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Past Tense

Team Indu Sarkar – director Madhur Bhandarkar and actor Kirti Kulhari – in conversation about their upcoming movie Indu Sarkar

BOI: How did you come up with the concept of Indu Sarkar?
Madhur Bhandarkar (MB): I was thinking of making a period film and wondering what subject I should take up. I didn't want to make a costume drama because that takes time and money. I wanted to make a film that was set in the past, particularly in the '70s. So I thought why not make a film set against the backdrop of the Emergency as there is an issue attached to it. Against that backdrop, people are fearful to tell us their story due to political reasons.
That's how I thought of telling a story like this. It's the story of Indu and her journey, her life, her stammering and her world view, all set in the era of 1975 or 1977, during the Emergency. It is also about her ideological conflict between herself and her husband, who is basically working for the government of the day.
BOI: Why did you think Kirti was perfect for this role?
MB: Well, I watched Pink and I was riveted by her performance. I felt she should get a bigger platform in terms of role. Indu is a girl who struggles and stammers, and fights for her rights. As a filmmaker, I would say she has done a great job and has evolved the character more than even I had conceived it. The consistency, the way she stammers and the nuances she has brought to her character are amazing.
Kirti Kulhari (KK): Also I suited the budget quite perfectly. That is one of the main reasons I was cast.
BOI: Kirti, what was your first reaction when he approached you?
Team Indu Sarkar KK: I have met Madhur a couple of times before Pink happened. But I know things click only when the time is right and I didn't expect him to cast me at the time. After I did Pink, I invited him to watch the film. I was not, like, yeh hoga woh hoga. After watching Pink, he called me the very next day and said that he had something to discuss with me.
We met about a week or 10 days later, and he spoke to me about Indu Sarkar in a very concise way. And I obviously thought this was a call for work, considering he makes women-centric films. So I assumed it was a film where he wanted me to play a central character. And that's exactly what happened. Having the Emergency as the setting and the challenges that come with playing my character made the proposition even more appealing. All of it put together…
I felt it was the perfect film for me to get into after Pink.
BOI: Madhur, do you agree that when a film has a female protagonist, we tend to tag the film as 'female-centric'? Do you think it's high time we stopped labelling films like this and rather talk about the content of the film?
MB: Absolutely, it is important to discuss this clichéd 'women-centric' thing. I think every film needs to be treated as a film. Hollywood doesn't use the term; they never say it's Angelina Jolie's film. That happens only here and it needs to change. But it is heartening that the audience has changed a lot and they want to watch 'women-centric films'. It's a good sign that filmmakers are making women-centric films with heroines as their subject and they are portraying heroines as the hero of their films.
According to me, this is amazing and a good sign. Like, Deepika (Padukone), Priyanka (Chopra) and Kangana (Ranaut) are doing great but the audience should be interested in watching a film with a female protagonist as much as they do a film with a male protagonist. And when they do, perceptions will have changed and box office figures too will be larger than they are for male-oriented cinema. We never ask, film mein heroine kaun hai but we ask hero kaun hai? We need to change this mentality.
BOI: Speaking of change, you are one of the few filmmakers who, from the beginning of your career, have been making content-rich cinema. What do you think when people say things like, 'Aab content ka zamana hai' when you been doing just that all along?
Madhur (MB): I feel as if I have been making women-centric cinema for the last 17 years. Earlier, people used to say, 'Arre, hum nahi banate women-centric film, Madhur banata hai toh ussi se puchchiye and he knows how to manage the budget yardstick of cinema' and 'Usski picture chalti hai.' But we have seen women-centric films that other people have made and they have done well at the box office.
I have always wanted to compliment my contemporaries, filmmakers who have made women-centric films. Earlier, some filmmakers used to make films like these but, now, most of them are making an effort to do that. Actors too want to work in films that are content-driven and where performances are appreciated. They know they will not land roles like the big stars do but in a woman-centric film, they will get the chance to play the main lead.
BOI: What were the challenges you faced while playing the role of Indu Sarkar?
KK: The biggest challenge was the stammering part. It's a huge part of the character and it's there throughout the film. That took a lot of effort and that also took care of the rest of my character in terms of preparation. I watched a lot of YouTube videos and met a psychologist and then I met speech therapist had a couple of sessions with her to learn all about, the speech pattern, a technique I could follow throughout the film. She was not present during the shoot and it was up to us to see it through. She came in again before I started dubbing for the film. That was the toughest part.
BOI: If you have evolved as an actor with this part, what changes do you see in yourself today?
KK: I can discuss this only with an actor because only they would understand. I can't really explain this to you. All you will be able to see is my growth on the screen. If I play a character that is more challenging than the previous one, obviously, I will have grown as an actor.
Mastering the act of stammering was a huge challenge and I wasn't sure I could pull it off, whether or not I would do justice to it. But the whole experience has given me more confidence as an actor, to take on more and more challenges from here on. But, as I said, the growth is intangible; it is only visible onscreen.
BOI: You mentioned that you wanted to make a period film. Is it difficult to marry content with fiction?
MB: Most of our movies are real in some way; there is always research involved. So there is always a mix. This film is also based on true events, and obviously the right mix has to be there. That's why we used a specific backdrop, the backdrop of the Emergency. I think this subject is not been used many times in India. We have a very simple and smooth screenplay that goes with the incidents, events and facts. I think we have a very good mix and that's why I used to always say that 30 per cent is fact and 70 per cent is Indu's story.
BOI: Your film is one of the few whose trailer instantly promises a treat. Is that intentional, getting that first look right?
MB: I don't know, I don't cut the trailer. It's the trailer guy who cuts the trailer. But I am very happy that it has an overwhelming impact. It has connected with the youth and people from all walks of life. It is important that all trailers have that intrigue value, to attract people to cinemas, because it is said that if the trailer is a success, half the battle is won.
Having an impactful trailer is even more important today because movie-goers are ruthless about their choices. More so in times when social media is as powerful as it is, when people express their opinions on social media.
I am overwhelmed with the response I have received till date. Everybody is calling and telling me picture dikha, picture dikha, not only in India but abroad also. I think it's a great sign for the film, especially with the kind of budget and movie it is.
BOI: What's next for both of you?
MB: I really don't know. Right now, I am surrounded by political issues. I have subjects like Chandni Bar or Fashion in mind. But right now, I am caught up with the censors and political parties for the release of this film.
KK: I have done a film called Raita with Irrfan, which has been directed by Abhinay Deo. I think we should expect a late release this year.
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