Despite 70 per cent of our population residing in rural areas, film-makers fail to realise that India’s strength lies in its villages. The pre-conceived notion is that a film set in a village is made to garner awards or is labeled as art cinema. If you see the films of the ’80’s, a lot of stories set in villages were glamourised. Now, they’re primarily set in Mumbai or there will be an odd film about someone picking up a gun from Bihar or UP.
Every 100 km, language, colour and people change. People are scared to talk about caste because of the SC order prohibiting people from calling anyone shudra or Harijan. I’ve seen caste divisions in Bihar, Orissa, my home state, in Haryana and among Tamilians. Caste has, unfortunately, often been glamourised in Bollywood films, and not been portrayed realistically. An example of a good marriage or love story between two people from different castes will undoubtedly be inspirational.
While it’s not visible, it’s a problematic issue that has even taken lives. The Khap panchayat system in Haryana is still strong, despite Haryana being a prosperous and educated state. Somehow people have overlooked it, and the trend in the industry is to make films on what sells, or is sensational. My next film, Kaun Kitne Paani Mein, is based on the water crisis and also touches upon the caste and class system. There are communities that provide water from the river. However, if a Harijan or adivasi touches that water, it is thrown and cannot be taken to a Brahmin household.
From the mainstream film-makers, Priyadarshan and Mani Ratnam depict village life remarkably well in their films, while Amol Palekar’s films, although centered around villages are art films. Similarly, Tamil, Telugu and especially Malayalam films aptly depict life in the rural areas. Bollywood scarcely has any pan-India stories. Till recently, Punjabi culture was most glamourised and there was Gangs of Wasseypur which was set in Jharkand.
The audience can relate to any story, regardless of where it is set, provided the story and characters are interesting. Script development is a very essential part of cinema, and requires months of research and hard work. To beat competition, people should experiment, but instead they end up remaking films. More works of literature should be adapted into screenplays, including Hindi literature, which is scarcely used.
It’s crucial for the artist to set their heart to it, and not worry about the consequences. Despite all the hurdles, Deepa Mehta made Water. The Censor Board is also merely a law enforcement body. They have to follow the Supreme Court’s orders, but as an artist, you’ll have to ensure that your freedom of speech doesn’t get diluted. A film-maker may find it difficult to get his film cleared but he has to find ways to convince them about the importance of the film’s message. Caste is in the subtext of society, which is why people don’t talk much about it.
An art form is an artist’s freedom of expression, how does it matter who likes it? We are not making films for political gain. If you start bothering about society, politics, law, you should not be an artist. What’s the difference between you and a builder? We’re not here to solely generate money.
As told to Kanika Rajani