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'The rape case has set the youth thinking & that’s the best thing'
One of the most outspoken and politically aware filmmakers of our times, Sudhir Mishra started off in the '80s as a young man searching for new ways of telling stories. His films have been hailed variously as 'irreverent', 'sublime', 'gritty' and 'devious'. Though not that young anymore (he is 53), he continues to push the envelope. TOI-Crest spoke to him about his new film, 'Inkaar', which deals with the subject of sexual harassment at the workplace.
'Inkaar' comes at a time when the brutal gang rape of a girl has shaken the nation. What would you say about its timing?
Harassment, rape and other horrific crimes were always going on in the country. Just that you (the media) were not talking about it. Suddenly, all of us are talking about it. To demean women has been a national pastime. What have we done about it in the past? Nevertheless, my film is an urban tale of power and ambition in a corporate workspace. The trigger for the film is a harassment case, it's about a woman who says 'no' to a man.
What made you decide on this subject?
Writer Manoj Tyagi came up with this idea and then we worked together on it. I said I don't want to make a simple film about right and wrong because that would be over in five minutes. Even without thinking, you would say that the man is totally wrong, that he is a sleazeball and that the woman is totally right and pious. This idea of black and white doesn't appeal to me. If the man could be wrong, the woman could be wrong as well - or both.
Your protagonist, Arjun Rampal, has this dialogue where he questions the line between harassment and flirting. Is he the perpetrator or victim?
It's swinging between two perspectives. I try to always keep the balance. As a filmmaker, my job is to provoke questions and tell you an interesting story. And not be judgmental. Sometimes, it is to explore things that are not yet fully explored and sometimes, to say difficult things. I am not biased towards anyone though I will say that the idea of life without women is not very appealing to me. I believe that in urban spaces, men and women have to live and work together. Men have to accept the fact that women will be superior to them and that sometimes they will have to work under them. I hope that male chauvinists accept this.
In the gang rape aftermath, you tweeted the stirring Sahir Ludhianvi line: 'Jinhe Naaz Hai Hind Par Woh Kahaan Hain'. Who is to be blamed for this situation ?
All of us. It is not the fault of the political class alone. There is a flaw in us. Let me also say that it is very heartening to see youth coming out in such great numbers, the way they asked questions and demanded accountability. My generation think of the young as cynical and only interested in ambitions and money. They proved us wrong. For me, this youth revolution was more significant than the Hazare-Kejriwal anti-graft movement.
Because security and safety of women is a far more basic issue than corruption. To me, this was a truly meaningful idea of rebellion. Those guys (Hazare and Kejriwal) are all about TV shows. Look, if this problem is not tackled, it is a shame. This had led the youth to think, and that is the best thing to come out of this revolution. I hope this case links all the so-called minorities and weaker sections in some way. Women, Dalits, tribals - take anyone. If they join forces, they will be unbeatable. The political class understands this dynamics and it plays politics to keep them divided. But please don't link my film with this debate. It's a separate issue altogether. It looks like I am trying to cash in on the issue to promote my film.
Which are the women who have shaped you?
My mother, Renu Saluja (the late film editor and his wife). And a lot of women who I have met along the way. These were no pushovers.
Do your films reflect these women?
As a filmmaker, I find strong women very interesting. You cannot get away by saying any shit to them. They won't be yours alone. They will always belong more to themselves.
'Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro' was re-released recently. How do you look back at the film?
Very fondly. I don't know what I did in Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro (he is credited under story/screenplay). It was my school. It was a great coming together of talent - Naseeruddin Shah, Pankaj Kapur, Om Puri, Binod Pradhan behind camera, Renu Saluja as editor, Kundan Shah as director. I am sure many people must have gone to see it when it re-released. It's a film that people keep seeing and re-seeing. Many films are called cult but Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro is a genuine cult film.
How do you reflect on the years gone by?
When I became a director, I wanted to tell stories of my time, to reflect on things that affected me. I have no idea whether I have had any impact. I see it as a relay race - you make films, pass on the baton, and some other kid gets inspired and he/she makes films. Your ideas are carried forward by younger generation. We are part of a continuum, or a tradition.
You frequently quote Faiz, Ghalib and Sahir. How much has Urdu poetry shaped your work?
I am from Lucknow. So, there is an Awadhi influence in my work. I can handle the sadness and the events of my life much better because of Ghalib. The same goes for my work. In Khoya Khoya Chand, I tried to bring the lyrical quality of Urdu poetry. Yeh Woh Manzil Toh Nahin, if you see, is directly inspired by the anger of Faiz. Faiz wrote: "Yeh dagh dagh ujala, yeh shab-gazida sahar. Woh intezar tha jiska, yeh woh sahar toh nahin". This could be applied to the Indian situation today. This was not the nation the founding fathers aspired for.
Would it be fair to say that poetry and politics collide in your work?
Politics to me is about how we are controlled. Every film is political in that sense. By political I don't mean the simplistic ideology of left or right or centre. Politics is today looked upon as a curse. I approach it the other way;it's a search for beauty. Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi in the end was a search for the last vestiges of beauty. Similarly, politics is a search for softness, compassion and something that should make this not-so-perfect world better. That's politics. Not some bloody revolution.
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