The film features filmmaker-actor Prakash Jha as Matto, a daily wage earner whose family want to buy him a cycle for his daily travel. The film had its world premiere at the Busan International Film Festival on Friday in the "Window on Asian Cinema" segment.
Gani, who hails from Mathura, said that there is a strange similarity between the film's protagonist and the out-of-jobs labourers who were forced to leave big cities on foot during the coronavirus-forced lockdown.
"The people who went to their homes barefoot during the pandemic, they are all over around us. They work when our homes are being constructed, they are involved in the production of the items that we use in our daily lives. But we never paid attention to these people. "It was only when we saw on the television screens that such a huge number of people were walking home barefoot, that we realised how tough their lives are," the 45-year-old filmmaker told PTI in an interview.
Before making a foray into feature filmmaking, Gani worked on a number of short films and documentaries. He also worked in a local theatre in UP. The director said people like Matto are not uncommon but their stories have been mainly neglected by society. When Gani thought about making the movie, he felt nobody uses cycles anymore but his research proved him wrong.
"The shopkeepers told me that even today cycles are sold way more than the scooters and bikes. There has been a change in the style but there is no slump in sales. There are many people who are heavily dependent on cycles. It is a lifeline for them, a very important part of their lives but we have chose to ignore this reality. "So these stories are around us. I see such people everyday. All the characters in the movie are based on real-life people."
Initially, the filmmaker said, the plan was to shoot the movie like an "indie" with a bunch of local actors from his home state Uttar Pradesh. But a producer friend of Gani's changed his mind. "He urged me to consider actors from Mumbai. We initially thought about approaching Nawazuddin. But he is a little younger for the role of a middle-aged worker... "I had never met Prakash Jha but still remembered his face. So I sent my script and he read the character. After that, we formally met and Jha sahab was very excited about the character. He immediately told his manager that he is doing the film," he said.
Jha is known countrywide for his hard-hitting movies like "Mrityudand" , "Gangaajal" , "Apharan" and "Rajneeti" . As an actor, he has starred in movies such as "Jai Gangaajal" and "Saand Ki Aankh" . Gani said the Hindi cinema veteran worked really hard to play the character.
"I told him that 'You're Prakash Jha and everybody knows it. Now, you have to forget this because then only you will be able to do justice to this character.' "So, he worked very hard for this. He lived without an air conditioner for a whole month. We shot it in August at the height of scorching heat of north India. He used to visit the mandis and interact with the people there. He would smoke bidis with them and that's how he prepared himself for the role."
The filmmaker believes that there will be many takeaways for the audiences from the film and hope will be one of them. "We all have some kind of hope in ourselves. It is a story about that hope... There are many layers to the story of the film. It is like you're watching the whole country from the perspective of just one man."
Gani said cinema has mostly focused on the tragic aspect of people who live on the margins but just like every, they have both "good days and bad days". "They witness happiness and pain, just like every other individual. Poverty is a tragedy in itself but life cannot always be tragic. We need resources for ourselves but we are not because of it."