"All the actresses who have worked with me have been apprehensive about doing my films," smiles film director Madhur Bhandarkar. But why would actresses be afraid to play the strong women characters we see in his films? "I guess it’s because my women characters have shades of grey in them. They feel and think but at the same time they are aggressive, ambitious, manipulative. They are real."
So what is it about Bhandarkar’s penchant for women-oriented movies? Bhandarkar responds with a counter question, “Why aren’t filmmakers ever questioned when they make male-centric films? Because that’s the norm. Commercial cinema has very rarely ever defined a woman character properly and I don’t understand why.”
He adds, “I think most stories are much better told when they are narrated through a woman’s perspective. The drama, expression, emotional content and connect is far stronger from a woman’s point of view. But more than anything else, I think women are doing everything in every field. It’s just that we do not give them their due credit. So I try to do my best to give that due.”
Though he’s made a name for himself, Bhandarkar does find that his scripts cause a flutter with actresses. “They keep telling me they are doing the film only because they have faith in me as a director,” he says. But for most actresses, working with Bhandarkar is a good way to win the National Award (Tabu for Chandni Bar, Priyanka Chopra and Kangana Ranaut for Fashion) or be part of an award-winning film – Bhandarkar got the National Award for Best Film for Page 3 and Traffic Signal. “My characters are never simple girls next door. They can be complex and have negative shades too. So actresses are scared to do the roles. And I don’t blame them.”
THE RIGHT CHOICE
But Bhandarkar isn’t just known for his women-centric films – he’s also gaining a reputation for casting people in unlikely roles. Whether it was Tabu’s portrayal of a bar dancer, Raveena’s turn as a politician in Satta, or sultry Bipasha as a suit-clad corporate warrior, Bhandarkar seems to flesh out that side of these actresses that no one knows exists. “People were skeptical when I cast Raveena,” admits Bhandrakar. “The same was the case for Bipasha. Priyanka kept asking me if she should play this snobbish model and if I was sure. I said yes to all of them.”
So what made him so sure? “I don’t care about star status,” says Bhandarkar. “For me the characters are strongly defined. I look at my characters and then see which actress will suit the role. For Fashion, everybody asked why I was casting Priyanka as Meghna. But for me, Meghna had a certain vulnerability along with some edginess – and I could see that only in Priyanka. So I cast her. It’s the same for most of my characters.
KEEPING IT REAL
Bhandarkar has come a long way from delivering video cassettes for a living. “That was my first contact with films. And Mithun Chakraborty was my favourite customer! I couldn’t study as I didn’t have enough money. I am not even an ICSE pass,” admits Bhandarkar. “In fact, I was a vagabond. But films were and are my only passion. I can call myself a film encyclopedia!”
He credits this association with the glamour world for his penchant for real cinema. “I have been a part of this world – all my movies are fashioned from the bits and parts of life that I have seen,” he says. Is that why he’s not worried about not being counted as an A-list director? “I really don’t care what the industry thinks,” says Bhandarkar. “From where I’ve come – no mentor, support or money – to where I am today, it’s enough for me.” And the biggest high of all, he adds, is being asked by IIM Ahmedabad to lecture. “Corporate was turned into a case study and now they want me to give lectures to management graduates on their subject. I couldn’t be happier.”
Tabu in Chandni Bar : There was a certain crassness about the character. Tabu brought a sense of fragility to it, which made a super impact.
Raveena in Satta: I feel Raveena gave her best performance in this one. She hardly looks it but the aggression and the connivance that she brought out on the screen was fantastic.
Konkona in Page 3: Konkona had never really been a Page 3 type. She had no clue of what it was like to be in those circles or to be a journalist. She kept saying that she was doing the film because she loved my films and thought that I was a good director. But Konkona was superb. She was real.
Bipasha in Corporate: Unlike my other films that had glimpses of my world, this was very different. To top it all, everyone advised me against casting Bipasha. But I thought her attitude was perfect for the character.
Priyanka in Fashion: Priyanka was scared to do this. The character sleeps around, but is vulnerable at heart. That’s what Priyanka had attitude with vulnerability. She performed beautifully.