Search for understanding
Filmmaker Sudhir Mishra's latest "Hazaaron Khwaishen Aisi" follows the path of his earlier hard-hitting and realistic films. Here he talks about the making of this `difficult film'.
COMPLEX REALITIES: A film that tries to be true to life.
WHY is our thematically rich political scenario left almost untouched by our filmmakers?
Many have abdicated after making wonderful films "Garam Hawa" (M.S.Sathyu), "Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyon Ata Hai" (Saeed Mirza) and "Bhavni Bhavai" (Ketan Mehta). Benegal wasn't always as complex as he was in "Nishant". At some level "Bandit Queen" captured the smells of the environment. This industry has a feudal structure, sons of filmmakers rule the roost. Newcomers with original stories are not allowed entry; finances are an insurmountable problem.
Two kinds of films are being made now the lifestyle advertisement and the Marxist Manifesto. Only their end is different in the masala film retail showroom they walk into the sunset, in the Manifesto they fall into a hellhole. Their men have to be heroes or villains, the women saints or sluts. But real people are not in Black and White. If at all we get a film with a political theme, it is made by naοve people who don't know that politics is not an isolated `subject', it governs our lives in obvious and insidious ways, it is used to control individuals and masses. I enjoyed "Lagaan" but it was a fairy tale.
Your first film "Yeh Woh Manzil To Nahin" had a theme similar to "Hazaron...", in three characters recollecting their firebrand idealism and betrayals. How have you changed since 1987?
Everyone says that "Hazaron..." is my best film so far. Ashutosh Gowarikar, Shekar Kapoor, Nikhil Advani, Ketan Mehta, Kundan Shah and Vishal Bharadwaj have loved it. I couldn't have made this film without those years of experience. I'm not techno-savvy, so I'm talking about life experience. I've tried to show life with its textures intact, ravelled and tangled. It's a difficult film, demands attention and participation. Not going to break box office records but I know that once people walk in, the film will hold them, yes, young people too, not just those who identify with the 1960s-70s characters.
Where did you find your characters? Your actors?
Siddharth, Vikram and Geeta confront their inheritance and relationships without hypocrisy. They are drawn from myself and as a tribute to, and lament for, the people I've known.
In Bombay they don't look beyond Juhu for casting, but these actors can't comprehend characters with a huge graph. The right boys and girls are waiting to be found. I auditioned in six cities and they popped up on the screen. Newcomers are a boon, no baggage, no image. But they've to concentrate totally. Chitrangada (Singh) found the character and herself in the process. Now she's a consummate artiste. Debutant Shiney (Ahuja) had to be restrained; his pain was deep within. See how he's done it!
Your women have always been strong, free-spirited. Are they modelled on friends? Where does Geeta ("Hazaaron...") come from?
Even women filmmakers stereotype women. Geeta tries not to be like men, not to define herself by male notions of womanhood, errs, fails, she can be wicked, she can betray and delude. I wanted her to have that richness.
With women you can create a gamut of emotions, far more than with men who posture all the time. Geeta is the amalgamation of all the spirited women I've known, my tribute to Renu Saluja. (Renu Saluja was the award winning film editor who died of cancer in April 2000). She rides over the ups and downs. Thousands of women do take things in their stride.
POLITICS OF LIFE: Sudhir Mishra
Was it difficult to work with a French technical crew that did not know Hindi and English?
The cinematographer and sound recordist were fantastic. I had major problems with the editor, had to re-edit the film myself. Could've been my fault. I'm used to working with Renu (Saluja) who arrives at a rhythm by instinct, whose first cut is better than most editors' last cut.
Was distribution a tough job? Won't you take "Hazaaron" to rural India, especially Bihar, where it climaxes?
I want it to be, expect it to be, tough! The film revolts against the distributors' value systems. But 50 prints all over India! That's great progress considering how one had to beg for a single theatre for such films. I'm dubbing the film in Hindi now for release in Bihar. People are used to a certain kind of cinema. Bad habits die hard. I mustn't get disillusioned if things don't go my way.
Reaction in foreign festivals?
Good. People got the jokes, especially in Berlin. But some western viewers ask me if there are colleges in India!
Most westerners are closet racists. Difficult for them to understand intelligent modern Indians, especially women. Their critics associate India with total kitsch or high spirituality. A film like "Hazaaron... " mystifies them with its complex realities.
Why does "Haazaron... " end with contradictory feelings: impotency and hope?
They're my feelings. I'm easy with contradictions. There's no political solution, but there is some emotional (breaking off)... actually I don't know what got resolved. Do you?
I think I should do a sequel sometime. See what happened to the characters, where they go.
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