He started his cinematic journey in 1993, as an assistant art director for Ketan Mehta’s Sardar. Since then, film-maker Tigmanshu Dhulia has come a long way. Today, he is a writer, actor, producer, and of course, a director. As we catch up with the 48-year-old in his office in Aaram Nagar, he opens up about his film choices, and talks about how “people aren’t warm” in Bollywood.
Did life as a film-maker become easier for you after you directed Haasil (2003)?
For me, life has always been difficult, because I don’t hobnob with the filmi circle too much. I have friends, but I don’t spend too much time with them. So, in a way, I have always felt like an outsider. However, I am happy with this, because it’s my choice. I feel that for film-makers like me, things should always be a little difficult. If things become easy, then maybe we will become complacent.
You said that you don’t spend time with many industry folks. But doesn’t networking help in getting work in Bollywood?
It’s a personal choice. I know that networking helps, but I feel that your work should speak for you. If you do good work, you will get more work. I don’t know how to butter someone up. If a friend of mine becomes a big star, I will not have a problem hanging out with him or her. But if someone isn’t really my friend, and I am hobnobbing with him or her only for my personal gain, then that won’t be acceptable to me.
Do you have friends in Bollywood?
There are a few. But in the industry, I feel people aren’t warm-hearted. Whenever I meet my contemporaries, no one talks openly. Log ghabraye se rehtein hain (Usually, people are hesitant). Par kitna seham ke rahoge aap? Mar jaayega aadmi (But for how long can you live like that; you will die). So, I don’t meet people a lot. I would rather spend time with those who I can be myself with.
Watch: Clip of Haasil, Dhulia’s first feature film
Do you find it unfortunate that, nowadays, film-makers focus more on box-office returns than the creative aspects?
Absolutely, and the reason is that non-filmi people are making films nowadays. Now, the intention of making movies is to make money. Today, more than half of the actors work in films so that they can do 10 other things in life, they can do ads, and they can buy sports team franchises. They will do only two films a year, and the rest of the time, they do other stuff. Similarly, several people today become [film] writers because they eventually want to become directors. So, writing has become a stepping stone for direction. This is wrong. That’s why we don’t have dedicated writers, except maybe four or five.
Are you satisfied with what you have achieved in your career so far?
I feel weak sometimes, but things get alright in the end. I am politically sound and involved. I would like to be further politically involved [through cinema] in the future. I don’t want to be just a film-maker. I want to be an environmentalist, a political activist, and so many other things. I want to have an opinion, and I want that opinion to influence [people] and make a difference. It could be through my films or any other medium.
Your father was a judge at theAllahabad high court, and your mother was a Sanskrit professor. How did you land up in Bollywood?
I was brought up in a liberated environment. I have two elder brothers, who, like me, also did theatre. My father and my brothers loved watching films. All this had an effect on me. My siblings had a band, and I followed in their footsteps, and started one of my own. Then I also went on to join drama school. No one ever stopped me.
Watch: Trailer of Dhulia’s Paan Sigh Tomar
Did you ever feel you were taking a risk?
I never thought so much. I belonged to the confused lot that doesn’t end up doing engineering or medicine; the lot that keeps wandering, but ultimately finds their way. I had even thought that I’ll end up doing hotel management if nothing else works out.
How did you join the National School of Drama (NSD)?
Through my college theatre group, I was exposed to bigger theatre groups, and that’s when I heard of NSD. There, I met Irrfan (Khan; actor). I liked the school’s ambience. Girls and boys were mingling, people used to smoke and have chai till late in the night. So, I applied and got through.
You were the casting director for Bandit Queen (1994). How did that happen?
Bandit Queen was a foreign production. I was in Delhi at that time, and Shekharji (Kapur; director) was called from Mumbai to work on it. I did the casting thinking that it would get me more foreign films. Initially, when the film went on the floors, Ranjit Kapoor was writing the dialogues. But then he disappeared. I also had a keen understanding of the language, so Shekharji started giving me the content, and then, I wrote the dialogues. By the end of the film, Shekharji told me, “Why don’t you come to Mumbai to assist me?” In July, 1993, I came to the city.
What kind of work did you do then?
Shekharji was the creative head of a channel at that time. After Bandit Queen, a lot of people, like Saurabh Shukla, Manoj Bajpayee and others, arrived in Mumbai. Shekharji told me, “Why don’t you do a serial for the channel?” So, Saurabh, I and Kannan Iyer (writer), made a serial called Hum Bambai Nahi Jayenge. But the channel didn’t survive. Then Shekharji said, “Let’s make a film.” He thought of making Major Saab (1998), and also Maut Se Jo Darte Nahi, which was to star Suniel Shetty and Shah Rukh Khan. I remember Shah Rukh was called for a meeting. He was a star then, but not as big as he is now. Then Shekharji went on to do Elizabeth (1998). I was married by then, and needed to work. Television wasn’t looked down upon then. So I did Just Mohabbat, but left after seven episodes. I did other TV shows too — Naya Daur and Rajdhani. I also wrote films like Dil Se (1998) and Bas Itna Sa Khwaab Hai (2001). I did the casting for a couple of foreign films. This went on for four or five years, and then I directed Haasil (2003).
Watch: Dhulia in Gangs Of Wasseypur
Did you even have a plan?
Of course, I did. I wanted to make a film with Govinda. In drama school, I saw Zulm Ki Hukumat (1992), and I really liked it. It was a copy of The Godfather (1972). But, if you see that film, you’ll see a different side of Govinda. In fact, long back, I went to Hyderabad with Sanjay Mishra (actor) to meet Govinda, but couldn’t.
Did you struggle while making Haasil?
I struggled a lot. I knocked on the doors of many producers. I had already written the climax of the film, which was set in the Kumbh Mela. I had a friend in advertising, Kavita Sehgal, who believed in my film, and helped me arrange money. So, I shot some parts in Kumbh. I was in talks with a producer, Vijay Jindal; he liked those parts, and the film finally went on the floors.
All of your films have an element of rawness to them…
That element has to be brought in. But sometimes, it has to be moderated. For example, in Bullet Raja (2013), I wanted to ensure that the movie didn’t seem completely real. I wanted it to be filmi. Perhaps, that’s where I failed.
Many film-makers in Bollywood are from small towns. Is that advantageous for a storyteller?
There are two types of directors in Mumbai — those who belong to the industry, and those who don’t. Imtiaz Ali, Anurag Kashyap, Sujoy Ghosh, and people like me are from outside; who have seen the world outside Mumbai. But, what have the directors from Mumbai seen? They have seen even the gullies of Bandra and Juhu only in films. That is why their films are especially filmi. Some directors are products of cinema; some are products of life. I am part of the second category.
How do commercial trappings influence cinema?
Today, Hindi commercial cinema is as bad as it was in the ’80s. But things are changing. So, even a movie like Bajrangi Bhaijaan has a message these days. But corporates, who produce films, have spoiled the environment. These people understand the mathematics of film-making, but movies aren’t made with mathematics. They have spoiled the market completely, and everybody is suffering.