywood. I want to make a film about the young people who come to Bombay just because they love India.” Haroun’s younger days too were spent away when the civil war forced his family to leave Chad for Cameroon. “I was injured, I couldn’t walk,” he remembers. The family later moved to Libya where Haroun worked ‘as a worker’ for a year. The idea of studying films came from a piece of paper he had taken with him from Chad and kept in his trouser pocket. An address to a film school in Paris that he had read about in a magazine. His desire took him there, he believes, and that’s why he got selected.
The first movie he made was Bye Bye Africa, a documentary on the fictionalised version of his life. “In the film, you can see the (only) cinema theatre in Chad, totally destroyed by civil war.” In 2010, when Haroun got the jury award for A Screaming Man at Cannes, the Chad government decided to renovate the theatre. The first film to be screened there was A Screaming Man. That had been about the civil war and the story of a man who sends his son to war to regain his position at a hotel. In A Season in France, Haroun, for the first time, sets his story in his adopted country. There is a man applying for asylum in France, driven away from his home in Central Africa, by war. He has lost his wife but there are two little children to take care of. The sufferings he goes through makes you look back at Haroun’s life all those years ago, a past he seems to visit through these films. He has moved on but the love for home stayed. “I want to see my land in movies. I have to talk about Chad. No one else may do it. No one cares if there is a movie from Chad. But in 2011 we renovated the theatre, the only one for 12 million people,” he says. As Culture Minister, he now wants to have a film school in Chad, where the Bollywood-loving youngsters could study cinema....