Mulk in the movies

Debarati Palit Singh
Wednesday, 14 August 2019

How easy or difficult is it for filmmakers to take a stand while making political films? ST asks a few of them

Among the many things that make 2019 special are the political films released this year. While some might attribute it to the 17th Lok Sabha elections held in April-May, others might think it’s due to the growing interest in the genre among filmmakers.  

Aditya Dhar’s Uri: The Surgical Strike, which won the National Award, Anubhav Sinha’s Article 15, Aijaz Khan’s Hamid, Sanjay Barua’s The Accidental Prime Minister, Abhijit Panse’s Thackeray, Omung Kumar’s PM Narendra Modi, Ashvin Kumar’s No Fathers in Kashmir released around the election time. Obviously such films are timed to help political parties win a few brownie points and therefore termed propaganda films. Of course the fact remains that they made moolah at the box-office. 

But if you ask filmmakers, they will tell you that making political films isn’t an easy task. It starts with their films getting passed by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) without any major cuts, facing political outbursts, trolls, chances of their films getting banned and other controversies. 

It is therefore challenging to take a stance while making political films. Many filmmakers choose the middle path. And why not? We have seen political parties marching against filmmakers whose storytelling did not match their ideologies. FIRs have been lodged against the cast and crew. Amrit Nahata’s Kissa Kussi Ka, a ’70s satire on the politics of Indira Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi, was banned by the then government and its prints were seized. Filmmaker Madhur Bhandarkar during the promotion of his last project Indu Sarkar had to face the wrath of the Congress workers because they felt that the film showed Indira Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi in bad light. Madhur was gheraoed at a city hotel and had to be given one and half months of police protection.

Filmmaker Aijaz Khan whose directorial Hamid, bagged best Urdu film and best child actor award for Talha Arshad Reshi at the 66th National Film Awards, says that it was his personal choice to not take a stand. Hamid explores the unlikely bond between an eight-year-old Kashmiri boy named Hamid and a CRPF Jawan. Says Aijaz, “It’s very difficult if you see things in a creative manner and then think of politics. The solution is to keep a balance and let the viewers choose their side. That’s what I have done in Hamid. It’s my creative decision not to take a stand because I feel it’s easier to take a side and portray the story from one particular angle and I didn’t want to do it.” 

Anubhav Sinha, whose last two films Mulk and Article 15, were based on two important and valid subjects, believes that it is a wrong perception that one cannot take a stand while making a film on a political subject. “That perception is subtle and subliminal. But when I made the two political films, I was clearly standing on one side. I did not say anything but the criticism came from the establishment. People got upset, trolls got upset. I don’t know where that comes from.” 

He adds that people are taking a political stand and making films. “They are all alive and making more such films even though it’s not appreciated and encouraged,” he says.

Madhur Bhandarkar feels if Hollywood filmmakers can be quite open while making political films, why can’t Bollywood makers? “They take names, mention places and every details while making such films. But we are pressurised and the same thing happened with me during Indu Sarkar. This sometimes discourages filmmakers. Even exhibitors do not want to screen such films because their theatres might get attacked,” he says, adding that he stood his ground. “But I had to tweak things here and there,” he admits.

IS THE NARRATIVE CHANGING?
In a country like India, there isn’t dearth of subjects - Naxalism, unemployment, terrorism, intolerance, the list goes on. But many feel that films are moving from being anti-establishment to being pro-establishment lately. In the ’70s and ’80s, filmmakers focused on showing the growing intolerance among people because of the changing social and political situations. Filmmakers like Shyam Benegal, Govind Nihalani, Mrinal Sen and Goutam Ghose mainly dealt with this kind of a narrative. 

Later, the focus moved towards Kashmir and filmmakers started concentrating on the different aspects of the region. Mani Ratnam’s Roja, Shoojit Sircar’s Yahaan, Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Mission Kashmir, Piyush Jha’s Sikandar, Vishal Bharadwaj’s Haider and many others have Kashmir as the backdrop. The valley still continues to attract filmmakers.

Anubhav believes that the narrative in political films hasn’t changed; what’s changed is that audiences are watching films in theatres. “The storytelling of political films has always been the same. But the audience is going to theatres to watch these films as they feel the need to talk about it. These films were always seen by a niche audience but now they are reaching the masses,” he says. 

Agreeing with Anubhav, Madhur says that there is an eagerness to know about history among the younger audience. “They watch these films on the digital platform.” 

Aijaz on the other hand feels that the narrative has changed drastically in the recent times. “There have been some very bold films, which have taken sides and have still done well. But every filmmaker has their style of telling a story,” he observes, adding that the change is happening because of the newer generation of filmmakers coming in. “They are saying things in a blunt manner,” he says.

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