Everyone has been affected somewhere by the era of Corona, lockdown and migration, but when and why did you get the idea of making a film on this subject? Do you have any associated pain?
There were too many scattered stories, which were troubling. I don’t remember a single moment when the idea of a story came from such and such an incident, but what was happening around us filled me with a feeling of uneasiness. The same restlessness gave birth to a new story. There were many incidents in which some people died after coming under the train, one such incident was when a hungry man was eating the meat of an animal crushed by the train. A child was going sleeping on a suitcase. There were innumerable incidents which left me shaken. As far as personal life is concerned, we were locked in our rooms. Used to talk to friends on the phone. What other people used to do, like arranging cylinders or medicines, they used to try to do.
You have kept the tone of the film black and white, so was there any hesitation in the mind while deciding whether it would be appropriate in today’s glittering era or not?
It was the voice of the heart. I have heard that there is a brain between the eyes too, from there it came. Then after that there was a dilemma that don’t know how the public will take it? How will the market see it? What would money think of that? Money is a naughty child isn’t it? He keeps watching, what are you doing? What are your shortcomings? Suddenly he can say, I am leaving, I don’t want to play. He is also afraid of that. There was a lot of fuss, but then the decision won. I have made the film, all the people who have seen it have liked it. Now only a few days are left to come to the theatre.
The cast of the film has capable actors like Rajkumar Rao, Bhumi Pednekar, Pankaj Kapoor, Dia Mirza, Ashutosh Rana, how did you do the casting?
One day I asked my son, ‘What is your father’s biggest earning?’ I wanted to judge him whether he would speak money or films? Or a film will speak. His answer was, ‘relationship’ really my relationships are like this, be it a small role or a big one? If I tell anyone to do this part, he immediately agrees to do it. All these are my friends. That day Ashu (Ashutosh Rana) reminded me that he did the first job of his career with me in 1993. Diya’s (Mirza) career started with me. Pankaj Kapur has also done ten with me in 2005. All these are my friends who, when they pass under the house, say, ‘If you are feeding potato parathas, then I should come upstairs’. It is my good fortune that all these able artists are my friends and I can demand anything from them. In Ashu Pathan, Shahrukh Khan becomes the boss and I ask him to do a small role of a policeman in my film. These people have become my habit. Many times there is no place for him in the film, then he starts missing. Kumud (Mishra) was not there in many, but I called her for a scene.
After music videos and serials, you started your career with Tum Bin and later made films like Dus, Cash, Ra.One, but moved towards social concern and thought provoking films (Mulk, Thappad, Article 15, many more) When was your conversion?
There is that song by Gulzar sahib, ‘Kahan se chale kahan ke liye, yeh khar nahi thi magar, koi bhi sira jahan ja mila’ I met myself like this all of a sudden and I felt, hey, this is me. Well, to be honest, I am not ashamed of Dus, Cash and Ra.One. They are all part of my journey, part of my being. I don’t think there was any special turning point in my conversion.
You are very sensitive and outspoken about films with issues and themes of social concern.
– I think it’s my parents’ upbringing. I remember in my childhood, Madhushala used to play on the record player of the house in the voice of Mannade Sahab. Begum Akhtar used to sing Ahmed Faraj, Mehndi used to sing Hasan Faiz. Well-known people like Kashi Nath Singh, Hazari Prasad Dwivedi and Mahadevi Verma lived in our neighbourhood. Veterans like Kishan Maharaj and Gudai Maharaj and Leela Mishra ji used to live behind our house, so we were lucky to grow up in such an environment. That day I was saying to Sudhir Mishra, friend, there is no book left that you haven’t read, so he said, ‘Friend, I didn’t have a choice, when I was growing up, there were only books around me. Nothing else. The place where you come from is the beginning of your creation, so the atmosphere remained like this since childhood. Then going to Aligarh from Banaras to study. Hasrat Mohani Hostel in front of my hostel there. Then from there I came to Mumbai and in Mumbai I composed Punjabi songs. Amrita Pritam met, Munir Niyazi met in this connection. Whatever people I meet, I believe that behind it will be my upbringing, my Banaras and from here my sensibilities must have been oriented towards social concern.
On one hand the trailer of your film is being liked a lot and on the other hand some people are calling this film anti-government?
Those people who are calling this film of mine as anti-government, tell them that it is not an anti-government film and the person who has made this film is saying this. Now let me tell you that in a week I have gone to two-three events and people have hugged me for a long time. I can understand their feeling. Normally when you shake hands or hug, it has a waqfa, but here I am being hugged for a long time. His appreciation gives me courage.
Why are there protests whenever films with such a realistic approach come?
Actually truth has a quality, it is not visible from all angles. You have to stand at a particular place. Then you decide whether you want to stand there or not? It would have been true. I take those people to that angle through my films and stories and say, dekho ek sach yeh bhi hai, jitna dikh jaye aapko.
In the first trailer of the film, I had the voice of PM, but now in the second trailer that voice has been changed? Did this happen on the suggestion of the censor board?
There are many aspects to our work, and this is only part of it. I do not want it to become known to anyone else, it is not such a thing. Otherwise, you know that till today I did not care about my voice and technique even on Twitter, so why would I do today? But that is far below the point of the film.
Most of the Bollywood movies are not doing well at the box office, do you have any nervousness about your film?
It is not that our films are not doing well at the box office, Pathan earned record break, toh tu jhoothi mein Makkar hundred crore karne rahi hai. Rani’s film Mrs. Chatterjee vs Norway is doing good business. Only so many films used to run always, the change that has happened is that earlier there used to be a minimum of one type of films. For example, if we make a film like this, it will do at least 20 crores. Now that minimum has changed. When the audience doesn’t want to see the film, they don’t. The films which had a minimum guarantee of earning, have ended. That math changed.
What would you like to say on the Boycott trend?
It is not that the industry was not affected by the boycott. There was a taweel and musalasal trend regarding the Boycott trend, whatever it was, it caused a lot of damage to Bollywood.
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