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'Woman-director' is just reverse prejudice
Reema Kagti is content. Though the responses to her film, ‘Talaash’ , have been mixed, she feels it will eventually work for the film. Implausible storyline, a weak script and a sense of incompleteness have been the common accusations hurled at the film but nowhere has the film’s finesse or the performances been questioned. To a director, that could be the ultimate tribute. Kagti talks to TOI-CREST about stories, stardom and the supernatural:
Has 'Talaash' lived up to your expectations? Are you happy with the response?
Well, it's an end of a five-year struggle, so, yes, there is a great sense of achievement. We went into it with our eyes open, and it was definitely not a universal film. The reactions have been extreme. People have either loved it or hated it, but they haven't been indifferent to it. I guess for the bystanders, this juxtaposition has created conversations and dialogues that will eventually be good for the film. What I was worried about initially has actually worked in our favour.
Are you referring to the element of the supernatural? Because that has come up for a lot of criticism among a section of audiences and critics.
I think people have taken the supernatural at face value. When you look at literary history, fantasy and magic realism are valid literary devices. You have to see a film in the spirit in which it was made. When I made my first film, people pointed out to Abhay Deol's superhero angle and said, "Well, you could have avoided that". The point I was trying to make is that if you have a perfect relationship, a perfect marriage, you must be some kind of superpower.
On the face of it, Talaash is a suspense thriller. But to me, what mattered more was the emotional suspense. That's the layer I wanted and worked on. The real journey is about conquering our inner demons. The supernatural is just a metaphor for the unknown. You've missed the point of the film if you've only seen it as a film about the supernatural. And some people have got that, they have seen Talaash for what it is.
What were your apprehensions and challenges while making the film?
I think the greatest concern was to live up to the legend that is Aamir Khan. I know that in most people's minds, the expectations were high because it was his first film after a three-year gap, and so it had a lot riding on it.
It appears that the texture and form of 'Talaash' have superceded the stars that were in it. How does that feel?
First of all I think a verdict like that further goes on to prove that Aamir, Rani and Kareena have all managed to transcend their stardom and become the ordinary people they were in the film. Talaash is not a typical festival circuit film nor is it a masala film. The idea with the casting was to give an unusual film a mainstream face. I think we managed that pretty well.
Are you a writer first or a director?
I have a thing for stories. I have been writing since I was a child, and I still remember I wrote a story for Tinkle when I was eight years old and Uncle Pai sent me a cheque for Rs 25 (which I unfortunately cashed). For a child growing up in a small town in Assam, that was huge. At that time, I thought, "I could make a living by writing". Plus I was a film buff, so I watched a lot of movies.
Was there a movie or a moment that made you feel, "I want to do this" ?
I had bunked school to watch Salaam Bombay and that made a huge impact on me. And then I found that the movies of the '80s and '90s were an all-time low for Bollywood. It was a film that had an unusual idiom and it stayed with me. From "Should I do this?", it then became "I should do this".
And finally, how do you deal with this 'woman director' label?
I have shouted, raved and ranted, and often lost my cool at this slotting. I find it a form of reverse prejudice. In fact, any time someone refers to me as a woman director, my respect for them goes down a little. "You probably use poor adjectives, " I say to myself. I think the term itself is a bit of a denouncement. I mean if the woman angle is your big story, then why don't you do something about why filmmaking is such a patriarchal business? Why is there just one Kahaani for every 200 films that come out of Bollywood ? Or why the city is still unsafe for women? In a recent study, India ranked really low as a country safe for women. We were close to countries that reeked of fanaticism and complete regression. That is the story.
Have you raised the bar with 'Talaash' ? Entered the box office numbers game, become more mainstream?
I have nothing against the commercial aspects of film-making. It is an expensive medium and it's great that a medium like this can be practised and can reach out to the masses. I might be alternative, but I love a Dabangg. I love Salman Khan's movies. But what we do in mainstream cinema is limited. I would love to see content across subjects;it's just healthy. There is a strong public out there and the platform is set for all kinds of writers and directors. But then again, success is not about hitting a figure. It is about doing the kind of work that you believe in, that you want to do.
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