I’ve had a personal experience of my mum being in comatose state: Shoojit Sircar
When you watch October, you can clearly see that the storytelling technique, the film’s world as well characters are anything but run-of-the-mill. In fact, Shoojit Sircar admits that he didn’t want to compromise even a little bit. “I think not compromising even with me at certain places was like challenging my craft and myself,” says the film-maker, in a chat (the interview happened before plagiarism controversy broke out) as he talks about the film, his characters and more.
Many feel October could be your most heartfelt film. What’s your take?
Actually, all my films – be it Piku, Pink, Vicky Donor or October – have been very personal. Also, Juhi (Chaturvedi; writer) took care of her mum for many years before she finally was put on ventilator but she couldn’t be revived. So, she actually has a first-hand experience of what it means to be caring. Plus, I think something similar happened with a dear friend of hers as well. As for me, my father and mother died in the same year. My dad was suffering with cancer for six years and my mum was in coma for three-and-a-half months. So, I have seen the hospital life. In fact, I would talk to my mother not knowing whether she is listening or not.
Watch October trailer
In that sense, the film must have come straight from the heart…
Absolutely! I had a personal experience of my mum being in comatose state in 2004. I would go to the hospital every day but would not do anything. I would just meet the doctor for five minutes who would update me about her. But I didn’t have anything to do for the rest of over 23 hours. So, I would just hang around. I didn’t have any idea what I was doing there as I would just wait. And those waits were really long ones.
Didn’t those experiences impact you a lot – emotionally and otherwise?
They did. These first-hand experiences made me realise that there is a lot of randomness in what you do. I thought let that randomness be there in October, not underline anything and let it flow with the character. I thought, ‘if I am able to understand it, the audience can as well.’ I didn’t underestimate the audience. This film is actually not what you see as I feel there is an undercurrent that goes beyond it. Some people have interpreted it in their own way and taken it beyond.
Watch Theher Ja song I October
You tweeted last week that this year, you won’t pray to goddess Durga and Kaali in light of rapes and murders of young girls in the country…
My first reaction is, ‘how can somebody do this and how can it happen repeatedly to such young girls?’ I mean what human behaviour makes you do this to young girls who are as small as six, seven and eight; and they don’t know what it is. What kind of human beings are they. That’s why I tweeted that I am not going to pray. I feel, ‘we call you Maa Durga and Maa Kali, so please give them [girls] hands [to fight such things]. A lot of people have gotten against me saying, ‘why do you have to ask for God’s hands,’ but I am doing my bit. I made Pink for whatever I had to say about rapes and molestation etc. Aur main kya kar sakta hoon? I can only knock on the door.
You have always tried newer things in your films. Still, what makes you say that you have experimented with your craft with October?
Firstly, it’s all about restraining yourself especially from melodramatic moments including when Shiuli dies or even when she looks at him for the first time and even Dan’s nonsensical talks about the number of pipes in ICU and all, as you see an innocent boy talking and discussing what he saw. I tried to control myself that I will not play it to the gallery but I will tell the story the way it may be happening with somebody at a hospital right now. I think not compromising with even me in certain places was like challenging my craft and myself.
Since you have gone through a similar experience [vis-à-vis his mother], are there traces of your real personality in Dan somewhere?
I am sure there are but Juhi will be able to tell you whether I am like Dan or not (smiles) but when I used to direct and perform Dan, I felt what his innocence and purity is. It is very difficult to find a Dan nowadays in this fast-moving world, but there is a Dan inside everyone, who wants to do something but due to certain conditions and worldly pressure, you only look for reasons to do something. Still, sometimes, you do things without a reason and you are genuinely very happy and feel innately confident that day. We are like that and want to be that way but hum waise ho nahi paate.
You clearly have a nuanced understanding of emotions. Does that help a lot?
It actually comes quite naturally to me. In fact, all my actors will tell you that I perform each and every scene myself. Also, I never restrict them to the camera, so I don’t let them feel where the camera is. I have been told, ‘we have never seen such a medical film and that kind of an ICU.’ But an ICU works exactly like this. Again, it comes naturally because I have seen all of that. With October, I also wanted to bring [forth] medical science of comatose as after a point, medical experts are also not too sure what will happen [when a person is in coma] and they also leave it to fate.
You have clearly not spoon-fed audiences in the film…
I strongly believe that not all important things have to happen on the camera, as they can take place off the camera as well. So, there are many things that I leave just like that. My only brief to Juhi was to try and not explain everything and she did that beautifully. All those nuanced things are so easily understandable. Cinematically, we always try and underline everything, as we feel nothing is happening on screen but a lot of things take place internally; everything doesn’t have to happen on physical level. I also wanted to make people understand that if something like this happens, life mein speed-breaker lag jaata hai.
According to you, the film-maker, was there love between the two characters of yours?
If you see Dan’s behaviour in the film and what he does, it’s quite unexplained. Was it love or not or possibly just friendship? I didn’t underline that. That’s why I call it a story about love. I myself – as a director – don’t know whether they loved each other or not. But I still did not clearly give any such hints till the end when Dan takes the night jasmine plant and goes back home. Possibly, he will take care of her but does that mean it’s a love story or is he just like that? I purposely adopted a style in my storytelling wherein I don’t have to explain everything or why the story is moving in a particular way.
Since you as well as Juhi have had similar experiences in real life, the film could have easily been about a mother-son or a mother-daughter as well…
My brief to Juhi was, ‘is there a story where an unconditional love can be brought out in relationship, in any relationship and in any form?’ The idea was not to focus on a comatose person in a hospital but I was like, ‘is it possible to have such unconditional love between human beings?’ So she came up with this thought, thanks to her personal experiences because I think something similar happened with a dear friend of hers as well. It was very beautiful and brilliant of Juhi to connect it with the night jasmine flower. It’s such a brilliant and lyrical way of tying things. The brief was not that I want to do something with what happened in my personal life. But yes, personally, I regret that I could not say a lot of things to my mother and that I could have done so much for her but I could not.
Watch Manwaa I October
Has this film emptied you as a person and a film-maker?
In fact, it has filled me up. It’s not a pessimistic but a really optimistic film. Ultimately, Shiuli wasn’t supposed to live after the kind of fall she had. After watching the film, a lot of people told me, ‘we just wanted to jump into the screen and hug Dan and tell him not to worry.’ I remember watching an Iranian film, A Separation. When the film ended, I felt like going to Iran, getting that family together, hug them and just being with them. I am filled with more positive feelings than negative.
How much did it personally affect you?
I guess it’s more difficult when you are only writing it. But yes, when I read it, the script did affect me. While writing, Juhi would complain that it was difficult for her to relive hospital and she doesn’t want to. So I used to tell her, ‘don’t worry, after this film, hospital will be very good and not looked at as a bad place.’ The idea was to put a kind of poetic touch to being in hospital and not make it morose. I also told my cinematographer, ‘I don’t know how you will shoot but I don’t want to feel the grief.’ So, he showed me couple of paintings of Edward Hopper, an American realist painter, and told me that he was going to light the film that way, and he has painted it brilliantly.
After Vicky, Piku and so many other characters of your films, is Dan your purest character till date?
It’s very difficult to say (laughs). Undoubtedly, Dan is one of the purest characters but that doesn’t mean Piku is not pure. Shiuli is also very spiritual and meditative. In fact, in October, Shiuli could have easily been Piku as the latter too had a lot of maturity and understanding. I am very close to every character of mine including the family in October. I want to take them home (smiles).
October also touches upon euthanasia…
Touching upon euthanasia wasn’t on my mind and I don’t think even Juhi had a thought about it. Whether to pull the plug or not is the most common discussion when a person is on a ventilator, and every family goes through that moment. There are many cases where plugs have been pulled but parents and family members later regret doing that. But we had no intention to create a debate or make a statement about it.
Watch October theme
Is October an all season film for you or a film that will always stay with you?
So far, I have been quite lucky that all the films of mine have been ‘long term’ and they have a long shelf life, which makes me very happy. Even now, people watch Vicky Donor, Piku and Pink, so I hope October is also repeatedly watched in the years to come. I hope people find more nuances in the film than what I have actually put, rediscover and connect it to their lives. I always feel that Shoebite also has a long shelf life, and it will not get old, as it’s refreshing and modern as a subject.
What’s your take on Varun’s performance?
Vis-à-vis October, what exactly happens to Dan when he goes to the hospital is unsaid and unclear but something happens to him in that ICU as like others, he doesn’t see her as a body lying there. In the first meeting, he notices all the pipes and other equipment; and it’s like a child-like and innocent way of looking at things. It happens only if your mind is not polluted. I think that was the brilliance of Dan’s character and the way Varun brought all those feelings into action with his eyes, it was not only beautiful but also very brave of him to jump in to Dan’s shoes and do this. I personally we have Dan in everyone. In fact, in every family, there is one selfless caretaker.