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Raju Hirani would be a better director for 'Mr India 2'
You've been an actor, director and you have tried your hand at a comic book as well.
I am a storyteller, I can tell a story in a tweet, in 140 letters. A story is a moral contradiction, so whether it's a blog, in which I write a lot of short stories, or it's a short film - I make a lot of short films - or it's a film or a comic book, it's all storytelling. I'm fundamentally an obsessive storyteller.
But why comic books?
I've always liked comic books. I came to cinema because of comic books. When I was a kid I used to borrow them from my friends and libraries and if you watch my films you will notice that there are very few dialogues. Look at Bandit Queen, Masoom or Elizabeth. You'd be surprised at how little dialogue there is. And that comes from a lot of my addiction to trying to tell stories visually. Embed the dialogue in the frame, embed it in the way the characters move, embed it in the way one scene cuts into the other and keep dialogue to a minimum, otherwise a film becomes a radio play or a stage play. I learnt a lot of my craft from comics.
Your next film, 'Paani', is on water scarcity, on the gap between the lives of the haves and have-nots. Why are you making such a dystopian film?
Dystopia is a reality that is darker than what exists. Paani is only set in the future because I want to bring all of that onto one stage. A film has an environment. If you look at Batman, the director has taken New York and calls it Gotham City. But he has a very disturbing view of what's going on, that's why he has called it Dark Knight. In the same way, if you bring all that you have to say into one city you have to put it in another world. But it is not dystopian in the sense that everything that is happening in Paani is happening now - it's just not happening in one city. And because I have to contain it into one environment, I have put it in a city of the future.
In an earlier interview you've said that you want to be unknown.
I said that I want to explore the unknown. I have no control over how known or unknown I am for other people but don't want be ever in a position where I feel I know, because all creativity arises from that which is not known. If you really want an answer to that question, all storytelling, all human endeavour arises from our attempt to expand our finite imagination towards understanding the infinite. From our desperate desire, our need to understand the world that we live in that looks infinite, looks forever - and yet we die. So the contradiction of death, the finite and the infinite, is what leads to human endeavour. We contradict death by achievement, we contradict death by ambition. So somewhere the unknown is constantly driving us - and we might as well accept it. In fact, creative death is when you say mujhe toh malum hai. Mujhe kuch nahin malum hai is the greatest way to start a film. The unknown is the most provocative, creative tool that I know for myself.
You recently expressed disappointment about the box office being a barometer for the success or failure of a film.
I said that it's a pity that films are being judged by their first weekends at the box office. I've had enough people come up to me and say, why are you worried about it Shekhar, all the business happens on the first two weekends. That's what people often tell me about Mr India 2. That's why I don't make it. Because everybody says, well, Mr India 2 will have such huge first weekends that it will make a hundred and fifty crores immediately. Now you want to make Mr India 2 because a film, 25 years later, is still being watched, correct? But the desire to make Mr India 2 arises from the fact that the film will make a hundred and fifty crores in the first two weekends. So that's the contradiction I'm talking about. Your marketing strategy is what you're cashing in on, not your creative strategy. That's the problem.
Will you direct Mr India 2?
No. I've done everything that I could with an invisible man. I'll help them make the film. Unless there's something completely different. But if the invisible man has already made love to a woman while he's invisible, if he has been to a casino, if he has been to the villain's den - what else can you do with an invisible man?
Which director do you think should make Mr India 2?
See, the director I think will be the best for Mr India 2 won't direct it. It's Rajkumar Hirani. In fact, I would say that Raju Hirani probably is better than Shekhar Kapur to direct the film. It's the first time I've ever said that.
Is this a more exciting time for filmmaking than when you started off?
Oh yes. But here's what I was talking about when I mentioned the box office. Masoom was released on a Friday;till the following Thursday nobody went to see the film. If it was released today and until Thursday nobody went to see the film, it would have been written off. Shekhar Kapur would have never been heard of, Masoom would have never been heard of, Mr India would have never been made, Elizabeth, Bandit Queen would never have been made. It was because I made my first film at a time when there was still a certain amount of patience in the distribution set-up, they didn't take it off theatres. Then Thursday it started to pick up and then it wouldn't stop. But from Friday to Wednesday, nobody came. Now if that happens to a film today, they'd just chuck it out. I don't even know if I could make Masoom - now I can, because I'm Shekhar Kapur and people want to go see my film - but at that time we hardly spent any money on marketing. Right now our budget for marketing is sometimes almost bigger than the budget for the film because of this first weekend-second weekend thing. Ki bhai, bhar do hall, uske baad toh kuch pata nahin. That's the problem. So while it's an exciting time to make films in India, there are pros and cons.
Is there a film you'd desperately like to make?
Paani. It's simple, Paani. If I made Paani, I could give up filmmaking. I haven't even started shooting as yet. It's not an easy film to take off. There are enough problems. Politically it's a very confronting and sensitive film. It's entertaining, but in a way which has a lot of truth in it. It's a film about oppression. It's a film calling for a revolution. So people are scared.
Is it true you don't drink bottled water?
Unless I'm so thirsty and nothing is around, I don't drink bottled water, no. It's because I think it is a way of privatising water. Because bottled water is taken away, it's taken from groundwater which is normally going into the food chain. So it's taken away from the farmers, it costs nothing, and sold at a 10, 000 per cent profit. I have no problem with people making a profit. I have a problem with the fact that our water is being taken away from where it's meant to be, where it's meant for food, in the rural areas, and being brought and sold and wasted. It's the wastage of water that worries me. Go to a restaurant and look at the bottled water, people take two sips and leave the rest. All the water that was thus transported, the cost of the plastic, the ecological cost of the plastic, the transport, everything is wasted.
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