Remember Vicky Arora (from Vicky Donor; 2012), the character Piku (from Piku; 2015) or Minal Arora (from Pink; 2016)? Right from the start, Shoojit Sircar’s films have featured very relatable characters, who never fall prey to the usual over-the-top antics in a typical Bollywood style. HT chats up with the film-maker about his characters and his Delhi connection.
Almost all your films including Vicky Donor, Piku and Pink have been shot in Delhi. You clearly share a special connect with the city?
I shifted to Delhi when I was in the middle school — I must have been in the seventh or eighth grade. From then on, I grew up in the city and lived there during my college and struggling days in theatre. Delhi is a very peculiar, cosmopolitan and a political city. It has its own past of being the capital city of the British and the Moghul empires. There’s a lot of nostalgia involved with that city. I know and breathe Kolkata and Delhi, and that’s why all my films are based in these two cities.
One of your next films will be based on freedom fighter, Udham Singh’s life. What attracted you to his story?
We have all heard about Bhagat Singh and the freedom movement. But, thanks to my theatre days, Amritsar has been my favourite city because I did a lot of street plays there. The city was a hub during the freedom movement because of the Golden temple and the Jallianwala Bagh. I used to visit Amritsar quite often. Back then, I had heard a lot about Udham Singh from a lot of people, especially the older generation. I then started reading about what happened to Singh. I got attracted to his life and started studying about it.
Have you been researching on Singh since a long time?
I have already done a detailed study on Punjab politics, about the pre-independence movement and how these youngsters (freedom fighters) did what they wanted to. And, Punjab is my favourite subject anyway. I have got a lot of friends there; plus, I love the energy, the pulse, and the large-hearted vibe of Punjab and its people.
You don’t seem to be in a hurry to make films. Would you like to make more movies or are you happy with your pace?
No, I don’t want to increase my pace (of making films) because it is very difficult to control its creative part. One script takes nearly a year to a year-and-a half to nurture. A film needs that kind of time and concentration. I will only do those films wherein I can get involved. There is a certain kind of an expectation from me to do certain kind of films. And, we should associate ourselves with films that are healthy for cinema. So, I try to do that.
Your film’s characters seem to be very relatable and straight out of real life. Do you identify with them?
Absolutely! Sometimes, when I perform for my actors, they are like, ‘sir, aap hi kar do’ or sometimes, I am told, ‘please don’t act or else we will start following you’. At times, I do it because it has become kind of a habit as I have lived with the script. And, since the characters are woven by me and my writers, we live the script for almost two years before the actor comes in the picture. The kind of person you are, deep inside, should come out of the script because cinema is basically a direct conversation with your audience. That’s why audiences catch a lot of things (in a film) and react ruthlessly. They have every right to do that since they spend their money. They also have every right to criticise, trash, put the film in a dustbin or praise a film.
In such a scenario, what’s the biggest challenge for you?
If I don’t have a heart-to-heart conversation (with the audiences), it will show in the way people react. The biggest challenge is to engage the audiences so that they get affected by a film and it stays with them even after they have gone back home.
You identify yourself the most with which of your characters?
It’s very difficult to answer this. But, I definitely identified with Mr Bachchan’s character from Piku (2015), and, in fact, all the characters from the film, including that of Piku. After watching the three girls, who were outstanding in the film, a lot of women came out saying, ‘we felt it was our story; we were cringing. It was so real.’ Also, one of my favourite characters is Biji (the grandmother) from Vicky Donor (2012). Without saying that any of my other characters are any less important, she is one of my most progressive and favourite characters in all my films. I always smile looking at her and she gives so much positivity to that character.