New Delhi: “Theaters bring people together and facilitate a community experience. Isn’t that public service? It is hard to decipher why we have Entertainment Tax in India. I mean, why would you tax people for being happy, moved, touched, elevated, inspired and educated? Its high time that the world sees public performances — dance, theatre, a film in a different light,” says filmmaker Sudhir Mishra.
Recipient of three National awards, as well as Chevalier of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres from the French government, Mishra, whose latest film ‘Serious Men’, based on Manu Joseph’s novel by the same name was recently premiered on Netflix says that multiple narratives within the central character made the novel enchanting enough for a film adaptation.
“He is Dalit but does not play the victim. I loved the craziness of the whole idea. The film and novel are two different ‘things’, and the film is very grateful to the novel. Though Joseph keeps saying that the novel thanks to the film.”
Even as multiple films, including those by major production houses, are witnessing premieres on OTT platforms, the filmmaker who debuted with ‘Yeh Woh Manzil To Nahin’ in 1987 feels that the trend will continue even after theatres open with full-capacity. “The digital medium will replace one kind of film — the ones that can be seen more intimately on a laptop — a drama and more performance-based ones. They may replace the television but not the theatrical experience. These platforms are a wonderfully democratic space. It’s for you to watch as you want and there is definitely a much longer shelf life. A movie can be discovered many years later too, and at your own time. It’s like a book on a shelf,” he says.
Condemning the move by the I&B ministry’s move to regulate digital platforms, Mishra, known for films like ‘Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi, ‘Dharavi’, ‘Is Raat Ki Subah Nahin and ‘Chameli’ says that his views on censorship remain unchanged. “You can certify, not delete. Give audiences the ability to choose, respect their views, but tell them what to expect. Make child-locks on gadgets stronger. Also, parents need to get into the act a little more. But in this day and age, the genie is out of the bottle. By censoring, you will create more mystery for bad content. The idea of language has changed, some people might be going over the top on digital platforms, but it’s just the first flash of freedom and will fade. People will eventually respect craft, storytelling, performances rather than titillation.
What is really required are strong laws against child pornography. People are ready for mature content for adult audiences. The idea of banning anything is a bad idea.”
Talk to him about his best-known movie ‘Hazarron Khwaishein Aisi’, set in the ’70s released in the 2000s, which has a cult following even now, and he laughs that he is known as the person who made that film. “I bet my other films must be really angry. ‘Hazarron… may be set in the 70’s but it’s about rebellion, being young, the vestiges of beauty that are left in the end when youth fades and about friendship. Perhaps that is the reason that people spot themselves easily in it. No critic has talked about the title — Ghalib is in my head and it is that viewpoint. It’s got many universal things — life escaping ideology, life’s habit of slipping away… It’s also about the idea of the world which the children have inherited from their parents and are in disagreement with them. I remember, during the first screening of the film, Shekhar Kapur, with tears in his eyes said, ‘Thank you for making a film about my time’.”
Mishra, who was recently in conversation with French-Rwandan author and rapper, Gael Faye on the occasion of the premiere of the French film ‘Small Country’, directed by Eric Barbier (based on Faye’s novel) organised by Alliance Franaise network in India, says, “‘Small Country’ is a rare film where the filmmaker has the vision of a lived experience. Many times, European films do not understand the character of ‘native’. It is a moving, lyrical and savage narrative of people living in paradise which is suddenly turning into a nightmare.”
Talk to him about the strong women characters his films boast of, and Mishra attributes the same to growing up with his grandmother and great-grandmother. “Both of them were very strong characters.– also affectionate and vulnerable. Then the ladies that I met in my life… When someone asks me which character you identify with most in HKA, I always say ‘Geeta’. I am not a fixer, nor a Naxalite. I am somewhere in between, trying to make sense of the world. Women are capable of anything. Marquez once said that the trick to writing about women is to realise that they are as capable of betrayal as you are. If you can uncover and look at your own female side, many answers will emerge. It’s also the effect of how you have grown up, the books you have read, the films you have seen and the people you have met.”
The filmmaker who lost his father during the pandemic says that it has changed him as a person and filmmaker, though it would be difficult to pinpoint how. “Would Hazarron…’ be the same film if my partner Renu had not died of cancer? I don’t know I was coping with that loss when I made that film. My father was also a friend who really inspired me in terms of cinema, gave me a methodology to look at life. The frailty of human existence has stuck me. I will make films that I really want to quickly now. There is a sense of urgency. The young, who will escape the pandemic will understand life in a deeper way. The world will be different because this happened. I hope it will be better.”
Currently working on multiple projects including a feature film for Anubhav Sinha, besides projects for OTT platforms with a company called ‘Applause’, Mishra says, “There is a film I want to make about the experience I went through when Renu had cancer. Now it’s been some time, so I can reflect.. It won’t be about me or her, but that ‘experience’. I can’t pretend to make a film about her. I don’t think I have the right to talk about her in a film.”
By Sukant Deepak