Sudhir Mishra speaks to Subhash K Jha on the response to Inkaar.
The reviews of Inkaar are mixed?
There are many things about me that offend people. If you see the National awards, my Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi wasn't even taken into the second round. Mr. Basu Chatterjee was the chairman of the jury that year. Maybe he wasn't even shown the film by the rest of the jury. How did it matter that it wasn't even in the contention for the National award? Does anyone remember the film that got the National award that year? Martin Scorcese, a filmmaker I identify with, didn't get the Oscar for a very long time.
Why is national recognition denied to you?
Maybe because my protagonists are morally frail, I am not considered eligible for awards. People in this country often confuse a weak character for a weak performance. In Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi, a lot of people preferred Shiney Ahuja's performance to Kay Kay Menon's performance for this reason. Audiences don't like to see reflection of themselves when they go to cinema.
Does that bother you?
I never cared for recognition. Look back at some of the reviews that I had got for Iss Raat Ki Subah Nahin. I don't object to critics' opinion. They have their own reason for what they see, and say. But yes, I admit at this point of time it upsets me to read some of the things being said about Inkaar. I don't think all the critics are looking at the film per se. I hope it does well enough for me to continue making the films I believe in.
How do you compare Inkaar with your best works?
I am not too sure where I place Inkaar among my works. I'd say it compares with Chameli. Inkaar and Chameli are both urban fables. Some people think Inkaar is my best film.
You've treated the theme of sexual harassment without taking sides either with the man or woman. Don't you think fence-sitting is a sign of weakness?
No not at all. I haven't pulled any punches regarding who's right or wrong. But I feel at the end of the day, the man is more wrong than the woman. Whatever she did didn't give him the right to behave the way he did. In the end, she leaves him in torment about whether she slept with another man, and walks away. If she had forgiven him it would've been a total cop-out. Men and women at war have to finally come to an understanding, like India and Pakistan.
You seem to have understood the workings of a corporate office very minutely?
My first job was in a corporate office. After that I've been on the board of directors of companies. And I've so many friends in the corporate sector. But for Inkaar I did research for the corporate sector from scratch. My assistants went to advertising agencies and did interviews. I personally kept away because I didn't want to daunt them. My assistants shot videos. And we had two advertising heads as consultants on the project. I also had an ad filmmaker Shekhar Ghosh (who has now made his feature films) on board as a consultant for Inkaar.
There have been several notable instances of sexual harassment cases in the corporate and publishing business. How much did real-life incidents influence Inkaar?
There were David Davidar, Pradeep Shrivastava...and many not so well-known incidents that were suppressed. I've talked to women who went through these suppressed incidents and talked to men who have left their jobs after such incidents. For me Inkaar is an urban fable about the man-woman relationship.
Do you think urban relationships have become subservient to ambitions?
Yes, subservient to extraneous pulls and pressures and to fantasies and delusions. People in relationships seem to value materialism over all else. And that withers away in a while. The surging stream becomes a pitiable trickle. What then? Today's average ambitious 20-something wants to go up there. When he or she gets there, only emptiness is encountered. At the end of it we're fighting imaginary wars. All you are left with are shattered dreams. I've seen many lonely men and women at the top. Ishq ke alaava koi raasta nahin hai. Love is the only solution. Not love in the way we see it in Archie comic books. It can be love for even your work.
Are you lonely?
I love making films. So I am not lonely. I've conquered loneliness. I love what I do. But I am not falling into the trap of letting ambition override my love for filmmaking. I enjoy the process of making films. I feel connected with life and people when I tell my stories. The imperfections that you see in my characters are my own imperfections.
In Inkaar there is relationship between Arjun Rampal and his father (Kanwaljeet). I've never seen you do filial bonding before.
I connect a lot more with my father these days. I realize lot of my traits, good or bad, have come from him. Comparatively Chitrangda's mother (Rehana Sultan) has much less presence in my film. In my own way, I was showing that the woman has less control over a child's destiny. It is a reflection of our patriarchal society.
So far your films have been about people and societies at the lower levels. In Inkaar you've moved into a more elite environment. Was it difficult?
Not at all. I am a mixture of political and academic parentage. I was a university professor's son, so I didn't get an affluent upbringing. And I am not ashamed of it at all. My father lived his life honestly. Everyone thinks of my political maternal side. They forget my paternal grandmother was one of India's first FRCPs. She was a great doctor. All my cousins, male and female, from my paternal side are in the corporate position Arjun Rampal is in Inkaar.
The chemistry between Chitrangda and Arjun Rampal is striking. How hard did you have to work to make them compatible?
I didn't have to try with them at all. I wrote a script and gave them the lines. They spoke the lines convincingly. I don't know why no one has praised the dialogues. They don't call attention to themselves. But they're pretty strong. The lines go a long way in making the actors compatible. If the actors work hard on the lines and the director was once Renu Saluja's assistant, as I was, the actors come out effectively. Having said this I've to admit Arjun and Chitrangda also worked on their mutual chemistry.
Chitrangda has evolved into a fine actress since you first cast her in Hazaaron Khawishein Aisi?
There was an innocence back them about her. But now there's the advantage of experience. She is a thinking actress now. She asks the right questions. I cast her because I think she's good. She should do roles that require her to be a true actor. Then her possibilities are limitless. And I know how to tap into her potential. There's a beauty and vulnerability to her personality that works for my cinema. She also listens well. If I change the entire scene just before the shot she can immediately re-adjust to the scene. She isn't fazed by changes that I make.
Some say she is dressed too glamorously in Inkaar?
Her character is that of a New York-returned woman. And an individual can dress the way she wants to. In the earlier portions when she portrays the wilder younger girl she is dressed casually. I think Chitrangda's glamour is inherent. She can't help her good looks.