A ‘Daas’ To Politics

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.

Anup: Considering you have always done stories that are so different, why did you pick ‘Devdas’ considering its been done so many time?
Sudhir Mishra:
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.

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‘Piku’ pulls off a successful tight rope walk, after fumbling a few times.

So let’s talk about ‘Piku’, It’s a film directed by Shoojit Sircar & written by Juhi Chaturvedi , the duo come together once again after the train wreck that was ‘Madras Cafe’ and one of the more surprisingly earnest movie that was ‘Vicky Donor’. This movie try’s to follow the latter’s footsteps.

From the get go you get a pretty distinct feeling that it’s not at all about ‘Piku’, but about her father know in the movie as ‘Bhaskor Banerjee’. Opening is disruptive same as the character of ‘Bhaskor’ as he intentionally or unintentionally comes out as a self-deluding liberal who makes claims of being a liberal and having a open disposition while being a regressive and overbearing parent. ‘Bhaskor’ is clearly a classist and contains hints of castist undertone in him as well, but all this is essentially ignored or filmmaker just play it for laughs as in ‘haha look at the old fart being a dick’ perhaps to keep the plot moving I guess. As if it’s in a hurry. Well…to be honest it is. As ‘Bhaskor’ is an old man and his story must be told before he dies…what? The movie is called ‘Piku’ ? Well shit ok we’ll focus on her for a bit, I guess…

So, coming to ‘Piku’ the character. As it starts to develop, it is quite evident that “Piku” is a part of patriarchal structure in which ‘Bhaskor’ is the head of the family that makes everyone bow down to his will. This is made evident on multiple points in the story itself to the extent that it is just out right said in one of the dialogue of ‘Bhaskor’. Back to ‘Piku’, she keeps having to side step her fathers will and often just keep getting enraged by the old man’s constant blithering & things like calling her mother “low IQ” throughout the movie for not living up to her(Piku’s Mother) potential. Meanwhile ‘Piku’ has to follow the same path as her mother to a lesser extent perhaps but still she (‘Piku’) has to do it out of some sort of paternal love towards her father.

So, in a sense ‘Bhaskor’, out of habit is enslaving those who love him, who’re considered to be a part of the “low IQ” club, don’t know if its deliberate or not, but my disposition towards ‘Bhaskor’ leads me to lean towards the former i.e making the ‘Bhaskor’ a slaver is a deliberate choice that the filmmakers make.

Again getting back to ‘Piku’ everything from her sex life, who she chooses to socialize with, seem to essentially be dictated by her father, be it direct or indirect. She takes her time to make this i.e. her being overly attached to her father, explicit to ‘Rana’ who is the main love interest by the end by saying something along the lines of if you wish to marry me you will have to adopt this 70 year old manchild with me.

Ok, so I think that’s enough of ‘Piku’ for the moment lets shed some light on ‘Rana’, who was a civil engineer in another life and ends up handling his father’s business with an overbearing family of his own that wish to belittle him along with that he gets belittled by ‘Piku’ for the good chunk of the early half of the film. The filmmakers go for a ‘will they won’t they’ vibe from the get go, but in a subtle manner as its only when the road trip starts is when the sparks start to fly and this love story starts to stand up on its own two feet. ‘Rana’s’ love for ‘Piku’ seems to be more of an infatuation at the start, but slowly it turns towards a mutual relation of love and respect by the end. This love story was very well done, subtle and not overbearing at all, doesn’t fall for the usual tropes that Bollywood movies tend to fall for, nothing overly dramatic happens, even at the ending there is nothing solid said or done, the story can either carry on in your head or end, its left open to interpretation, which is often not done with taste if ever done. There are moments when you see ‘Rana’s’ character be classist as well though, but it’s often moved along in a hurry or it isn’t really focused on, a very minor part of the whole story but still it irked me, but I guess it is but a sad truth of our lives that we as humans are often forgetful and will overlook moments one person is being intolerant towards the other.

Explaining The Poop Tech

Beside this I would say one of the major strengths of the movie was the humor, the moments between ‘Rana’ and ‘Bhaskor’ were particularly well done, be it either one of them cracking wise or the moments where ‘Rana’ is giving advice to ‘Bhaskor’ on how to get the perfect motion. The musical cues are quite well done too if you are talking comparatively to most Bollywood movies, there is always scope for improvement, but they had the subtlety down at least and there wasn’t anything that felt offensive throughout the movie sound design wise. Lots of ‘laugh out loud’ moments that keep the movie never get too dark but helps it in the pacing of the overall plot.

One scene in particular the knife scene just doesn’t add up though. ‘Bhaskor’ doesn’t really seem like a pacifist to me, I don’t know why he is surprised by finding a knife in a taxi on a highway, and subsequently just overreacts and asks ‘Rana’ to get rid of it, and it seems silly. But I guess ‘Bhaskor’ was but an unreasonable character throughout the movie, hiding salt, indulging in homeopathic remedies, calling people “low IQ” just because they’re affectionate towards him. I guess it makes sense on that level also. So, later on in the scene ‘Rana’ finally caves in after ‘Piku’ asks him to, from here on out it seems like their love story really kicks into high gear. ‘Piku’ in Kolkata keeps making googly eyes whenever interacting with ‘Rana’ and he keeps cracking wise to keep getting a laugh out of her, its adorable.

Piku Breakdown

Coming to the linguistic problem that I have with this movie and many other Bollywood movies. I don’t know why more films can’t be like Court and just go in the bi-lingual direction rather than enslaving themselves to Hindi just to chase some sort of despotic gold standard. ‘Hindi’ should be but a lingua franca in supposedly proud Bengali family, which is deeply entrenched in its Bengali-ness, for a movie trying to have some sort of authenticity attached to it, I think it fails miserably at the point when it muscles out Bengali even when the characters are in Kolkata. They continue on converse in Hindi, but I guess with suspension of disbelief we can overlook it, but then why the accents? Have some consistency in your world logic is all I’m saying. If this movie where to be bi-lingual I would’ve liked it even more than I do, is all I’m saying.

At Ganga Ghat

The ending can be construed as good and/or bad depending on how you look at it I guess, for me it was more or less good in the sense as the ending is as abrupt as the start. Just as the arc of ‘Bhaskor’s’ character. As he dies and so does the life of the story, both metaphorically and literally. As I said in the beginning the story isn’t about ‘Piku’. It’s about ‘Bhaskor’ and his relation with the world, which include ‘Piku’ and the rest, they exist for him and their(people other than ‘Bhaskor’) real story begins after ‘Bhaskor’ passes, which is left to the imagination. The wake at the end just seems slapped together but perhaps it shows us a glimpse into ‘Piku’s’ mind as she has been all her life subconsciously just going for guys that are somewhat like her father, but that’s just my interpretation, and isn’t explicit in the story itself, but certain scenes are suggestive of the same.

Apt Kyam Churan Product Placement

Overall I would say it’s a great movie with great writing and great acting, its pitfalls are far and few between. One can look at the movie as a whole and say that this is one of the better movies that came out of Bollywood this year. It certainly is straddling a line, walking a tightrope falling, brushing itself off and then getting back on there to achieve its task. It does it with dirt on its face but even so it works out in the end. I would rate it 3.5/5, but remember this is but an opinion, I would highly recommend it for a somber afternoon.

PS : I had a conversation with someone I know about this movie. Have a listen if you want to find out how I came to some of the conclusions in the review.

PSS : Hey! If you have something interesting for me or something interesting to say hit me up on twitter (@Crit93)