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When Art Imitates Life

When Art Imitates Life
The ecstatic team of Talvar – producers Priti <g data-gr-id="121">Shahaniand</g> Vishal Bhardwaj, and director Meghna Gulzar – in conversation with Rohini Nag and Soumita Sengupta.

Rohini Nag (RN): How happy are you with the kind of response the film is receiving?

Priti Shahani (PS): Extremely happy. It’s an overwhelming response and I am extremely grateful. As a producer, I knew that this film would find its audience and find a huge connect to the film. What I did not expect was that the audience would be so unanimous. We have been fortunate to have great media support. This film has been very well reviewed, and was the finest reviewed film this year, so far. That’s amazing for us.

Vishal Bhardwaj (VB): This kind of unanimous reaction is extraordinary for me. In Haider, the response was divided, and there was a different kind of controversy. But with <g data-gr-id="137">Talvar</g>, I believe, it affected everyone emotionally. Everyone was emotionally involved and disturbed after watching the film.

Soumita Sengupta (SS): While marketing a film like this, what was your strategy? 

PS: The entire team was clear that we would not present this film in a sensationalist manner. This is a high-profile case and there was <g data-gr-id="175">very</g> strong public opinion on the case. Ours was not to counter it but to create awareness for the film and create an environment for people to come and watch the film with an open mind. 

Anyway, it is impossible to create sensationalism when you work with the kind of team we work with. As for strategy… the marketing of this film has been as honest as its making. We have put it out there exactly as it has been made. We were very clear about the communication, on where we stood on the subject. 

RN: Meghna, as a director, how satisfied are you, from the vision you had before starting the film to its release, to the audience who accepted your vision?

Meghna Gulzar (MG): I am immensely satisfied and very relieved. It is a genre that I have never done before; I haven’t made films for a very long time. He (Vishal Bhardwaj) first, before Priti, had blind faith in <g data-gr-id="155">me,</g> and then got somebody else to do it as well.

PS: Yes, by proxy. (Laughs)

MG: Yes, one had to live up to that and hopefully deliver. So apart from the film doing well, there was a lot of <g data-gr-id="150">faith</g> that had to be redeemed and because that has happened, I am extremely happy with the final outcome of <g data-gr-id="138">Talvar</g>.

SS: There must be an ugly side to the story. How did you know what to show in the film and what to let go?

MG: That depends on your sensibilities, what aspect of a particular story you want to dwell on or prey on, even. This story itself has a lot of ugly sides and we have shown pretty much all of it in the <g data-gr-id="169">film</g> but it’s the way we do it. I will give you an example… the scene where we show the father killing the daughter.  There is a suggestion that the daughter and the domestic helper are in bed together and I have shown that. But what you see is very different from what I was seeing standing next to the camera. So how you want to project or present something depends entirely on one’s sensibilities.

RN: There is a scene where the mother says, ‘Chalo, <g data-gr-id="143">chalo</g>, <g data-gr-id="144">abhi</g> <g data-gr-id="145">rone</g> <g data-gr-id="148">ki</g> acting <g data-gr-id="146">karni</g> <g data-gr-id="147">hain</g>.’ While shooting something like that, does it affect you emotionally?

MG: Of course it does. For this film especially, one has to keep emotions outside the set and remain as objective as possible while making it. I don’t think I was able to do that earlier. Now I have begun to process the larger picture about the case, about the story. I think I am doing it now. One didn’t have the luxury of doing it then. There it was, <g data-gr-id="156">achcha</g> yeh scene hai, yeh characters hai, yeh breakdown hai, yeh problem hai, this is how we will solve it.

SS: There are two sides to the story… one where the father is the killer and the other, the domestic helper. While drawing up the character sketches, was it difficult to show the same character with two 
different shades?

MG: Not really. People asked us why didn’t we all get into the characters? Why didn’t we develop it differently for the guilty part, and for the innocent part? What you don’t understand is we were focusing on the investigation, not their biography, not their life before or after the incident. So whatever the investigation told us… the first investigation told us that the parents were not emotional enough, they were not crying enough, and that is how we showed them. The second investigation said that the <g data-gr-id="181">neighbours</g> could hear him, the people in the houses opposite could hear the father screaming because he was crying so loudly. This is what we heard, that’s what we showed.

RN: Was it difficult to show the same story in two slightly different ways?

MG: Yes, it was not easy. You have to constantly try to show the same sequence in different ways. So we devised a simple way to do that, the inside-outside kind of thing. In the first police investigation, they were not inside the house when the maid rang the doorbell. So you see everyone standing outside the main door. Then, when you hear it from the parents’ perspective, we come inside the house and show it from there, that this is what happened inside. That she went, she made the phone call, and she saw the bottle. That’s how we kept it.

SS: Vishal sir, was it difficult for you hold yourself with <g data-gr-id="141">imagination,</g> since the story was written by <g data-gr-id="142">you</g> but someone else gave your story a vision?

MG: That was difficult for me, not him. (Laughs)

VB: I have written for others before, like for Abhishek Chaubey. And I know where to stop. After a point, the writer always becomes a pain. I know this through personal experience, with my creative writer. After I start shooting, they come on the sets and question a few things like, ‘We have decided not to wear this <g data-gr-id="166">colour</g>.’ I get very irritated and tell them to get off my back and let me work. A film can be made by only one person and that is the director. So it is very natural for the writers to think ‘I had not imagined it like this, so why is it being shown like that?’ So I stepped aside as I didn’t want her to go through that pain.

RN: After watching the final cut, what was it about the film that impressed you from your perspective, because you too are a director?

VB: Many things. For instance, I will tell you about a small detail. When the cop comes into the house and sees the body for the first time, and he takes out his pen from his pocket and checks the body with it. Then he is unsure if the blood is on his pen, so he wonders whether to put it back in his pocket or not and ends up wiping it with his shirt first.  That scene was not written in that minute detail. You improvise with things like that on set and that is where the director comes <g data-gr-id="161">in,</g> when things come alive in flesh and blood in that space and time. So details like that did impress me.

SS: The film also stood out because of the performances by each actor. While scripting the film, did you keep them in mind?

MG: We all saw Irrfan in that character and luckily he agreed to be part of the film.  
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