Friday Review

Hand on the pulse

Dr. Chandraprakash Dwivedi

Dr. Chandraprakash Dwivedi   | Photo Credit: 17dfrDwivedi

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As Dr. Chandraprakash Dwivedi returns to the turnstiles with a political satire, the director known for his period sagas, talks about the contemporary politics and his ideological concerns

One evening when journalist and writer Ram Kumar Singh came home Dr. Chandraprakash Dwivedi offered him wine and being a teetotaller that he is sat with a glass of juice. But as Singh’s drinking session went on and on he decided to tell Dwivedi a story that he had written and was planning to turn into a novel.

“We became the proverbial Vikram aur Betal! It was about a guy who fixes punctures and how his life changes when he gets to meet the Prime Minister of the country. Ten minutes into the story, I asked him to stop and told him to mail me the entire story and promised him that if I find it suitable I will turn it into a film,” narrates the master storyteller. Twenty three drafts later the duo emerged with “Zed Plus”, a socio-political satire that is going to end the drought in Dwivedi’s career, who is often described as a creative genius who somehow doesn’t make it to the box office.

“My canvas tends to be huge and we have not reached a stage where a well-researched script and creative experience is enough to get the finances. I was working on “The Legend of Kunal” but was again facing issues with the scale and finance. So I thought am I restricting myself by waiting for these expensive projects to materialise. Why can’t I take a contemporary subject and make it on a canvas that I can afford.” With a friend and wife as co-producers he completed the shoot in 52 days flat.

From the English title and the Hinglish dialogues to the setting of a Muslim household, Dwivedi gifted himself a number of challenges. “But there is a connect with the past,” he avers. “If ‘Chanakya’ was about the making of a nation, ‘Pinjar’ was about breaking of the nation, ‘Mohalla Assi’ is about how our centuries old values changed with advent of liberalisation, ‘Zed Plus’ looks at what has become of our polity through a satire. “It starts with how a coalition government is under pressure of its allies and all the mathematics comes to nought. Around this time the Prime Minister gets a call that if he goes to a village in Rajasthan and pays a visit to the dargah of a sufi, his government can be saved. So with no options left, the prime minister whose government is fighting communalism goes to the shrine and by chance comes across a puncturewallah, Aslam. Now Aslam says something to the PM and the meeting between the lowest common denominator and the top man of the country results in Aslam getting Z plus security. It changes his life for good and bad.” For a man who answers the nature’s call in the open, the security cover becomes an invasion into his privacy.

“Without taking names of any government schemes eventually the Z plus security becomes a metaphor for the growing lack of communication between the dispossessed and the marginalised and those in power. It is happening because our leaders don’t have their ears to the ground. People might watch it as a comedy but when they will go homes the layers will unravel in their mind.”

For a man who devotes years to research, Dwivedi accepts the Muslim household was a new turf for him. “Thankfully, Ram Kumar comes from Fatehpur where the story is based. So the mood was there in the writing itself. I also come from Rajashan and understand the cultural ethos of the region.”

Talking about the cast which has Adil Hussain and Mona Singh in the lead, Dwivedi says, “I noticed Adil in ‘Ishqiya’ and felt how he missed my radar. He told me that he approached me at the time of ‘Pinjar’ but by then I had cast Manoj. I had no recollection of that meeting. When he read the script he was surprised that I cast him in a role which requires impeccable comic timing because none of his film roles had used his talent at comedy. I could sense it in his performance in ‘English Vinglish’ but there was very little on the surface. He told me that for six years he earned his livelihood as a stand up comedian.”

Dwivedi, a doctor by education, is often seen on the right side of the ideological divide in the realm of arts. He says some cultural symbols have become associated with a political party and organisation. “But it doesn’t mean that nobody else can use them. I have faced unnecessary flak because of this mindset for a long time. Mahatma Gandhi said that if all the Upanishads and all the other scriptures happened to be reduced to ashes, and if only the first verse in the Ishopanishad were left in the memory of the Hindus, Hinduism would still live for ever. But it didn’t make him a communal person. Dara Shikoh translated it to Persian because it had value for humanity. When I made ‘Chanakya’ and showcased saffron flags in it, I was branded as rightist. I don’t know what other colour I could have used.”

Similarly, he says when “Pinjar” released some critics called it a rightist view of Partition.

“There cannot be only view of one of the biggest events that affected a big chunk of humanity. There was a scene where a RSS worker was depicted as helping out in a refugee camp. It is a historical fact that the organisation did contribute during the tragedy. Years later when ‘Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’ showed a similar scene nobody felt offended. People tend to forget that ‘Mohalla Assi’, which will soon see the light of the day, is based on the novel of Kashinath Singh, a known leftist and Ram Kumar Singh also has leftist leanings. To me the authenticity of the story and expression is paramount.”

Perhaps his Sanskrit-ised Hindi creates that impression. “May be. Many years back during a function former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee told me that once on a visit to England, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi introduced him to her counterpart Margaret Thatcher as the man who gives excellent speech in Hindi. Vajpayee said it made him think that if somebody introduced Thatcher as the lady who is a fine orator in English would it have made sense. It shows we are conscious and apologetic about our culture.” Ready to give Narendra Modi a chance, Dwivedi says he is yet to prove himself on the national stage but what has impressed him is his courage to talk about the cultural symbols without mincing words. “He calls Ganga as mother which is true for it is the lifeline to millions of Indians and is a symbol of our composite culture. Ustad Bismillah Khan connected with it with as much devotion as a panda in Varanasi.”

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Printable version | Apr 19, 2019 7:29:17 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/hand-on-the-pulse/article6506440.ece

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