Academy Award-winning British filmmaker Asif Kapadia has been travelling the world promoting his latest biographical documentary Diego Maradona. During a recent visit to Mumbai, Kapadia described the film as the third in the trilogy “about child geniuses and fame” following Senna (2010) and Amy (2015).
Senna tracked the life of Brazilian racing driver and Formula 1 world champion Ayrton Senna, who died during the San Marino Grand Prix in 1994. In the Oscar-winning Amy, Kapadia delved into the songs and world of British singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse, who died at the age of 27 in 2011. In Diego Maradona, Kapadia zooms in on the Argentinian footballer’s critical tenure in Naples in Italy, which encapsulates all that Maradona was and became.
Kapadia uses archival footage and voiceovers to catalogue the legendary sportsman’s rise and fall. In keeping with his style, Kapadia eschews talking heads, and uses only the audio of his interview with Maradona in the film. Kapadia traces Maradona’s journey from Buenos Aires to club football in Barcelona and then Napoli, where his career got enmeshed in crime and controversy. One interviewee describes the midfielder as a rebel, cheat, hustler and god. Kapadia, who has impressive footage, touches on all four aspects of Maradona’s personality. The documentary will be released by PVR Pictures across India on October 11.
With this trilogy now complete, Kapadia hopes to return to fiction. The 47-year-old director began his career with fictional features, including The Warrior (2002), which put Irrfan on the world map. Excerpts from an interview.
What makes a person apt for a biographical documentary?
The most important thing is that something should have happened to them – something dramatic; a conflict to work with. I search for characters who are complicated, difficult and not often liked, and I want to understand them and, hopefully, empathise with them.
When you start, you never know where the movie is going to end up. Normally there is an instinctive feeling that there is a story here, there is something to be revealed. Even if people think they know everything, I am hoping there is going to be more that you do not know.
With each of the three films, was there a eureka moment?
Yes, there were different moments on each film. It took a long time for Senna to start officially. For the nine months that I was waiting for the deals to be done, I was looking at footage and archives and trying to make sense of it all. I thought, what if we tried to connect this with this and this with this? The eureka moment was realising that I didn’t need to have anyone on camera, and that I could do it all by showing his pictures. That was a pivotal moment.
Amy Winehouse was not very good at talking on camera, particularly after a certain point in her life. With Amy, the lightbulb moment was finding the answer in her lyrics. Her lyrics are the most personal version of her – her diary. So I decided to trust the lyrics and put them on screen.
But with ‘Diego Maradona’, you had the added challenge of making a film about a living person.
Yes. The challenge was figuring out how to conflate time. How do you tell such a long story? So that birthed the idea of focusing on one section of his life – Italy and Naples. That is the microcosm of everything else that happened. Everything that came before leads to this, and everything he did after, things he is doing now, are a product of this. The big decision was making the movie about Italy. Even if people may want more, it doesn’t matter. This is the crux of it.
Maradona is both loathed and loved. While crafting a documentary, how important is it to have an understanding of human characters?
Your job is almost to become a psychologist and therapist for the people you meet and interview. These movies are made because something happened to someone, and it was not necessarily a nice thing. So you are dealing with real people, real emotions, tensions and unresolved issues. As you are asking people about their lives, you are unpacking things and you have to be careful how you put it all together because it’s very delicate.
This process of filmmaking is journalistic, detective work and creative, because you are a director and an artist but also a politician and therapist. Here real people are talking, and that is much heavier and much more painful for everyone to deal with. It’s so different from fiction filmmaking, where you can stamp all over people’s lives, rewrite history and get an actor or actress to play someone.
In ‘Amy’, a voiceover says, ‘Nothing can prepare you for that level of success’. Is this notion also applicable to Ayrton Senna and Diego Maradona?
I think it was different in the case of Senna, because his issue was slightly different. He came from an educated, wealthy background. For him it wasn’t so much that he couldn’t handle fame. The big question with him was, why did he race in that final race? Why didn’t he just walk away? It was not in his character to walk away from a fight even when his instinct was telling him not to race, and that very powerful moment before he gets in the final car — it’s very emotional.
With Amy, the questions were about her, but also the people around her. The question to them was, why aren’t you protecting her? That film became about the people around her, but also about us – the audience, the fans. The camera was turned around onto us, and us realising that we are in the story. We do seem to enjoy it when famous people are having a hard time because we judge them for the money they make and we get a perverse joy out of watching someone falling apart.
Research and editing are two of the pillars of the documentary form. Is there a third?
Time, because you can only do the first two if you have time to keep researching and keep editing till you find the answers, which don’t come easily.
Any plans to return to fiction or to shoot another movie in India?
I would like to shoot another movie here, maybe go back to the world of The Warrior. I have missed it. I do want to go back and shoot in the mountains and in the desert.