ANUJ KUMAR speaks to director Madhureeta Anand on "Kajarya" and the state of women in mainstream Hindi films

After emerging as a force in the documentary format, filmmaker Madhureeta Anand is treating the issues close to her heart in the feature film format. A forgettable debut with Mere Khwabon Mein Jo Aaye hasn’t deterred us as the award winning filmmaker, who has made documentaries on caste system and honour killing, turns to burning issues like female foeticide and infanticide with a story set in Haryana. Called Kajarya, the film is driven by fresh faces from film schools. Its promos were screened at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, and is expected to release early next year.

Excerpts from an interview:

What was the catalyst for Kajarya?

It was a combination of my own internal dissatisfaction with the way women are treated in the world and particularly India combined with the fact that I have a daughter. It seems almost criminal that as a country we can keep quiet while there is large scale genocide of women through violence of all kinds. The film is simply trying to re-create the world that women live in. So that people can experience it and feel the pressure and anxiety that we live with. The film is a thriller but set in a world where girls may as well be dead.

How do see the portrayal of female characters in mainstream films?

Film after film women in mainstream Indian cinema are shown as either sex toys or push overs. And the recent spate of movies that try to represent strong women as drunkards and sex-crazed is not doing the larger image of women any good. It’s hard as a woman to watch these films and not feel insulted. It’s time that we had more and more films where we show strong normal women and we show men respecting women. Our films are a force whether we like it or not and they can help change things.

In your first film you worked with established names but this time you have real people. Are you exploring a new ground

Well, every story needs its own treatment. Kajarya had to have new fresh faces to make it believable. And our country is full of really good and new talent – they must be brought forth. This will enrich the film industry.

How did you take the box office failure of Mere Khwabon... is it a matter of concern for you...

At the time I was extremely concerned. I took it personally and fell into a self blaming spell. It was the first time I had ever failed at anything and it was massively public. Now in retrospect I can see it for what it was. I had set out to do something quite naively brave. I made a film in a city I did not know. I had nearly no one to turn to when things hit rock bottom and added to that I had no previous experience of dealing with the Indian film industry. I was trying to use my experience with international industries as a reference! That was brave but very naive. And there is a huge element of luck as well. It was perhaps not on my side. But god knows it was the best thing that happened to me. I learnt so much. And most of all I learnt what it was that I wanted and was important to me.

Why this shift from documentaries to feature films...

I enjoyed making documentaries and still make them. I am always working on one documentary at any given time. But fiction features have different ways of satisfying one’s creative palette. There are some stories that you can only tell in the fiction format. And so I’m sort of bi-genre and enjoy making both docs and features.

Like you Kabir Khan also got disenchanted with the documentary scene in India. What do you think are the reasons behind the lack of reach and interest in documentaries when world over there is a surge in the format.

It’s funny that you mention Kabir’s name because he is a dear friend and a very nice person.

The reason why documentaries have not taken off in India can be attributed to two reasons: First, we have a huge monolith of a fiction film industry. This leaves very little space for anything else. Plus, our tradition of documentary filmmaking has been very dry and didactic. But I can tell you that it is changing. For the first time we have more and more documentaries showing in the theatres, which is a good sign.

When are you planning to release Kajarya?

We will release on the 7th of March, a day before Women’s Day. We will only be screening at international film festivals before the release in India. We want to save the big India unveiling for the audience at large and not just festival audiences.

What's next?

I have three films in the pipeline. One of them is Maharani, a period film. The other is a romance set in Bombay and the third is Kotha No. 22 which is about prostitution. And I am working on a there is a lot going on.