All my films have been about love, but this one is really just love-love,” says Onir, a week before the release of Kuchh Bheege Alfaaz. The 48-year-old National Award-winning filmmaker (for I Am in 2011) has spent an entire afternoon talking about the film but there is still a lightness in his voice, even though it has been five hours since the first press interview.
After a viewing of the film’s trailer, it’s easy to see what he means by “love-love” — two beautiful leads encounter each other in the most serendipitous of ways, and though love’s course never runs smooth, a happy ending appears to be in place. Onir’s previous love stories have always been complicated — young love in My Brother…Nikhil (2005) is cut short by death; in Bas Ek Pal (2006), a cruel twist of fate paralyses the lives of five characters in a single moment; and in the light-hearted Sorry Bhai! (2008), loneliness drives love as much as chemistry.
Kuchh Bheege Alfaaz is the first film, in a long time, that has not been written and produced by Onir. “The script, written by Abhishek Chatterjee, came to me in early 2017, it was part of a script lab. When I read this, I just fell in love with it, I’ve never done something like this. I remembered the thrill of being young and feeling that joy,” he says, adding, “But it’s also a film about urban loneliness, and how even with all these apps, people are looking for someone to really connect with.” The film has Geetanjali Thapa playing Archana or Archie, a young professional who works in Kolkata, creating branded memes. A wrong text throws her in the path of RJ Alfaaz, a popular and dreamy voice on the radio (played by newcomer Zain Khan Durrani).
But Onir is not dismissive about using apps such as Facebook and WhatsApp to direct oneself towards a chance at romantic fulfilment and long-lasting friendship. “I remember when I moved to Bombay in the late 1990s, I had a desktop computer, and after that strange dial-tone, I was connected to the internet and chatrooms all over the world. I found some of my best friends online. I could make a film like I Am because of the social networks,” he says. Onir is only too glad that early viewers of the film finally think that he is making a “current” film. “For so many years, I’ve been told that My Brother…Nikhil and Bas Ek Pal were ahead of their time, so this is a welcome change,” he says.
Kuchh Bheege Alfaaz has also had an easy time at the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC). “I had such a hard time last year with Shab. They were like, ‘how can you put all these things, adultery, homosexuality, together?’ So, I asked them to look at my body of work — My Brother…Nikhil had a U certificate, Bas Ek Pal was given U/A without cuts and it addressed prison rape, infidelity and multiple relationships; so how can you have a problem with a film that is much milder? Thanks to that argument, Shab was given a U/A certificate,” he says.
Could Kuchh Bheege Alfaaz be Onir’s most “mainstream” film? “I’m surprised that people don’t think my work is mainstream. I think there’s a sexist attitude in the industry, because I’m asked why I’m not working with stars. Juhi Chawla, Manisha Koirala and Raveena Tandon have been mainstream stars; would they have said that, had it been a man? I don’t want to be bracketed, and I hope they don’t do it to me this time,” he says.