One should never underestimate the audience-Dibakar Banerjee
Dibakar Banerjee talks about his fascination with the 1969 film Z, the need to make a political movie like Shanghai and the unnerving response it has received
Raja Sen (MUMBAI MIRROR; June 11, 2012)
Vassilis Vassilikos’ Z is a book about a very specific Greek political assassination. What made you want to mine a true and fascinating story for plot and narrative, adding your own politics?
I told my writer Urmi (Juvekar) that I wanted to make a political film, like All The President’s Men, or Z. She suggested I read Z. In the book I felt there was a lot more anguish. From Z, I took the idea of the investigation, but politically Z has a very different theme: Z is about the Left and the Right. In India we have the Rich and the Poor and the gap in between.
The Costa Gavras film made for an aware audience was stark and minimal. To try and reach a more politically apathetical Indian audience did have to make it more ‘entertaining’?
We are fundamentally Indian and somewhere there is a pulse shared by you, me and a taxi driver. So I made the film the way I felt the events would unfold here.
Were you tempted to dumb the plot down, make it more accessible?
We haven’t really done that. The big impact of the film – if there is an impact –lies in the fact that you watch the film and you feel the narrative. The dots aren’t joined for you.
Isn’t that a huge commercial risk, with our blockbusters becoming increasingly daft these days ?
Absolutely. But if you constantly underestimate the audience, you will never reach a place where the film becomes larger than the audience. And I feel if these films succeed, it’ll pave the way for filmmakers who spend more screentime on interesting things than spelling everything out.
Z has a band of crusaders, while here Kalki Koechlin initially fights the system alone. Was making her a lone crusader part of a Bollywood-friendliness, giving her more of a ‘heroine’ role?
Not at all. Shanghai is a film about outsiders. Kalki’s an outsider even to the activists, because she’s hyper and they think she’s damaging their cause. She’s also an outsider because of her skin colour. Similarly (Emraan’s) Jogi who isn’t a local, and (Abhay Deol’s) Krishnan who is trying to find the right balance. The first thing he asks for when he enters his makeshift chambers is All-Out. He’s not comfortable with the sweat and grime of Indian reality.
Every character in the film is grey and textured – the hoodlum who learns English and even your hero.
I really wanted to see if I could do it. (Prosenjit Chatterjee’s) Dr Ahmadi does the right thing, even lays down his life doing the right thing, and yet there are spots on this man’s character, spots that exist because people say they are spots. I wanted to see if he could still be a hero.
Finally, what sort of Shanghai reactions have you heard so far?
It’s unnerving. A lot of people have said they walked out of the hall quiet, slightly stunned. And everyone has their own favourites. Most like Emraan, some like Abhay, some like Farooque Shaikh. A woman’s favourite scene was the one between Kalki and Tilottama Shome. And I got a text message today saying ‘Anant Jog represents the silent India.’
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