Cinema Sudhir Mishra’s latest offering “Inkaar” may have been rejected at the box office, but there is no denying the innovative filmmaker’s creativity. Deepak Mahaan

With his ambivalent gaze, languid gait and tall frame, Sudhir Mishra appears an absentminded intellectual unsure of his next move in the concrete jungle of Mumbai. But just as most perceptions are far removed from reality in this metropolis, a brief interaction reveals Sudhir has no ambiguity about his role in life’s amphitheatre, and even if his body oozes laziness, his mind is a vibrant and crackling storehouse of ideas. And irrespective of our assessment of his capabilities, it is abundantly clear that Sudhir’s speech and films are driven by his own logic and convictions.

In another age, Sudhir Mishra might have been a scientist or mathematician with his formidable grasp of the various tenets of probability and psychology. But the distance from the academic arena has not meant a complete detachment from the ‘abstract’ under whose influence he has consistently tried to redefine the conventional structure in terms of content and form. From his first film “Yeh Woh Manzil To Nahin”, which went on to win the National Film Award for Best First Film of a Director in 1987, to his latest “Inkaar”, the iconoclast filmmaker has never held a candle for any particular genre, as he feels there is space and requirement for every kind of cinema.

Though not averse to popular cinema since escapist blockbusters too “provide a certain euphoria, joy and catharsis to the masses”, the steadfast film practitioner opines directors must provoke viewers to think, as “entertainment can also be served without asking audiences to leave their brains behind”. You surely cannot argue with his sound reasoning that “earning money by making people dumb is a crime” since it comes from a man whose films have been condemned as well as praised in equal measure but never ignored!

Obviously, he isn’t an ordinary craftsman in a hurry but someone determined to leave an indelible mark in the pantheon of cinema. Probe and he confides he has no problem with any kind of cinema as long as there is honest storytelling but is disturbed by images that are used to titillate, dehumanise or desensitise people. “Isn’t it strange,” he asks, “that the government gives adult certificate to films on erotic or sexual themes but has no qualms about violence and hatred being spread in every frame?” The question reflects not just his profound introspection but also his yearning to improve his social environment rather than allow it to rot and decay and where he seeks equal opportunity for everyone to innovate, experiment, fail and succeed.

Entering the everyday

Probably that is why his choice of subjects — be it “Dharavi”, “Is Raat Ki Subah Nahin”, “Chameli” or “Calcutta Mail” — is intensely personal and yet resonates with everyday concerns because, as Sudhir explains, they are “shades of me, my interactions and distillations of my experiences within my society.” Enthused that people can now make different films on provocative subjects, Sudhir is saddened that you cannot make “quiet films” as natural attention spans of people are dwindling.

While many may not subscribe to his view, Sudhir vehemently believes the modern age has made it “easy for anyone to create films because of multifarious delivery systems,” and there is space for non formula films within the market as producers are interested in good stories.

However, until his university days in Delhi, Sudhir admits he was nothing out of the ordinary except that he was raised on a staple diet of world cinema by his father, a college professor and founder member of Lucknow’s film club. Intrigued and aroused by the screen images as well as drama, Sudhir kept himself abreast of the film techniques but did nothing spectacular to spur his ambitions until a chance meeting with filmmaker Vidhu Vinod Chopra motivated him to move to Mumbai.

And this move transformed his life as he not only assisted Vinod but also met some inspiring creative people like Kundan Shah, Rajat Kapoor, Renu Saluja and several others who made him not just learn the ropes but also comprehend various aspects of film craft. Duly acknowledging their immense contribution, he is quick to point out that his vision and understanding of cinematic art was honed by his younger brother Sudhanshu who studied at Pune’s famous Film and Television Institute.

The passing away of his sibling in 1995 and then the equally sad demise of his editor-wife Renu Saluja in 2000 due to cancer meant a great void in Sudhir’s life but like a true soldier he chiselled his pain of unshed tears to improve his cinematic prowess. Of course, Sudhir was always a committed filmmaker but the gravity and tone of his films took on a certain poetical tinge after these tragedies.

Watch his films in chronological order and you shall understand how his cinematic growth as a storyteller has become defter with each passing film. As Bob Dylan said so eloquently, “behind every beautiful thing, there’s some kind of pain.”It does seem his scripts have imbibed moments from his relationships to give Sudhir’s films a tingling aroma.

Precisely for this reason, filmgoers expected his latest offering “Inkaar” too would be a thought-provoking treat in this season of nationwide unrest and angst against male atrocities. Based on sexual harassment in corporate spaces and starring Arjun Rampal and Chitrangda Singh, the film was also a comeback vehicle for talented actress Rehana Sultan. Kundan Shah summed it up beautifully: “Given his ability to organise even amidst chaos, Sudhir Mishra is an indispensable man for any creative outfit and he still has to realise his immense, creative potential.” “Inkaar” may not have left its stamp at the box office. But Sudhir Mishra remains an inspired and innovative filmmaker…no inkaar there either!