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Why Asif Kapadia made a movie on Maradona

September 27, 2019 09:38 IST

'It was difficult, but we wanted to show an honest portrayal.'
'I was not trying to tear him apart.'

IMAGE: A scene from Diego Maradona. Photograph: Kind courtesy HBO Sports
 

Oscar winning British Indian film-maker Asif Kapadia made a splash with his first feature The Warrior (2001).

A quiet, small, film but with the sense of an epic, The Warrior was set in Rajasthan and starred Irrfan Khan in his first lead role.

The Warrior won two Baftas, including one for the best British film of the year.

Anthony Minghella became a supporter of The Warrior and it was released in the US by Harvey Weinstein's Miramax company.

A couple of features later, Kapadia turned to documentary film-making.

His first film was about the late Brazilian Formula One racing driver Ayrton Senna who died in an accident at the age of 34.

Kapadia's second documentary Amy won him the Oscar.

The film tracked the life of British singer Amy Winehouse who died a tragic death at the age of 27.

Amy, also using actual footage, explored the dark side of the singer who was addicted to drugs, alcohol and was bulimic.

IMAGE: A scene from Diego Maradona. Photograph: Kind courtesy HBO Sports

Kapadia is back with his third documentary, Diego Maradona, exploring the rise and fall of the star football player, from the slums of Argentina to stardom in Naples where he was likened to god.

Working with the same technique as he has done in the past, using old footage, Kapadia's portrayal of Maradona is a riveting account of a hugely talented young football player and his fall instigated by drug usage and deep connections with the Camorra, the Italian mafia.

Diego Maradona will appeal not just to football fans, but also to those looking for a good, meaty story about how fame and money can destroy the dream of a young man and millions of his followers.

Diego Maradona premiered at the Cannes film festival and is currently running in theatres in the US to qualify it for next year's Oscars.

The film will play on HBO on October 1 and later stream on Hotstar. An Indian theatrical release is also planned in October.

Aseem Chhabra spoke to Kapadia by phone about the making of the documentary, the inspiration and the process.

IMAGE: Oscar-winning British Indian film-maker Asif Kapadia.

Asif, I watched the film and even though I am not a football fan, it really moved me and affected me. It is like a tragic Shakespearean story.

In a way you are the real audience.

I wanted the film to be seen by people who do not know much about football, which is a large chunk of the US.

The Amy Winehouse story was about the rise and fall of a person and this also follows a similar track. What fascinates you about these narratives?

I didn't start off by thinking that they were going to be similar stories.

Even in the case of Senna -- all the films have similar ends.

But all I was interested in was the journey.

Characters like Amy and Maradona were not seen in a good light by the general public, towards the end of their lives.

What I wanted to do was say that they were pretty amazing people and also very different.

But something happened along the way.

A lot of it had to do with success and fame, and what happens when people around you are not giving you boundaries or looking after you.

In Maradona's case, he was treated like a god at such a young age.

IMAGE: Maradona falls to the pitch after being tripped up in the World Cup quarterfinal match against England in Mexico City in this June 22, 1986 photograph. Maradona scored both goals in Argentina's 2-1 victory. Photograph: Gary Hershorn GMH/Reuters

This is your third documentary and in all three you have mostly depended on old footage to weave a narrative.
Tell me about the process. Was it at all different with the three films?
Also, you knew the basic outline of the Maradona narrative, but how did the story evolve, what story you wanted to tell?

We do a lot of research and we try and find as much footage and material.

Often the footage doesn't have a date on it.

So a lot of it becomes detective work trying to figure out what year it is.

We study their eyes, their faces, and body shapes to work out the year.

In the new film I had researchers working in Italy, Argentina, and Barcelona, talking to people and trying to find who the key voices are.

Once we have a timeline, we do an assembly edit.

And my editor Chris King (he also worked on Senna and Amy) would start to cut.

So we would be editing, researching and interviewing all at the same time.

The footage informs the interviews; the interviews inform the edit; and the edit will inform the arc of the story.

The big difference between this film and Senna, as well as Amy was that Diego Maradona is alive.

I met him and interviewed him.

The deal was I would get nine hours with him.

I met him in Dubai four or five times.

You hear his voiceover in the film.

But you did not show him or anyone else -- including his sister -- on the screen.

That was a conscious decision that came out of when I was making Senna.

I couldn't interview him, and yet we wanted to make the film more cinematic.

Same situation with Amy, where I couldn't interview her.

But the people I spoke to were wary of media and journalists.

They didn't trust anyone because they thought journalists were partly responsible for her death.

When I first went to interview Maradona I did take my camera and a whole crew to Dubai.

I didn't know how long he was going to be around or how he would talk to me.

It could have been his last interview on camera.

But it was a classic case of meeting someone famous, where everyday I was told 'Not today, come tomorrow.'

It was really expensive and my budget was being wasted.

So I decided to just record it myself and took a translator with me.

And it went much better.

And when I asked him if I could back the next day, he said sure.

I would go to his home.

He would wake up, have an espresso, watch TV and talk to me.

What I realised was that if I take away the machinery and the camera, he would not be performing.

I wanted to get the truth and get into his past.

Very often he would do interviews, where he would be asked about his children or his addiction.

He would give a brilliant answer, but about something entirely different.

He would go off on a tangent.

My job was to keep going back to the story.

It would work the best when I was doing audio interviews.

One of the reasons this film came about was that one of my producers came across footage by two private cameramen filming Diego during his career.

It was never seen before.

They started filming in 1981.

They followed him in Barcelona and then Naples.

The intention was to make a movie that would launch his career in America.

But the cameramen were fired and the tapes were taken away.

We found them 30 years later.

So the movie started in 1981 and we finished it in 2019.

And there was all this additional footage by TV cameramen in different countries and fans.

IMAGE: Maradona holds up the World Cup as he is carried around the field at the Azteca Stadium after Argentina defeated Germany 3-2 to win the World Cup in Mexico City in this June 29, 1986 photograph. Photograph: Gary Hershorn/Reuters

He is still alive, so did you have to take permission from him to make the film?

Whenever you make a film about someone famous who has passed away, you have to take permission from their estate.

In this case we had to have Diego and his lawyers on board.

That is how I got the permission for the nine hours of interviews.

Even the footage we found, we had to take Maradona's permission to use it.

So he was not hesitant to talk to you?

I did manage to get him to talk about issues he had never addressed before.

His story is quite dark and controversial at times.

Many people have tried to talk to him, but they couldn't get close to him.

In the past he had never looked back to admit the mistakes he made.

He always blamed others.

It was difficult, but we wanted to show an honest portrayal.

I was not trying to tear him apart.

IMAGE: A scene from Diego Maradona. Photograph: Kind courtesy HBO Sports

In both the Amy Winehouse story and Diego's story they start from poor backgrounds.
What is it with people who come from poorer backgrounds and they have all this talent -- when money and drugs are thrown at them, they fall apart?

If you look at the three films, they are about brilliant talented stars and what happens to them.

Senna came from a wealthy family.

So he was like a classy guy and he wanted a life of the rich and famous.

Amy came from a middle class background.

She wasn't poor.

She went to good schools.

Her family had professional jobs.

Amy had music lessons.

Amy's story was different.

She fell in love with the wrong guy, someone who was not good for her.

Maradona came from the slums, a very tough place.

And football was his only way out.

Maradona ends up in Naples which in the 1980s was one of the poorest cities in Italy.

He was a street guy who would always seek out people from the streets.

That's why he comfortable with hanging out with the Camorra.

Football often takes young teenagers away from their families.

And they are showered with money.

People don't want to say no to them because they don't want to lose their jobs.

And when they fall into a mess you realise they have not had a natural upbringing, classic, normal teenage years.

But when they see all this money and they have no restrictions, they can go crazy.

Maradona was compared to god.

How could he be normal after that?

It is Shakespearean and a Greek tragedy, when you suddenly reach the top and are all powerful, but actually somewhere along the way you are going to be brought down.

IMAGE: A scene from Diego Maradona. Photograph: Kind courtesy HBO Sports

I didn't know about Naples. There is so much racism that exists in Italy. It's not just against immigrants, but within their own country there is so much racism.

It is still going on.

Just last week a black player was abused by the crowd.

What we are trying to show is that it goes on all the time, but it never gets reported.

It also happens in Spain and in Eastern Europe.

It has started happening in England again.

In Italy the north really looks down on the south.

And the south needed a hero and they found Maradona who came from a poor shantytown.

Naples needed him and he needed Naples.

Naples had never won anything before and they have never won anything since.

So my film is not just about football.

We look at political, social issues, families and relationships.

IMAGE: A scene from Diego Maradona. Photograph: Kind courtesy HBO Sports

Why is Maradona referred to as black in Argentina?

Isn't that fascinating?

I had never heard that before.

But this is also racial politics.

Latin America has a history of white Europeans and they are still the leaders and those in power.

Maradona's dad was indigenous.

In Argentina if you have indigenous blood in you then they call you black.

Race is so much more complex in Latin America.

Actually Maradona looked like an indigenous guy when he was young.

He starts to look more European as the film goes along.

 

ASSEM CHHABRA
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