Socially relevant small budget cinema is proving to be the flavour of the season. New names and faces are making their way to the marquee. After Udaan and Peepli Live generated more than the expected buzz, Sushil Rajpal's Antardwand, released this past week. The film is based on groom kidnapping, colloquially called pakaruah shaadi in Bihar. Inspired by a real life incident, where his close friend had to go through the bizarre practice, Rajpal says groom kidnapping has got a degree of social sanction because in 80 per cent cases the boy and the girl compromise and resign to their fate. “That's why people are ready to take the risk. In many cases marriage ceremony is organised in the open and people come.”
Rajpal says mostly IAS officers and government engineers are targeted because private sector has yet to reach Bihar in a big way. “What happens is the girl's father targets a boy of a well-to-do family. If the groom's family declines or demands unusually high dowry, the girl's father gets the boy kidnapped, forces him to marry his daughter and ensures that the boy and the girl spend a night together. After that the boy is virtually trapped for life. He can't get divorce until the girl gives her consent. And if he pursues the case, complex legal battles on maintenance and rights over property crop up. If the boy has inherited property, his wife automatically gets a right over it. More often than not the guy compromises and every thing become normal on the surface.”
Rajpal says in such cases it is the girl who suffers the most, as she hardly has any outlet to air her emotions. “Whether deserted or divorced, her life becomes a living hell. Her father believes that he has done a great job for his daughter but in most cases he only ensures slow death.” Rajpal says dowry is one of the biggest causes but egos also play a part as in most cases the girl's family is also financially strong and politically connected. “I have seen an IPS officer refusing to marry his son to a bureaucrat's daughter because of dowry. So, it is prevalent at the highest level.”
Rajpal says the film doesn't take sides as his intention is to bring out the reality. “I have treated it as an entertainer otherwise common man won't be able to digest the seriousness of the issue. The issue is also such that it sounds bizarre and has a tinge of black humour.” An alumnus of Hansraj College, Rajpal himself hails from Bihar. Interested in photography from college days, he graduated from FTII with specialisation in cinematography.
A known name in advertising, he was noticed when he shot Pradeep Sarkar's Laaga Chunari Mein Daag . We generally expect visually-rich subjects from cinematographer-turned-directors? “That's true but I wanted to make a content-driven film. I shot in real life situation and cast actors who could speak with the local accent.” The film stars Raj Singh Choudhary (of Gulal fame) and FTII graduate Swati Sen in lead roles with Vinay Pathak and Akhilendra Mishra lending support.
The film was ready two years ago, but came into limelight when it won the National Award for the best film on social issues. “A doctor friend of mine in the U.S. saw it and said that it should get a theatre release. He donated some money and the process started. The National Award tag helped PVR come on board but the real help came from Anurag Kashyap, Imtiaz Ali and Raj Kumar Hirani who vouched for the film.” Isn't it a healthy trend where established filmmakers are coming to the support of an emerging filmmaker? “It is, particularly when they all make different kinds of cinema. I must say I was lucky. Even if somebody has the best of intentions, you must remember these are very busy people and it is difficult to take out time to watch and then promote the film.”
Even as we talk to Rajpal, he is busy collating funds so that his Rs.1.5 crore film gets the desired publicity. “It is one of the rare films where the publicity budget has exceeded the shooting budget!”