Film Director Shirish Kunder lives (literally) in a glass house in Mumbai and hurls tweets at everyone. He picks on everyone — whether it is the ruling party or the opposition, the “56-inch foreign policy” or the black money jumla, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (“With his jealousy for 18 yr old Malala, 59 yr old Sri Sri has once again proved: No amount of ‘Art of Living’ can make you a better person.”) and Shani Shingnapur (The important question is: Who let the Goddesses enter the temples?”). He has 262,000 followers on the social network and a troll army that watches every word. One of the few people in the film industry to talk politics and take a stand, he says he has nothing to lose. The boy from Ghatkopar was a highly paid film editor in the 2000s, and one of the first to switch to digital editing. This month, he is busy giving final touches to his first online film, titled Kriti. Excerpts from an interview:
How did Twitter happen?
I was not into current events. Inside the film industry, you get cut off from everything. It was Twitter that got me interested. I distinctly remember, it was around the Nirbhaya incident. I started commenting, reacting. From then on, it became a habit.
What is your Twitter style? How much time goes into tweeting?
It started when industry wallahs would come home. They used words like development, bullet train, etc. I realised early on that they have no idea of the cost the country is paying. Now, if there is news, I make a joke. It pulls in the reader, eventually bringing their attention to the facts behind the news.
I only tweet when I am angry. I take my anger out in humour. My intention with tweets is what RK Laxman would do with his cartoons. I am deeply influenced by him. I am sure all satirists are angry people.
What angers you about the current political environment?
The communal attitude, this whole Hindu-Muslim thing. I have never seen such a divide. Even in the industry, when people talk, the hatred has started showing. All those closet Muslim-haters were always around, but now suddenly it is coming out. ‘Sahi kar rahe hain… Unko nikaal dena chahiye’ Such words come easily to them now. It is polarising people. In the industry there was no religion. It was always hits and flops.
You are remarkably direct about the BJP and the PM.
Everyone was direct about Manmohan Singh too. Why was it not a big deal then? I ridiculed him too. Earlier, my timeline was filled with Manmohan Singh jokes and everyone would retweet them. Why is ridiculing Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi not a problem, and why is tweeting on Modi a problem? Why do trolls remind you to say “our respected PM”? Why was the PM not respected then? There is fear now. There are trolls now, a bunch of people who are manufacturing fear. During the Congress rule, no one came and attacked you. All my tweets and jokes against Rahul Gandhi were always live, but no one attacked you online. No one said, this is dangerous.
What about the ABVP?
My tweets against ABVP have history. In my first year in an engineering college in Dharwad, Karnataka, seniors would come to rag us. But then, suddenly, some strange people would also join them. They would push the first-year boys into a truck. We had no idea where they are taking us. We were given some fake identity cards. At the gates, they asked us to go and vote for the BJP. It was a local election.
When we came out from the other end, they wiped the ink from our finger and sent us back again. So everyone voted twice and came back. We all voted for everyone except the BJP. And they lost that year. They must have thought engineering students are dumb.
I have seen what ABVP does first-hand. A roommate of mine was from the ABVP. If a Muslim or Christian friend would come to our room, he would walk out immediately. So I have seen how their minds are poisoned.
Do equations change after taking on people from the industry? What about Anupam Kher?
After that tweet (Dear Anupam Kher, #AamirKhan was talking about Kiran Rao, not Kiran Kher. Hope this clears the confusion. Jai Ho :-)), I met Kher at a party. I said: ‘Kaise hain, sab theek hain?’ Those were the only words we exchanged.
I normally don’t tweet on film industry anymore. I realised that I can say anything on politics or cricket as it’s not my field. Here, he was doing something political; that’s when I decided to talk. That tweet was absolutely okay, because if he can talk about Aamir Khan, then why can’t I talk about him?
Let’s talk about your Twitter following.
I have muted most of the trolls. I follow some socially relevant people and most of them are politically inclined. Now, I follow politicians from across parties. From the industry, I really like Vishal Dadlani. Initially, it was just the film industry and journalists. One fine day, a politician started following me. Then, one night the CM of Karnataka started following me. Then there was Omar Abdullah. People’s humour has evolved. Twitter is like that. Earlier, stand-up comedians from the UK would follow me, as essentially we both spoke the language of black humour. Now relatives of some politicians DM me. There are actors who may not voice it directly, but they retweet me. I know immediately what their political beliefs are.
How do you sum up your film journey?
I think it was Main Hoon Na and dating Farah Khan that brought me into limelight. Otherwise, who really knows editors? Twitter has also taught me that for anything to click, you have to get the timing right. With films too, when I came in as a director, it was the phase of masala films.
My movie Joker, for instance, was a very good script. Of a place which does not exist on the map of India. The film that was made was nowhere near what the script was. It never got shot the way it was conceptualised.
I wrote my first film in 2002. I was an editor then. I had written the script on the Kandahar hijack. That story was called ‘Happy New Year’. The hijack happened on December 24 and on the night of December 31, the hostages were freed. I wrote the film and I was trying to direct it. But no one was interested. The closest I came was to a producer who said Sunny Deol will play the hero and he will beat up the Taliban guys. I said that is not what happened. He stressed, ‘Humko aisa hi chahiye’. I was frustrated, nothing was happening. Then I met Farah. I walked into her circle. And then Jaan-e-Mann happened with Salman Khan . They wanted romance. So I said let me play along. This is what they want.
Now I do things that I came in the industry to do. This year, I have made a short film. It’s called Kriti, which will be released on the digital medium. It’s a psychological thriller, with Manoj Bajpayee and Radhika Apte. This is the kind of content I believe in, it’s intelligent; it was shot in two days. What I like about the web medium is that it’s not calculative of the box office. The money is less, so you can experiment. I find it very liberating. For the first time, I have shot what I have actually written (laughs).
How do you take on the argument that “You are just Farah’s husband”, the criticism of your movie Joker, the Shah Rukh #slapgate and the bhakts?
I married someone eight years older. She was at the peak of her career. There will come a time I will be better. Replying to trolls on other aspects doesn’t really achieve anything. In fact, if you reply to them, they have achieved what they want. They want your attention. They want to annoy you. On Twitter, every aspect of your life is some or other gate. I am not bothered about it. It will die its own death, whenever it has to.
Has there ever been a tweet that you have deleted?
One, and after that I stopped tweeting on the film industry. It was on RA.One. The film had released, and I thought it’s harmless. I cracked a joke. That is the tweet which indicated the problem between me and Shah Rukh Khan. There was a backlash from a lot of people. I learnt that you should never tweet about your own field.
How is it being married to Farah Khan? Does she like your tweets?
She believes in masala. I believe in the absurd. She always wants to know the background to the issues I tweet about. I am her window to what is happening in the world, or technology. She loves to party. I am a recluse. I sit in front of my laptop all the time. She likes to be popular, I like to be invisible. Even on Twitter, I am all words, and she will post pictures of being with her friends.
Why is ridiculing Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi not a problem, and why is tweeting on Modi a problem? Why do trolls remind you to say “our respected PM”? Why was the PM not respected then? There is fear now. There are trolls now, a bunch of people who are manufacturing fear’.
Baba Ramdev can write a book on all the things he would have done if there’s no law. And call it ‘The Jungle Book’.
I’ll never forgive Modi Ji for making me root for Lalu in the Bihar elections.
I really hope Donald Trump wins. Why should only we suffer?
What I really love about BJP is that at least they don’t pretend to be decent people.