Millennium Post

“Mainstream cinema is getting ambitious”

“Mainstream cinema is getting ambitious”
Qissa is a very unusual film. What was your reaction when the director, Anup Singh, came to you with the script?
Initially, I was quite reluctant to dive into it because it is a very intense film. Also, the space that the film is in is very personal and sometimes you prefer to avoid those areas. That was my first reaction when Anup came to me with the film. At that time, I wanted to do something which was not quite as intense but something that would make me feel more pleasant. I had assumed this would be a realistic film and I would have to go into that zone. When I discussed this with Anup, he told me to take the example of a singer like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. When he sings a particular raga, which is sad, he is not sad internally. He is singing a sad raga but is turning it into music. That really helped me. Similarly, during the film, I kept that brief in mind.

When I began shooting for Qissa, my film Paan Singh Tomar was on the brink of release. And since Qissa is also about Partition, I was actually experiencing my own kind of partition. In the day time, I was shooting for Qissa and at night, I would be doing interviews for Paan Singh Tomar. All of a sudden, there was such a huge buzz around Paan Singh Tomar that I was asked to travel to Delhi to do more press interviews but I couldn’t because Qissa’s shooting was underway. So, literally, I was undergoing a partition of my own. While in the morning, I was speaking non-stop to the press about Paan Singh.., at night, I had to leave all that behind and shoot for Qissa. It was quite a unique experience for me.

The film deals with a dark subject. Did it leave you emotionally drained?
No, not at all. Qissa actually recharged me! That was mainly due to the approach and the way the film was shot. You know, if it was a very realistic film, maybe I would have felt drained and, like I said, that’s exactly what I was avoiding. I did the film because I wanted to get something out of the film rather than pour my energy into it.

Anup has made just one film before Qissa. Did you have any apprehensions about how he would handle the film?

No. I was sure he will be able to pull it off because I have worked with him on television also. Anup had made a pilot for a TV show with me. He was brilliant then and I was quite comfortable with his style of work. What I enjoy about the film’s story telling is that the story can have various meanings. Apparently even follow one story but when you start looking back, it should have layers and follow different dimensions to it. This film has all that. You know once you come across certain complexes of yours which you don’t want to discuss with even your close ones; through this film I have explored all that. You do films which you do just for the sake of entertainment. You know the audience will enjoy it for the two hours that it plays in the cinemas and once you go back you forget about the film. But this is one of those films which stay with you. So this film is quite like marriage it’s not a one night stand. (Laughs)

There are three strong female characters in the film to whom you are a husband, a father and a father-in-law. What was it like working with each one of them – Tisca Chopra, Tilottama Shome and Rasika Duggal?
Each was unique in its own way. Rasika joined the cast later and there was another actress who was to portray Rasika’s character earlier. The thing about Anup’s stories is that the male characters are the ones who struggle but the women are complete. When I started shooting, I too wondered why there was one man and three women in prominent roles. I guess it’s the torment he is living with and the way it manifests with each of these women. All three women have done a fabulous job in the film. I especially feel Tilottama’s character is a very risky one because it is a very daring and brave act for an actress to take up this role. You don’t get to display your vanity as an actress. First, you don’t come across these kinds of roles and even if you do, most actresses will talk about these roles yet very few will dare to take them up. So every character in the film is very well etched and equally challenging.

Tilottama would come to me during her schedule and ask me how she could crack a particular scene. There are certain things in the film which were not for us to understand, they were just imagery. We live in times where we want to figure out everything but that limits us and our other senses. As a result, our other senses become dull. We don’t understand that we cannot understand each and everything!

Understanding is something that comes from our logical mind. So I would tell her to leave it to her senses. If you go by instinct, it will happen naturally. Let the meaning emerge rather than trying to understand it. You don’t get challenging roles like this in every film.

Even though the film has been appreciated at international film festivals, do you think its subject will go down well with the Indian audience?
This is a film for people who are expecting an altogether different experience. Those who are not just there for entertainment. Like Anup says, this film will leave the audience with a sense of wonder. The subject probes you and also rattles you. So to answer your question, I would like to give credit to the audience because they are maturing. Mainstream cinema is getting ambitious. That’s why a film like Haider did so well. So there is also an audience for Qissa and I am certain they will appreciate it.

Do you think the stamp of a festival winner enhances a film’s prospects, like it did for The Lunchbox?
It depends. I don’t think that alone can pull in the crowd because the media is very open today. The world has become a smaller place and the audience knows what kind of festival the film did well at. They go online, watch the trailer and then decide whether they want to watch a film or not. They read about the film and so on. So you cannot just place olive branches on a film’s poster and expect the audience to come rushing to cinemas to watch it. The audience is no longer gullible. That’s why, these days, it is very important to stress the release strategy of a film.

Will the film’s distribution plans of simultaneous release across several platforms help the film?
I don’t know but it is a very daring act. This is the first time NFDC is trying to do it. One should certainly experiment. They are trying to create a new way so that more movie-goers turn up to watch the film. We are in exciting times even in terms of marketing and distribution, so let’s see how that turns out.

The problem is that we follow a very general kind of release strategy in our country. Small-budget films are also subjected to the same ticket rates as the big-budget films are. Both films extract Rs 300-350 from the audience. There is no classification. Also, unlike in the US, where there are special cinemas that screen only alternative cinema, we have no such thing here. So we are still grappling with the existing model of distribution. Like in the West, we too should have separate screens for smaller films so that the audience knows what to expect when they decide to watch a particular film. What will really help is a model which a film like The Lunchbox followed. Where an international technical team comes over and makes a universal story, so that the universality of it will appeal to the audience. Now with so many young filmmakers coming up, they are trying such things and we know that we have stories that can resonate with a larger audience, just like The Lunchbox did.

You are known to experiment with roles. With so many new directors making films, is there even more scope for you to experiment?

Definitely. I have more choices. It’s a very exciting time. I mean, look at what is happening in Marathi cinema. Every year, there is a path-breaking film, last year there was Fandry, this year you have films like Court, Killaand so on. So you are getting more choices and that is good for the audience. That’s why I have started producing films. I saw that spark in Ishaan Nair and decided to produce his film. It’s a very good film and I know that people will enjoy it. I want to produce films that will redefine entertainment, that are entertaining but will not be the regular type. I am not looking for formula films but I am trying to discover a new formula. These days, the audience is hungry for new stories and that’s what I will be looking out for.

You are currently shooting for Jazbaa, an out-and-out commercial film. As an actor, do you strive to maintain a balance between alternative and commercial cinema?
Yes, as an actor, you want to reach out to the audience and the only thing you don’t want to do is lose that resonance of the subject. I try not to do roles where I don’t see a believable story in place. Today, there is so much scope even in commercial cinema. We have started exploring mainstream cinema the way Hollywood does. We have so many alternative stories that appeal to the commercial audience. I cannot talk about Jazbaa and Piku now and can do that only after the publicity of those films start to roll, but I am having a great time filming both. Also, Meghna Gulzar’s film Talvar will leave the audience spellbound. I can assure you that Talvar will give people a completely different experience that most other films do not deliver. Box Office India
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