In Vasan Bala’s Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota, a young boy, Surya, suffers from a rare disorder – congenital insensitivity to pain. This is not a made up term but an actual condition where a person cannot feel any physical pain. In the trailer, we see Surya (Abhimanyu Dassani) jump off roofs, slit his palms with a knife and jab a compass into his thigh without flinching. His father, played by Mahesh Manjrekar, urges him to train in martial arts and become ‘Karate Man’. But Surya is no caped crusader. He walks around with protective glasses and a water bag strapped to him because if ever he gets dehydrated, there’s no way for him to tell. “Mard ko dard nahi hota is an iconic line but in this day and age it is really not that iconic. You feel dumb saying things like that. So the film also throws light on those things,” says Bala.
“I’ve grown up on martial arts films and not just in India but everywhere else in the world I think people have had similar childhoods, especially in the late 80s and 90s. It’s a privilege to have a conversation with your own childhood,” he adds. In 2014, Bala had been selected for the Sundance Screenwriters Lab along with 5 other writers from across the world. The script he developed at the lab was also a martial arts film, but he didn’t get funding to make it.
Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota will be Bala’s first official release. But he’s already suffered a string of major blows. In the 11 years, he has dealt with an unreleased movie and Bombay Velvet, a film that took 8 years to write. Peddlers which was screened at the Cannes Critics’ Week in 2012 was picked up by Eros, but they never ended up releasing it. For Bala to release it, he would have to buy it back from them.
Speaking about riding through the disappointments, Bala says, “You need to keep trying and sometimes call Anurag (Kashyap) and ask him what he did. You need to keep learning and keep trying. You have to just tell your story. Just don’t get bitter.”
But is he any wiser now? “Everyone will be letting you know that this film shouldn’t be made and that no one will watch a newcomer. The advice will be the same. The wise part is not to be too wise. If you want to be a filmmaker you shouldn’t be too wise.”
This time around Bala’s film has the backing of Ronnie Screwvala’s RSVP and will screen at the Toronto International Film Festival’s (TIFF) Midnight Madness section, which will also feature the latest films of Gaspar Noé and Shane Black. “I have great respect for B movies. We don’t respect it as an art form. I’m looking forward to going there and being treated like artists for a few days,” he says.