The Hindu Explains: From Anubhav Sinha to saving the Taj

Who is Anubhav Sinha, the filmmaker who strikes a chord

Indian Bollywood director Anubhav Sinha poses for a photograph during a screening of Sri Lankan film ‘Inam’, written, directed and produced by Santosh Sivan in Mumbai on late March 26, 2014. AFP PHOTO / STR  

Two weeks ago three Hindi films — Fanney Khan, Karwaan and Mulk — started their run at the theatres together. Of them, the most diminutive and modest raced ahead, reaching out to audiences — from urban multiplexes to mofussil north India. The underdog Mulk is still holding on, small but steady, even in the face of the box office might of the big Independence Day releases like Gold and Satyameva Jayate. The surprise resonance, the chord that Mulk has struck, but more so, the manner in which it reflects on and grapples with the idea of nation, its people and nationalism, has suddenly turned the spotlight on its maker Anubhav Sinha.

What are his film roots?

A graduate in mechanical engineering from Aligarh Muslim University, Sinha started off as a techie before moving on to stints in television and music video-making. He made his debut in Bollywood in 2001 with the super-hit romance Tum Bin. In retrospect, the initial forays in film-making proved far from memorable. For long the 53-year-old producer-director got identified with middling mainstream films like Aapko Pehle Bhi Kahin Dekha Hai, Tathastu and Cash. He got pushed into the big league with the multi-starrer thriller Dus (2005) and later Shah Rukh Khan’s Ra.One (2011) though it didn’t quite set Bollywood on fire.

Why did he make Mulk?

For Sinha born in Allahabad and raised and educated in Uttar Pradesh — Allahabad, Varanasi and Aligarh — Mulk is, in a way, all about going back to the roots, to the places and times through which he saw religious divisiveness and prejudices grow. He portrays the social fabric — the inclusive Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb as well as its hidden flashpoints — with an underlying sense of loss and regret in Mulk. It’s also Sinha’s coming-of-age film, about finding his voice. It gets added significance in the light of the fact that Sinha hasn’t played safe, but has chosen to take a stand when Bollywood has by and large either co-opted or been a fence-fitter on contentious contemporary issues. Mulk is far from subtle. Sinha has called it “no-holds barred,” admitting that he deliberately overstated things so as to be heard loud and clear.

Was raising funds a problem?

The first draft of Mulk was written in just three days over a weekend; 10 more revisions were done in which friends like filmmaker Sudhir Mishra and writers Anjum Rajabali and Gaurav Solanki chipped in. Problems started after the script and the cast had been locked, raising money proved tough. “The unorganised sector thought it wasn’t mainstream enough; the organised sector liked it but thought it was political and likely to be controversial,” says Sinha. Seeing that he was very keen to make the film, Deepak Mukut joined Sinha on board as the co-producer. But even making the film was not as difficult as getting down to releasing it.

“A whole anti-Hindu, pro-Muslim narrative was built around the film. 3,000 people deliberately voted it down on IMDB,” alleges Sinha.

What are the key themes?

Mulk might seem simplistic, the resolutions naive and convenient but that curiously is also its biggest strength. The film scores by channelling the popular tools of Bollywood — melodrama, clichés, stereotyping, dialogue baazi — to present a new model of patriotic cinema. One which is not about empty rhetoric, but about questioning what we have made of our country and our independence, holding ourselves accountable. Sinha addresses the Hindu-Muslim divide, pointing out how polarised we have become.

What is he doing next?

Coming up next from Sinha is Abhi To Party Shuru Hui Hai, a political satire along the lines of Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro. Hopefully like Mulk, it will also raise some significant questions.

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Printable version | May 9, 2021 10:08:16 AM |

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