Cinema As Dibakar Banerjee wraps up “Shanghai”, we speak to the director, who knows more than a thing or two about mixing art with commerce. ANUJ KUMAR
I t is just another day in the life of an intrepid filmmaker in Mumbai. He has to reach the producer's office for a crucial meeting. His car has broken down. Never mind, he takes an auto rickshaw. In between, a journalist like me is after him for an interview. He takes the call, apologises for the auto's sound and here we go with Dibakar Banerjee, the director who gave the common man a new lease of life on celluloid with “Khosla Ka Ghosla”. His next two films “Oye Lucky, Lucky Oye” and “Love, Sex Aur Dhokha” proved that the guy is in no mood to repeat himself and is today one of the rare independent voices heard in Hindi cinema.
As he shows the way to the driver through the Mumbai traffic, Dibakar shares the details of his latest oeuvre, “Shanghai”. Wrapped up in 42 days in Latur and Baramati, Dibakar has locked 26th January as the release day. “It is a political thriller. It is about how politics affects us and the revenge of the common man. The title “Shanghai” is a metaphor for the dream that our political class promised us in the name of development. What we have is a pot-holed infrastructure beyond the metros. And the kind of development we are getting in big cities…mall and all…do we really need it? Who is it for,” he asks.
Has he drawn from Anna's movement? “The scripting was complete before the movement began but the film mirrors the anger that has come out of the anti-corruption movement. The film's anger stems from things like our silence over the murder of RTI activists. Over the years we have become used to a lot of injustice. My film is not about any real life personalities or incidents but it does point out at social injustice.” However, he clarifies he is not going into a preachy domain. “On the surface I have placed it as a thriller which tracks the lives of a civil servant, a photographer and an expatriate young girl in a nameless town where millions of rupees are being poured in the name of development. An accident happens and things threaten to go out of control…” Is it the murder of a politician he is referring to considering the film is an adaptation of Vassilis Vassilikos' Greek popular novel “Z”, which captured events surrounding the assassination of democratic Greek politician Grigoris Lambrakis in 1963?
Dibakar refuses to give anything away except for the fact that the situation prevalent in the country now is somewhat similar to what happened in Greece in the early 1960s. “I read the novel and watched the French film by Costa Gavras which was inspired by the novel. I wanted to acquire the rights but it was not easy to convince Vassilis. Finally, he gave in after enquiring about my previous work. He was also surprised about how the book has become relevant for an Indian director. We (along with screenwriter Urmi Juvekar) are retelling the story. It is just that the core has a resemblance,” says Dibakar, who grew up in Delhi's Karol Bagh area.
It is Dibakar's biggest film till date but he is quick to clarify that by the industry standards it is a moderate-budget film. Does the opportunity to say something new go down with the rise in budget? “I don't believe in big budget and small budget cinema. I believe in right budget cinema and if you go by it, you don't have to compromise and the producer will also get something out of the film.”
Talking about the shooting locations, Dibakar says, “The story is set in small town India and the places bring out the real picture. We have shot in natural light.” For once songs, including an item number, will be part of Dibakar's narrative. “It is not like the characters wanted to have a night out and they reached a club. It is very much part of the story.” Talking about the characters, he says he is about to break some pre-conceived notions about his actors. “Abhay Deol plays a Tamil Brahmin civil servant, the face of administration. He has been playing a rebel all this while. This time I wanted him to be part of the establishment and he has surprised me.” Initially he wanted Imran Khan to play the role but he was too busy to hone his romantic image. As for Emraan Hashmi, Dibakar says the actor has been able to place himself as the common man's actor but somehow the media has focussed only on his serial kisser image. “I don't think filmmakers have done justice to his talent.”
The film also marks the return of Bengali superstar Prosenjit Chatterjee to the national stage. “For the role of the political activist, I needed an actor who has charisma and yet who is not too well known for the national audience. Prosenjit has these qualities. I have watched him perform both in pot boilers and sensitive films like Moner Manush . He is a perfect fit for the role played by the Yves Montand in the French cinematic adaptation of the novel.” Well, Dibakar has reached his destination and by now the driver thinks he is carrying a popular personality. “He thinks I am Rajat Kapoor. It usually happens with me,” the two-time National Award winner signs off.