Anurag Kashyap has called him "the best director today". His films Khosla Ka Ghosla! and Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! won National Awards. And with Bombay Talkies (the first movie in India to be sold on the star power of four directors), Dibakar once again impressed critics and audiences with his evocative stortelling. And yet he's not one for media attention - he usually hibernates till his film's release. "I don't want to be all over the papers," Banerjee says.
In person, the filmmaker is much the same, very down to earth. In Delhi, over tea and a long chat, Brunch finds that he's perfectly happy flying under the radar.
You mentioned somewhere you don't want to earn money from Bombay Talkies…
Dibakar Banerjee: The movie is made on an extremely cheap budget. In fact, Karan Johar joked, "I am practically wearing half of the budget of my film." So, each director was given Rs 1.5 crore, that makes a total of six. And another six was spent on marketing it. By Hindi films standard, that very cheap. The movies were made to mark an occasion, not to get into the 100-crore club.
Your filmmaking is influenced by…
Dibakar Banerjee: My first influence is my family, which has consumed and created entertainment. We would read, listen to the radio, put up plays during Durga Puja in Delhi. Doordarshan is another influence, it gave me a chance to see regional and world cinema. I would also visit all the film festivals in Delhi. My non-Bengali friends, my life in Delhi have been a huge influences too. Mumbai, where I live now, my life here, it's transformation from a manufacturing city to a services city, all have had an impact on me. My days at National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad opened up an unknown western to me. My wife has been the deepest influence. She's very aesthetic and she has created this beautiful life full of arts, books, poetry and even plants.
You signed a three-films contract with Yash Raj. Is that a rite of passage into the elite club?
Dibakar Banerjee: What rubbish! This is what I don't like. This bracketing of people. What is elite about working with YRF? I discovered that Aditya Chopra and I are very similar- we both are extremely professional, prefer our films to speak for themselves, don't give interview to be in newspapers every other week, and are passionate about films.
We were very clear since the first meeting that I have the creative controls and YRF will be in-charge of marketing the film. It will be my vision. The alliance was based on the clear understanding that if YRF changes my way of filmmaking, it will lose out on what they set out looking for.
The industry is celebrating outsiders…
Yes, people from film families and outsiders are co-existing. The reason the audience watches a Dibakar or Anurag film is same as Zoya and Karan films - good filmmaking. Karan made his first film when his father wasn't doing too well, he had to go through a number of hardships. And these people have to prove themselves much more. I have nothing to lose, it's like someone pointed out to me, 'Even if your film fails, you will be put on a pedestal and stories will be written about your edgy way of filmmaking'. But people are very harsh on these guys. So, everyone's working with some or other handicap. For one Karan Johar who has made it, there are five who haven't. The basics for survival are standard for everyone - a little more passion, a lot more hard work , a much better vision - than the other person.
Is your story of struggle very romantic?
Unfortunately, no (laughs). I was never on the sadak. When I was working in the advertising world in Delhi, it was at its peak. Pradeep Sarkar, Jaideep Sahni, we all were working together. I was this hotshot Ad guy, making a good amount of money. Even after I shifted to Mumbai, my wife, who's into the corporate world was making enough and while Anurag was struggling and making ends meet, I was living in a posh flat. And have never worked under anyone or struggled for money since I was 26.
So making your first movie, Khosla Ka Ghosla was a cakewalk?
Savita Raj Hiremat owned an advertising agency and she was militant about making a movie about Delhi and its people. Jaideep put her through me. He told her, 'he has an interesting take on the city'. I came from an advertising background, I had shot 50 commercials, so I pretty much knew the mechanics of filmmaking. But the struggle started when I moved to Mumbai in 2004. There were no takers for the film. Every distributor had seen the film but no one wanted to take it. I was in wilderness then. I was sort of in a black hole. But when that two-year period ended, I knew I was invincible, I had learnt most things about life and films in that time. I had become negative and I was going to give up (a friend had told me that the moment you stop expecting, things happen), and just when I did, it got taken by UTV Motion Pictures.
You are one of those people who run away to the woods to write?
No, no, I grew up in a family of six, in three rooms. One room had my parents, one was the drawing room, in the third room, it was my grandmother, the TV, dining table, me, my sister, me and the cupboard full of books. I learnt study to study with the TV on. So I am capable of doing my shit, it doesn't matter where as long as the weather is good.
Of course, I always co-write. I want to stay away from the trap of a director writing - scripts become too indulgent, directors have a bloated way of writing. So if I collaborate, we can just stick to good storytelling. I have co-written Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye and Shanghai with Urmi Juvekar. She has written all kinds of genre, a Pyar Ka Superhit Formula too. I also work with Kanu Behl, with whom I co-wrote Love Sex Aur Dhokha, he's very gifted and observant of life. He has a different take on Delhi.
And I take inspiration from everything around me - books, music, normal people I meet, something someone said while we are rolling on the floor and drunk. Like Karan said something hilarious yesterday, and I was like, 'this as to make way into a film'.
Women are kind of non-existent in your films
I haven't a clue. I think I need to get myself examined (laughs), because 60 to 70 per cent of my team - scriptwriter, assistant director, art director - comprises women. Maybe, because in my head I don't see men and women as separate entities, but again I feel women are more organized and structured than men. Also, the men I work with have a feminine side. My director of photography Nikos looks like a Greek God, and he's as masculine anyone can get (and he will kill me for saying this) but like women, he communicates very well. If I tell him to do something, he will take his time to explain to me why it cannot done. That's the synergy I like on my set. I don't like mysteries. On a lot of sets, the assistant would be running around guessing what the director wants, but on my sets, everyone's on the same page.
What would make you go to the cinema?
A good trailer! I would any day go Gangs Of Wasseypur, because it shows me another world, I would see a Gangs Of New York, Salaam Bombay, Bandit Queen, Maqbool, and a Band Baaja Baraat (Anushka portrays the best ever screen kiss. She is sleeping but she is kissed, she wakes up to the fact that she loves this guy. It is so well layered).
Hindi cinema is getting a new audience - people who only say Hollywood movies or world cinema before…
Yes, in the early '90s, India got divided into people watching MTV and Channel V, and the ones who saw Karan and Aditya's movies (those who were not overtly West oriented) movies. The latter were taking leadership of New India. But eventually, the music channels also started playing Hindi movie songs because that was profitable. The migration from smaller towns to urban areas increased, reflecting a change in Bollywood. And these supposed 'urban elite' were starting to feel left out. The elite need to belong to something to survive, so now they are trying to get back to watching Hindi films.
From HT Brunch, May 12
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