Tigmanshu Dhulia is all set to surprise audiences with his new films.

There are people whose name rings a bell for being different, and there are people whom you remember because they do things differently. Director-writer Tigmanshu Dhulia is remembered for both.

At a time when commercial cinema drew audiences with big budget films like “Kal Ho Na Ho”, “Koi… Mil Gaya”, “Krissh”, “Baghban”, etc., Dhulia silently made his entry with the small budget “Haasil” based on his personal experiences of the political turmoil affecting campus life in Allahabad University.. The film, despite having limited star appeal, was noticed. Encouraged, Dhulia made “Charas” (on the connection between politics, narcotics, etc.) and “Ghulami” (set in 1857 on the life of a reluctant fighter).

Dhulia's passion for digging into social, political and historical topics takes his films into the niche category. Having just wrapped up “Paan Singh Tomar”, he is now shooting for “Sahab, Biwi aur Gangster” in the erstwhile princely state of Devgarh Baria in Gujarat. The film has Irrfan Khan, Nikhil Dwivedi and Mahi Gill in pivotal roles. Says Dhulia, not wanting to part with the story, “‘Sahab…' is a drama-cum-melody about relationships, intrigue, desire and the dark alleys of the raj mahal which formed the genesis of early India. It is set in semi-urban India of the Raj days. It doesn't have a love triangle because of two heroes and one heroine, but it is volatile with scheming and plotting as its crux.”

Semi-urban backdrop

The semi-urban backdrop, in which Dhulia is interested, plays a significant role in this film — “how in a traditional, feudal setup ambitions creep in and grow stronger.” He continues, “For example, a lady in ‘purdah' (veil of raj mahal here) who wants to go out and explore the world in her own romantic and calculating ways, is an interesting study and it also forms the backdrop of ‘Sahab…' It has that classical ‘Charulata' kind of setup but not so muted. It has its bold moments.”

Dhulia and Brandsmith, the co-producer, have employed Delhi-based Abhishek Ray and three other musicians to score the music.

Dhulia's “Pan Singh Tomar” too, has a semi-urban setting. Completed before last year and expected in theatres around October, its release was delayed due to the recession and producer-multiplex clash. The subject is not perishable, says Dhulia. “The story of ‘Pan Singh Tomar' is a real one that I had read in the Anand Bazaar Patrika's Sunday magazine in 1983. How he transformed from an athlete to a dacoit was interesting material for a film. I decided to direct the film but didn't get a producer. For research and other requirements I needed funds. After a lot of struggle finally UTV came forward.” Recalls Dhulia, “I met Milkha Singh who was Tomar's contemporary, his wife, son and police personnel involved in the encounter. I got to know that his first son was in the Intelligence. Since I was with Shekhar Kapoor during the making of ‘Bandit Queen', I knew some surrendered dacoits from Chambal. I contacted them to guide me through the Chambal forest — Tomar's hideout after becoming a dacoit. Interestingly, since my consultants were former dacoits who knew the area very well, we believed in them more than the police force who went with us!”

Not surprisingly, his favourite Irrfan Khan plays the title role. “It's not the question of him being my favourite. I wanted a person who has a lean body and could run like an athlete, so that I didn't have to work on it; a man who could look ‘jungli'. Khan has a peculiar look with distinctive eyes that he plays well with. Ye film air conditioned studios mein banne wali nahi thi. I didn't want to take a big star as they generally can't take too much pressure and don't report on time. Moreover, they come with numerous escorts and chamchas because of which the budget shoots up. I finished the film in just 65 days despite shooting at different places — Roorkee, Chambal, Dehra Dun, Saharanpur, Bengal Engineering Army Base and Mumbai.”