Both your previous films, Filhaal (2002) and Just Married (2007), have been about relationships. What drew you to the story of a murder, investigation and trial for Talvar?
The way the Aarushi Talwar murder case — on which the film is based — played out was very intriguing. It had many versions, yet so many unanswered questions. In spite of several rounds of investigations, trials and verdict, there is no sense of closure. The movie tries to explore that.
Did the fact that you are a mother, in some way, stoke your interest in the subject?
No. Throughout the making of Talvar, I had to be clinical and objective. The kind of film we wanted to make had to portray the two prominent theories of the case (that of the servant murdering Aarushi and the parents being her killers) with equal conviction.
How did you rope in Vishal Bhardwaj as your writer and producer?
Vishalji roped me in. I had taken time off to raise my son Samay, who is five-and-a-half-years-old. When I was beginning to wonder what to do next, I had a conversation with Vishalji, who is like family. Several ideas came up and this was one of them. I grabbed it with both hands.
You have written both your previous feature films. Was it possible for you to step back?
Today, I might be comfortable with a movie like Talvar, but I was unfamiliar with it earlier. I thought since I was taking on the responsibility of directing a film that was away from my comfort zone, why not focus on direction instead of trying to write and spreading myself thin, especially when I had someone like Vishal Bhardwaj writing for me.
How much did you research the subject before you sealing the script?
Vishalji and I did the research over a year and a half. He was prepping for Haider around the time he was writing Talvar. It would have been unfair to leave the entire task to him. I would gather most of the material and he would sift through that. When we decided to do the film, the investigations were over and the trial was coming to an end.
Many parallels are bring drawn regarding the way the media handled the Sheena Bora and Aarushi case.
The obvious parallel is that theories come out before the investigations are over. It is not just the media which does this but also the investigating agencies which feed it. It is also us as a society — we sit at the dinner table and discuss this. Films on such subjects can be sensationalist in their execution. Talvar is not a voyeuristic film. If there is anything I can vouch for, it is the integrity of the film.
Your father, Gulzar, has made some very sensitive films. Did he have any word of advice for you?
I shared the first draft of Talvar with him. He thought it was too clinical and did not have much emotion. After that I showed him the film when it was complete. He loved the film and now he is anxious for its release. My mother is yet to watch it. I did not want her to watch the subtitled film but the theatrical print. I could not get it ready before leaving for Toronto on September 11. As soon as I am back, I will show it to her.
You hardly make public appearances?
I am an introvert and shy. That’s one of the main reasons why I did not want to be an actor. I primarily come out when I have to say something about my work, not about any party, my husband or child.
But Kamal Haasan did offer you a role.
I was 15 at that time and had just finished school when Kamal Haasan asked my father if I would act in his film. Abbas-Mustan had asked the same to my mother once. Both said no as I needed to finish my education. My father initiated me into different forms of art. I have learnt ballet, Bharatnatyam, painting, singing, piano and even karate. His idea was that there should not be anything that I am afraid to attempt.
You have assisted Saeed Mirza and Gulzar on films before becoming a director. Were there any takeaways from that experience?
My films are very different from theirs. So is my cinematic language. My tendency to have something socially relevant in my film comes from both of them. Trying to keep it simple and brief is something I learnt from my father.