By Abhimanyu Singh for Youth Ki Awaaz:
What’s common between Mira Nair, Onir, Hansal Mehta, Guneet Monga and Leena Yadav?
To start with, they have all made films which have been difficult to label. Some of them have also helmed very mainstream productions but they have still managed to retain the auteur touch.
Also, they all came together to sit and discuss their journey in films, with others, this Saturday, 5th March, at the American centre as part of the I View World film festival.
Mehta, riding high on the “exceptional critical acclaim” that ‘Aligarh‘ has received – as the moderator and director of ‘Engendered‘ Myna Mukherjee who organised the festival put it – was forthright in stating that he realised he had hit a dead end with his film ‘Woodstock Villa‘. The film which sank without a trace was a sort of “wake-up call” for Mehta. “I realised that my voice was lost in that greed. I had no voice. I was nobody. I was chasing something that did not exist. The political person that I am, the social person, and the film-maker were two different beings,” he said.
Mehta who has seen a bit of a resurrection of his film career as a socially and politically conscious auteur since he made ‘Shahid‘ and ‘City Lights‘ went on to say that after he made ‘Woodstock Villa‘, everyone told him that it was going to be a hit and that he had “cracked it”. “I realised that I need to run,” he remarked, leading to hearty chuckles from the audience. “What I learnt from those days of flirting with the studios was how to talk to them, how to raise money from the system,” he said.
Nair, who spoke before him, called the process of dealing with the system a “dance”. She reminisced about making ‘Salaam Bombay‘, without any formal training whatsoever and how Nasseruddin Shah, whom she idolised, turned her down for the part that Nana Patekar ultimately did.
Nair who has a new film out soon – ‘The Queen Of Katwe‘ – on a black, female chess player played by Lupita Nyong’o, pointed out that despite getting Disney to produce it, she has had an all black cast in the film, something unusual for the studio.
I also spoke to Guneet Monga before the panel discussion began. Monga, who has worked extensively with Anurag Kashyap, the enfant terrible of Indian Indie cinema, told me that the “system failed” the indie filmmakers in India as there was hardly any infrastructure to support their oeuvre. “We will keep pushing,” she added. Her film ‘Zubaan’ was released last Friday and ‘Haramkhor‘ which stars Nawazuddin Siddiqui will be out soon.
Leena Yadav has had an interesting journey. She started with two mainstream films, ‘Shabd‘ and ‘Teen Patti‘ although she maintains that she made them the same way she worked on ‘Parched‘, her latest. ‘Parched‘ which is about issues related to female empowerment, set in the scenic locales of Kutch, is an international production starring Tannishtha Chatterjee among others. However, she made it clear that she was not trying to ride the recent upsurge in the feminist movement all over the world and in India. “I do not place films politically,” she told me.
The discussion was addressed by others like Onir, who complained about being stereotyped as a “queer” filmmaker and singer and actor Monica Dogra who recounted how she had come to accept Bollywood for what it was.
Youth Ki Awaaz is the media partner for I View World 2016. For more details, and the screening schedule, click here.