‘Filmmaking is a director’s vision’

creative focus: Shoojit Sircar says his aim is not to earn money or fame, but to tell a story on his terms.

creative focus: Shoojit Sircar says his aim is not to earn money or fame, but to tell a story on his terms.  

Ahead of the release of his production Running Shaadi, filmmaker Shoojit Sircar talks about his brand of cinema, co-directing Pink, the influence of theatre on his craft, and why Mumbai is not a place he’d like his kids to grow up in

Running Shaadi is a romcom. It’s very different from your brand of films.

It’s a good point, because all my films have been different. It is, for me, just a payback to my mentor Deepak Roy, whom I assisted for two years. Amit Roy, who is the director of the film, is [his] nephew. Unlike Pink, in which I was a producer and was involved more than a creative producer, in Running Shaadi, I am just a producer.

Since you mention this as a payback to your mentor, do you think somewhere it implies nepotism, which Bollywood is usually accused of?

No, I don’t think so. It is not as if I have given flagship to someone who doesn’t know how to make a film. He’s not an outsider. He’s been a very big cinematographer (Roy shot many Ram Gopal Verma films, including Sarkar and Sarkar Raj) and we have worked on several projects together. I know he will make an honest film. It doesn’t mean that I haven’t read the script or that I don’t trust the person. So, I don’t think I am being part of nepotism.

Running Shaadi has been stuck for some time.

Yes, it has been stuck for two years because it is a small film. My distributors told me that they could not find the right window to release it. Even now, there are three or four other releases with our film.

The films you’ve directed can be broadly divided into two kinds: one possessing a strong political bent, and the other a slice of life.

I am not a student of literature or arts. I’m a student of sports. I don’t know how to answer this; it comes naturally. This is the life I live, this is the reality I live in, this is the milieu in which I am born and brought up. I will say Vicky Donor or Piku are as political as Madras Café. Maybe it’s lighthearted for people who are watching it. For me, it’s a very deep issue.

You exist in Bollywood, yet your films have a different grain. Would you consider making a masala potboiler?

Oh no. I could never do that.

Why not?

I’m not brought up like that. I grew up doing Hindi theatre in Delhi with contemporaries like Piyush Mishra and Manoj Bajpayee. We did street theatre for communal harmony, we did street theatre during the Punjab problem. My choice of subjects is more likely than not social issues. Somehow they get connected to my film, I don’t know how. It is not a deliberate choice. But yes, politics interests me.

How does theatre influence your craft? Could you give an example?

Pink was shot in 32 days. The second half of Pink — the court sequence — was shot in just seven days. Once the scene was ready, I’d start working with the character and actors almost like in a theatre production. It was like a one-act stage play. So the entire thing was divided into seven days. We got seven court sequences of varying duration. And I just told them, ‘this is the lawyer, this is the witness, please fight it out’. And I just captured it. We did months of rehearsals, like in theatre. And the actual shoot of the scenes took just 15 minutes, almost like one stage show. Curtains go up, [actors] perform, curtains go down. Out. It was conducted exactly like that.

What’s the creative process you follow?

The most important part of filmmaking is scriptwriting with my writers, and constantly asking myself why am I making this film? Is it to become famous? Is it for money or is this for myself? Do I need to tell the story? Or do I really want to bring the change? Two things I don’t want: I don’t want money because I have enough to live; and I’m not [gunning] for fame. But yes, I’m [aiming] to tell a story on my terms. That’s what theatre has told me. When you keep questioning, you won’t deviate. The big battle is casting. My casting director has always been Jogi. He’s also from a theatre group. Our tuning is perfect.

And your creative process?

Then, I work with my actors. I do a lot of workshops. For Vicky Donor, I took them to Delhi for workshops. I talk a lot. I keep talking about the background to my crew and actors. For example, during Piku, I kept talking to Deepika (Padukone). At the end of the day, filmmaking is a director’s vision.

Since you derive so much strength out of theatre, have you ever thought of adapting a play or a certain playwright?

Yes, at some point I wanted to do West Side Story. Secondly, I wanted to do (Bertolt) Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children. I also wanted to do Brecht’s Life of Galileo.

That’s what I was coming to. Your idea of politics and an idea of social change by mirroring issues related to ‘contemporary existence’ is very Brechtian.

Oh yes, Brecht has been a very important influence. I love his plays, his poetry, and his idea of theatre.

Like Dibakar Banerjee, you, too, are in love with Punjabis.

Punjab is my subject. I call myself more of a Punjabi than a Bengali. My next film is on Udham Singh. I really feel deeply for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre and Singh.

Will it be jingoistic like most of our patriotic films?

No, I don’t think so. These people are our national heroes. From Bhagat Singh, Mary Kom to Milkha Singh, I think they are international characters. I think they should be in world cinema. For example, Bhagat Singh and Udham Singh are the Che Guevaras of our country. Mary Kom can also become…

Nadia Comaneci?

Absolutely. See what odds she has fought against to become what she is. I mean, five times world champion. That’s no mean feat.

You’re so passionate about Mary Kom and yet you missed out on making her biopic.

Oh yes, I did. I wanted to make a film on Mary Kom. At some point, I will see if I can make it.

Since it’s been done once, how do you revisualise it?

Firstly, I will cast a northeastern woman. Then we can see.

Talking about casting, are you considering Ranbir Kapoor for Udham Singh’s role?

The casting is going on. No clarity yet. Ranbir and I are very good friends. We play football together.

The whole world thinks you’ve directed Pink.

I will not deny the fact. When the film started, both Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury and I were so passionate that I could not take direction out of me. And the subject was so delicate that I started intervening. But the good thing is it did not end up in a bad taste, it rather ended up on a good taste. Aniruddha is a friend and he accepted that my interventions were right. Not only him, even the writer, actors, everybody was enthusiastic about my participation as a critic. This was not to take away any due credit. My participation was almost like the head coach of a team. I wouldn’t say ghost direction, because that is not a good term to say. But yes, I [almost] directed it with Aniruddha.

What about Running Shaadi?

In this film, no interference at all.

Going ahead, what kind of films would you like to produce?

I would like to produce films that change our perspective when we come out of the theatre, even if they are lighthearted.

Who are your filmmaking gods?

Ray. My bible is The Apu Trilogy and Charulata. Oliver Stone and (Steven) Spielberg are also very very important.

But Spielberg makes a lot of popcorn films.

Still, there is a lot of depth than anybody else. I thought The BFG was a brilliant film. Bridge of Spies is outstanding. Look at the depth and thought. Look at [Satyajit] Ray, he has made the best of films. I always say that the best of cinema is gone. We are at the end of the line trying to make something.

What about your own personal demons?

As long as I can play football every day, do my meditation, and be with my kids, I’m fine. If that’s not disrupted, everything else can go on.

So filmmaking is secondary compared to these things?

Absolutely. I don’t live here also. Mostly Kolkata.

Considering you look at yourself as more Punjabi than Bengali, why have you shifted to Kolkata?

I did not want my kids to be associated with Bollywood.

But you work in Bollywood yourself.

I don’t want them to grow up in an insensitive place. A child should be a child. With grandparents and ethos. Being a Bengali, I always lived outside Bengal. I never received the culture and richness of Bengal. Let them grow up in a better place.

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Printable version | Apr 7, 2020 4:11:56 AM |

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