South Africa-based Anant Singh tells us about Mandela, his friends in Bollywood and crossover actors
Anant Singh is one of South Africa’s pre-eminent film producers, with over 80 films to his credit, including the Oscar-nominated Yesterday. Most recently, he produced Long Walk to Freedom, a film on late South African president Nelson Mandela. “He is a producer I respect very much… a man of tremendous ability,’’ Mandela had said in an interview, after giving Singh the film rights to his autobiography. Born and raised in Durban, Singh got into movies at the age of 18, when he left his studies to buy a movie rental store. He then ventured into video distribution and finally production in 1981.
More from him on his movie:
I first met Mandela in prison. I used to write to him regularly and he got to know me because I had done several movies by then. There was tough competition from Hollywood to get the rights of the movie, but he wanted to give it to someone from South Africa.
Casting for the movie was a major issue. We held auditions for at least eight months.
There is a mix of Hollywood and local talent in the film. We have an elder Mandela, a younger Mandela and a middle-aged Mandela. The performances had to be exceptional, so all the actors went through rigorous training.
I select movies based on stories. If I am able to appreciate it and it is engaging, I go for it. In the initial stages nobody knows who the director or actors will be. One has to choose the movie purely based on the story.
I will not enter Bollywood. It is a specialised sector and I do not have enough knowledge about it. I was associated with the industry 10 to 15 years ago, during Bombay. I also partnered for Maqbool, when we took up the international distribution.
What is very disappointing about India is that everyone is interested in commercial cinema. Movies like the ones made by Satyajit Ray no longer exist. Nobody is interested in creativity, all they want is commercial movies.
Lobbying is part of the process. We try our best to stay away from it, but it exists in every industry—be it Hollywood or Bollywood. There is so much effort put into a movie, so a film maker will want to promote it. I find nothing wrong in that. They want
their film to get acknowledged. So what?
Mandela’s remarkable ability to meet everyone and acknowledge everyone is spectacular. A very down to earth person, Mandela was a very approachable man who respected everyone. He gave every person he met equal importance, and talked to them and heard them out.
When actors are in the same craft, jumping from one film industry to another is not unusual. It was great to watch Amitabh Bachchan in The Great Gatsby. Freida Pinto also was great in Slumdog Millionaire and so was Irrfan Khan in The Amazing Spider-Man.