Kabir Bhatia, Mumbai-born Malaysia-based director whose works include "Pulang", "Bisik Pada Langit" and "Nur Kasih the Movie", brings something different to the local movie industry that's saturated with comedy, romance and horror – the first movie in Malaysia to focus on mixed martial arts (MMA), "Sangkar".
The director told Cinema Online in a recent interview that while it wasn't easy to direct his first sports-themed movie, with the help of MMA fighters as well as technology, he was able to finally make "Sangkar".
Cinema Online: What did you have to do in preparation to direct the movie?
Kabir: When I was contacted to direct the movie, I did my own research to understand how to make a sports-themed movie work. Current technology made me feel more prepared in terms of getting information as a director.
The production team and I have collaborated with a few professional MMA athletes, including James McSweeney who guided us and taught us about the sport's techniques. They also took me to watch a real MMA fight for the first time and the first fight that I watched was a women's fight, so from there I had the inspiration for the movie's introduction scene.
What was the difference between directing this and directing your previous movies?
This movie doesn't focus on just sports, but on friendship and romance as well like the ones I did before so that the story will be balanced. It focuses not just on what's happening in fights but also outside of them. That is why I was chosen to direct. What I try to deliver in the movie is a man who is trying to fight his negative side. The feeling when watching an MMA fight for the first time is amazing. I was also inspired by the different types of MMA athletes, and the ones who are differently abled like Remy Ishak's character really do exist in real life.
How was it like working with Zul Arrifin and Remy Ishak?
It was an interesting experience. I have never worked with Zul before and he doesn't talk a lot but he's smart. He always listens to and understands what I tell him, and furthermore, presents it in his own way. I've worked several times with Remy so it's easy for me to discuss things with him.
As actors, they need to know what it is they need to deliver and to me, they succeeded. That's the beauty of working with actors that are always prepared. So we discuss what needs to be done and they just do their jobs as actors.
Since this is your first sports-themed movie, what do you hope for from the local audience?
To me, audiences in Malaysia are what move the local film industry. I have high hopes for this movie but I don't put any box office target because to me, that doesn't determine the movie's quality. If this movie receives a positive response, I hope that more sports-themed movies will be made.
Are you working on anything else after "Sangkar"?
For now, I have no new film projects, I might have to wait until October for updates. I am currently involved in the filming of a documentary on rice in China. I am waiting for a good project and will not accept too many projects in one go because it helps me to be more focused on producing a high quality movie.
"Sangkar", starring Zul Ariffin, Remy Ishak, Mira Filzah, Ray Era, Nik Adam Mika dan Aman Graseka, is now showing in cinemas.