‘We can’t make a political film in India without camouflaging it’

Cinema couldn't have broken free of its famed 'formula' and talked real if not for new filmmakers

Written by Express News Service | Updated: September 3, 2014 1:44 pm

Hindi cinema couldn’t have broken free of its famed ‘formula’ and talked real if not for the new crop of filmmakers such as Anurag Kashyap and Dibakar Banerjee. At a freewheeling session of Express Adda,held at Olive Beach in Hotel Diplomat,Delhi,the filmmakers,in conversation with Shekhar Gupta,Editor-in-Chief of the Express Group,and Pratap Bhanu Mehta,President,Centre for Policy Research and Contributing Editor,The Indian Express,spoke about censorship,the dark side to their films and the song-and-dance routine in Hindi cinema

Anurag Kashyap and Dibakar Banerjee belong to that new set of filmmakers who have dared to snap the moviegoer out of his/her endless reverie with edgy and realistic movies such as Dev. D and Gangs of Wasseypur,Love,Sex aur Dhokha and Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!. The session kicked off with Pratap Bhanu Mehta asking Banerjee and Kashyap how “they can be part of the illusion that is Hindi cinema and yet remain completely clear-eyed about it.”

THE ILLUSION THAT IS CINEMA

Anurag Kashyap: That line (from Gangs of Wasseypur),“jab tak log Hindustan mein film dekhte rehenge,woh c****** bante rehenge” is exactly what I have felt for a very long time. And

that’s also because I’ve seen that kind of obsession,especially in small towns. For the first time,my entire family,from my mother to my extended

family,liked one of my films (Bombay Talkies). Before I made that,they did not understand what I was doing. And when you see it through their eyes,where one of my family members said,“aise hi films banao na”,it underlines what I’m feeling.

Dibakar Banerjee: Probably the only equivalent to the type of films we make in Bollywood today is pulp literature — not the artsy,gentrified pulp,but pulp as it’s sold at railway stations and bus stops. This is probably the only place where an Indian can find justice and love. Also,we have slowly,over the last 20 years,killed every other form of popular entertainment. There is no theatre,there is no weekend getaway. An average city guy has no place to go and take a walk or row a boat. In Plaza cinemas,I saw Mahesh Manjrekar’s City of Gold and I saw a lot of middle-class Marathi families had come to enjoy an evening of ‘air-conditioned coolness’ while watching a very confrontational film. These are the reasons why we go to cinemas,because there is nothing else. So it’s a comment on other things rather than on cinema.

THE GREY ZONE IN FILMS

DB: At the root level,we are schizophrenic because we are living in two to three different time zones — in an India which can be heard about through Tulsidas’s poetry and an India which is mentioned on Twitter and directly influenced by what’s going on in LA. I haven’t seen this kind of time warp in any other country.

ON CENSORSHIP AND

THE BOARD

AK: I can stand up and object to anything and everything,I can object to any film and take things out of context and comment on them and it will go through the entire legal process to determine if that objection is valid or not. If you look at films,most characters don’t have surnames anymore. And the reason for this is if the villain has a common surname with a community,people from that community will come out and say that I’m demeaning them. The problem with the government is that it doesn’t want to get dragged to the courts. The ugliest thing I’ve seen in the last one year of Indian cinema is the health ministry’s campaign against smoking. If they’re using my film to put out a public service announcement,they should pay me. They can’t force it on me. If I need to talk about society and the things that bother me,I need to show it in its naked truth and that’s the only way I can have an impact and push people to start questioning. My biggest grouse is that we can’t make an actual political film in this country without camouflaging it — like two of my characters can’t sit and have a casual chat about why Manmohan Singh doesn’t talk. When I see a film called Death of a President,which was a fictitious assassination of George Bush,while Bush was still President and it releases in America,it angers me that they can do it,but we can’t. It’s largely the political agencies that cause problems for a filmmaker.

DB: The Censor Board is the least of our problems. We are more delayed by contentious elements in political lobby groups or the fear of proscription in some state. The bogey of destruction of public property and loss of life is always thrown at us. Now I can’t show a villain. So I can’t have my bad guy do anything bad and that completely kills the point of me making the bad guy bad. But if the Censor Board asks me that if lobby groups protest and some buses are burned,will you take the responsibility,what do I do? A film producer and director are at their most vulnerable in the weeks before their release. They are the most compromising men in the world,and soft targets…I have also found the common public to be the most censorious when it comes to independent cinema. My own family doesn’t agree with a lot of my films. When I made LSD,they texted me saying,“It’s only because of you that we are watching this film. Why don’t you make something like 3 Idiots?”

ON the craft of moviemaking

DB: If you can tell the story apart from the camera movement,then,according to me,the film hasn’t worked. For me,a film is the nearest thing to a dream state. Reading a book is not a dream state,because you can go back and forth in it.

But when you’re dreaming,things are beyond control. That’s why the cinema I like,and hope that my movies are a

part of,is immersive. Which means that every detail — from the cinematography,story,whatever — is all one whole thing.

The need for stars

AK: It depends on how you make the film. If I’m going out and making a

film with stars,it’s going to cost a lot. For example,when I was shooting GoW,no one recognised who Nawazuddin or any of the other actors were,and so I could shoot easily on the street. If Wasseypur had known faces in it,that film would have cost at least six times the budgeted cost. And it wouldn’t have had that rawness.

DB: If you have something to say that means a little to everybody,you make a big budget film because that’s what you need to do. But if you have something to say that means a lot to a few people,make a small budget film.

SONG AND DANCE ROUTINE

DB: Indian cinema with songs is a direct child of Parsi theatre and other theatre forms which successfully wove the narrative with the songs. When I’m trying to make a film with a slightly higher budget,the easiest way to reach an audience is either with a star or through a song,and then I put that song on television so that people come and watch the film.

Question hour

Saba Ali: You spoke about the schizophrenic world we live in. Is this the niche you are exploring?

DB: To tell a filmmaker that he is a niche guy is to doom him to middling collections forever. I’ve realised that in a country like India,when you try to say something social through cinema,and are trying to confront something,you’re killing your future a bit. But trying to say something extremely personal is completely acceptable. So I’m trying to move to a personal kind of cinema which is about spaces between people,rather than spaces between classes.

Justice Mukul Mudgal: What difficulties have you encountered with the

Censor Board?

AK: The problem is not with the Censor Board,the problem is with the country. We have become so hyper-sensitive about everything,and even if all of us aren’t,the government has decided that they are going to entertain everyone and everything in a way I feel it

should not.

Anuja Chauhan: Is the budget of the film inversely proportional to the quality?

AK: It depends how you make the film. If I’m going out and making a film with stars,it’s going to cost a lot. When I was shooting Wasseypur,no one recognised Nawazuddin or any of the other actors,and so I could shoot easily on the street. If I had used stars,I would have had to shoot in New York or London.

DB: If you have something to say that means a little to everybody,you make a big budget film because that’s what you need to do. But if you have something to say that means a lot to a few people,make a small budget film.

Vernaz Mittal: Why do all your movies need to have songs and dances?

DB: To the larger Indian audience,cinema is not a story delivery vehicle,it’s an emotion delivery vehicle. Anything goes to deliver that emotion.

AK: I love Hindi songs. I grew up in a small town listening to Vividh Bharati. But I could find no logic that would explain actors suddenly breaking into song and dance. Sometimes I can say what I want to in three minutes of a song as opposed to 10 minutes

of dialogue.

Ravinder Kaur: How are your films received in rural India? Also,how do women connect with your movies?

AK: People in smaller towns,especially women,including my mother,could not connect with Dev. D. I’ve never had a girl next door in my films,but female characters in my movies are women I would fall for.

Shubhra Gupta: Dibakar,

do you fear having to

dilute your darkness,your edge,because you want more and more people to watch your films?

DB: I have other fears than just the lack of a larger audience. I can be sloppy,forgetful or write a poor script and that’ll affect my edge. Secondly,I don’t want to be dark because I am dark.

Transcribed by Shantanu David

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