Vidhu Vinod Chopra says he has immersed himself in work during nationwide lockdown
Vidhu Vinod Chopra talks about his latest release Shikara, which was based on the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits in the valley.Updated: Apr 04, 2020 19:07 IST
The producer behind hits such as Munnabhai MBBS, PK and others, Vidhu Vinod Chopra returned to direction with Shikara. While the film earned his a lot of praise, it was also criticised by a few. Here he talks about the reception to his film, the choice of cast, and if he will continue directing more films.
I am sure you are also committed to the #StayHome Lockdown. What are your thoughts about it??
Yes, my family and I are absolutely committed to the lockdown and we are staying home as advised by the authorities. The entire world is undergoing unprecedented circumstances. My heart goes out to the migrant workers who have been suddenly left without work and are suffering so much. The scenes playing out across our country and the world are extremely disturbing. I’ve immersed myself in my work because that’s all I can control.
While many loved Shikara, there was a certain section who questioned the authenticity of the story and accused you of commercialising the plot. How have you been taking all the response in?
I have also heard people say that I have diluted or misrepresented the plot for commercial gains. I find these claims very dubious since most of the people who are saying this on digital media have not seen the movie. They probably have other motives to spread negativity. And also these trolls don’t know the exact meaning of commercialisation. Some of the film’s I’ve made have opened at 30 to 40 crore. I spent many years of my life making Shikara knowing fully well that it will never have an opening like that because I wanted to tell a story about my people and their endurance and courage. I also wanted to fulfil the promise I made to my mother before she died in exile in 2005. If I wanted to make a movie with only commercial gain in mind, then I would have made a Munnabhai or 3 idiot’s sequel. That is simple logic that most people will understand. The commercialisation accusation is baseless and I would urge all to see the movie and judge for themselves.
How much all the noise affected the creative artiste in you?
It has only made my resolve stronger to continue making good meaningful cinema. Cinema that can make a difference.
After working with renowned and critically acclaimed actors, why did you decide to cast two fresh faces for Shikara?
Competence and ability to depict an emotion is more important than age. I was looking for intensity and innocence. Authenticity was the key in order to draw out correct emotions of a community displaced from their homeland.
I held auditions in Jammu, flew in the shortlisted people to Bombay, auditioned them further here. That’s how I found Sadia. She’s from Bhaderwah who was studying in Jammu. Of course, it had its own hurdles – her father wouldn’t agree, her family has it’s own inhibitions and scepticisms. I had to actually make long video calls to convince her family. It helped immensely that I spoke in Kashmiri. But finally she arrived in Mumbai. And I didn’t even need to audition her. We took stills and I immediately knew that she was my character. She’s absolutely phenomenal.
For the role of the poet, I really wanted a good voice. When I heard Aadil’s voice, it immediately reminded me of Amitabh Bachchan’s voice. And it of course helped that he was very aware of the Kashmiri culture because of his Kashmiri ancestry. And then again, the same rigorous process followed for him as well right up to the two year long workshops. He surprised us all with his controlled anger in his performance.
As a filmmaker, how do you find the right balance between fact and fiction? How do you draw the line in terms of taking creative liberties?
In a movie like Shikara, everything is fact based. It is a story of the Kashmiri Pandit exodus. Rahul Pandita who lived through some of the scenes depicted in the film, was a co-writer with me and Abhijat Joshi. It is a difficult topic and hence you need to weave a story so that it feels like cinema and not a documentary. If you see some of the world classics like Gone with the Wind or Dr. Zhivago, each of these is a love story in the backdrop of huge civil unrest. Shikara strives to follows the same pattern.
In an interview, you had said that there’s no iota of fear of failure in your mind. What has helped you stay fearless?
There is a great line by Faiz Ahmed Faiz, “Faiz thi raah sar-ba-sar manzil; Hum jahaan pahunche kaamyaab aaye.,” I fully identify with that. I’m striving for excellence always. Even if I make a bad film I’ve strived to do my best. That striving makes me fearless.
Your first feature film had released in 1981. How has this almost four decade long journey been?
It has been a dream come true. I came from a small mohalla in Kashmir with a dream to become a filmmaker. My father slapped me when I told him that I wanted to make movies, he felt that I will die of hunger in Bombay. My journey from a small town lower middle class boy to where I’ve reached has been deeply satisfying.
What would you say has been your biggest professional high?
I would say making Shikara has been my biggest professional high. I started work on this post my mother’s demise in 2007. The Kashmiri Pandit exodus is a known issue but the complexities and the build-up of events which led to the driving away of the Kashmiri Pandits is not known. This movie required significant research so that we could tell an absorbing story which is fact based and helps in bringing this conversation to the fore. I have done much work in those years but this was perhaps my most challenging as I had to remain dispassionate as a moviemaker to depict the truth and yet make a compelling argument that the only solution to such hatred is love and that is at the centre of my movie. The love between Shiv Kumar Dhar & Shanti Dhar (the chief protagonists - Shanti is also my mother’s name, by the way) is a binding factor which forces us to think beyond hatred. The shoot was mostly in Kashmir which was under heavy security cover so we had limited time to get work done. Authenticity was the key. The writing also took significant time as I had to sift through tons of documentation and video footage to bring reality to celluloid.
James Cameron saw the movie, walked up to me and said “Do you know that you’ve made a Masterpiece Vinod “This coming from an artist like him meant a lot. Shikara is my most satisfying work to date.
When you had started out, was there a certain brand of cinema that you wanted to be associated with?
I have lived by Ingmar Bergman’s commandments, one of which states “Thou Shalt Entertain without selling your soul”. That to me is my mantra and something I have tried my best to emulate in my work and my life. This has not changed and will not change.
Your films are a reflection that your definition of entertainment is quite different. What is entertainment to you?
Entertainment for me is something which leaves you enriched. Makes you a better person, a better human being. If you succeed in a small way in enriching the life of a viewer then that is great movie in my view.
Will we get to see you directing films more often from here on?
I had such a great time making Shikara that I am already experiencing withdrawal symptoms. I am working on a few projects. This forced lockdown has also allowed me to review many scripts and have discussions with my creative teams. I want to start as soon as the lock down is over.
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