On the sidelines of the ‘inaugural press conference’ for his movie ‘Daas Dev’ at Chandigarh, Sudhir Mishra a celebrated director known for his works like ‘Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi’ and ‘Dharavi’, talks about his take on ‘Devdas’, politics, censorship among other things.
While he tried to connect this ‘inaugural press conference’ with Chandigarh and Punjab via the music of the movie, but the film is very much based in Uttar Pradesh.
Without further ado, here’s the Interview with minor edits.
Considering you have always done stories that are so different, why did you pick ‘Devdas’ considering its been done so many time?
Either you can do something fresh with a thing or you can’t. Weather I take a story or my own life or take my own experiences, I haven’t invented them, right? I have a political inclination and I make a film of a certain kind which explore certain kinds of things. At the end of the day I try to hold you with that story, and I found this subject interesting.
At the same time, I wanted to make a film about power as an addiction. Something that links back to my own personal history in the form of my grandfather, Dwarka Prasad Mishra, who was the former Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh and was instrumental in Indira Gandhi’s rise to Prime Minister of India. He always told me that power is not yours because you come from a certain womb, and he didn’t allow any of his lineage to inherit power and therefore we became ordinary people, in the sense of dynasty or nepotism. So, thanks to him perhaps film-making is the only political thing I will ever engage in.
Each and everything around us including film from my perspective is political. It will either support the status quo, in that manner even the film ‘top gun’ is political, John Wayne was political, and similarly I’m also political, we’re all political in different ways, but not propagandists. Political films are those that pose questions and provoke your mind, that gives you a different perspective on life.
How is your take different from the traditional Devdas?
Look ‘Devdas’ was very much a time and place thing, and it wouldn’t work in our current generation, and therefore the story just got so different that I literally had to flip it and even name it as such. In the very literal sense the movie follows ‘Dev’ as he turns from slave to a lord, In the original it’s the other way around. But this is still a love story, that’s the one thing I haven’t changed as every movie of mine is a love story, as Dev and Paro are inexplicably entwined, they can’t be separated. Furthermore, the difference between this version and its predecessors is that the love story is even more intense.
The writing process for the film took a long while too, I first started and then hit a block at some point and back then the script was way more faithful to the Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s novel. But once I came back to the script I re-wrote it to its current form and got a different perspective on it. Further I saw a similarity in Devdas and Hamlet as I saw two indecisive characters.
Since you say that you’re a socio-political person and your films are often a reflection of that, what is your political inclination?
You know that the left is very defunct in our country, even they don’t understand what the left stands for. The left leader lives in a feudal nawabi times, they live in some Newtonian mechanics 18th century science, they are not engaging with the chaos, which is the present world. Further all politics will ultimately oppress, and generally people try to move towards freedom, and total freedom is not possible.
Strong female characters have been persistent in your films, do you employ female writers to give better dimensions to your characters?
Sure, I have worked with Ruchi Narain in ‘Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi’ and I’m working with a female writer as we speak in this big wig web series that I’m writing. Personally, I don’t see what the problem is (If I don’t hire female writers), because if I’m not in touch with my feminine side then I’m no writer. Further when people asked me in ‘Hazaaron’ who do you identify with the most, I said Geeta the main female lead, as I’m not a naxalite or a fixer, I’m in the middle. This whole gender binary is false concept.
What do you think about government interference in cinema in the form of censorship and taxation?
I believe all cinema should only have to pay income tax, nothing more or less. As anyone who makes money gets taxed, so should we. That alone will liberate cinema like nothing else. Around 30 to 40 percent of our budget is just tax, if you want to make a 10-corer film then you need an additional 5 corer just for tax, which is an odd practice. Just from a tax perspective cinema is treated like a sin. I’ve never agreed with censorship, and today in the day and age of smartphones and Internet, what exactly are you censoring? In this age with a smart phone even a villager on a bus stand, can see anything with mobile internet, what are you censoring?
Further Cinema is not intruding on anyone and it’s a voluntary act. In-fact theatrical exhibition should be most free place (in terms of freedom of expression) because I don’t come into your house, you voluntarily view it.
If there is a certification of an adult film, a child shouldn’t watch it. If that is implemented or not, is a law and order problem. Again, it’s a voluntary act, (aapko bolta hun ki kya dekho ya na dekho?) it’s up to the viewer to watch it or not, I have no say in the matter.
Even in ‘Padmavat’ people weren’t clear on what they were upset with, first they said they were upset with the film but then they said it’s a very good film go and watch it, the same censors too, I say brilliant (sarcastically speaking).
Personally, with this film I haven’t faced much resistance, they’ve muted a few curse words, but that’s it, I’ve gotten a UA certificate. But even with that they shouldn’t make those cuts, considering UA stands for adult supervision, which is meant for 14 or up kids, now don’t you think a 14 or 15 year old, wouldn’t know a few curse words? It’s not as if the film has a lots of curse words to begin with, it only has 4 to 5.
Do you think there is an aspect of self-censorship attached with movies these days?
A bit of that is there considering you are going for a U or UA certificate which naturally can attract a larger audience with satellite sales are dependent upon those, and as such require you to self-censor at times. But there are people like ‘Q’ Qaushiq Mukherjee or Anurag Kashyap who aren’t afraid to go against this.