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Meghna out to break 'image trap'

Meghna Gulzar does not want to be typecast, writes Saibal Chatterjee.

entertainment Updated: Sep 23, 2005 15:48 IST
Saibal Chatterjee | Wide Angle
Saibal Chatterjee | Wide Angle

The term image trap is an integral part of showbiz. But it is usually a fear that stalks actors. There is, however, at least one young director in Bollywood today who has reason to wish that she hadn't started her career as a filmmaker with the sort of feature that she did.

We are talking about the promising Meghna Gulzar and her unconventional debut film, Filhaal, which charted an unusual thematic course without bartering away the serious core of the subject in quest of a pot of gold. Meghna has been paying a price for her derring-do ever since.

Determined to break the reputation that she has been saddled with as a result of the sombre theme of her first film, Meghna is now gearing up to make what she calls a "light entertainer", Honeymoon.

To be produced by Pritish Nandy Communications, Honeymoon will have Fardeen Khan and Esha Deol in the lead roles. "The film will roll early next year," reveals Meghna during a brief visit to New Delhi to participate in a colloquium organised as part of the just-concluded Open Frame 2005 festival of documentary and reality films.

She is a bit wary of calling Honeymoon a comedy though. "The word comedy in the Bollywood sense denotes loudness and flippancy. My film will have none of that," she asserts.

Honeymoon will be a "humorous" story of a just married couple who, on their honeymoon in the salubrious climes of hill station, are for one reason or another unable to grab the few precious moments of romantic solitude that they are looking for. They encounter situations that conspire to keep them apart.

Vishal Bhardwaj will compose the songs for Honeymoon and Gulzar will pen the lyrics. Even if Honeymoon is designed to woo lay viewers, Meghna's stamp will be clear in at least one crucial respect: while most commercial Hindi films end with a marriage, her second directorial feature will kick off with one.

Even as Meghna waits for the next chapter of her life as a film director to unfold, she has yet to fully shrug off the bitter disappointment of the box office debacle of her labour of love, Filhaal. The well-crafted, well acted film, starring Tabu, Sushmita Sen and Sanjay Suri, dealt with the emotional rub-offs inherent in the issue of surrogate motherhood.

"Filhaal probably came a bit before its time," Meghna rationalises. "People have told me that the film might actually have clicked had it been released today." Filhaal, produced by leading film financier Jhamu Sugandh, garnered positive reviews but sank commercially.

The long hiatus that followed the release of Filhaal left her in a bit of professional trough and led to bouts of frustration, which Meghna used to spin out two scripts, one of which is now taking the form of Honeymoon. She kept writing, Meghna says, to keep her mind off any sort of negativity.

During the three years of inaction, did she ever toy with the idea of scripting films for other directors? "I wouldn't mind writing for others nor would I have a problem with directing a film based on someone else's script," she says. "But I tend to work so hard on my scripts that I end up wanting to make the film myself," adds the one-film-old director.

It isn't surprising, however, that Meghna isn't in agreement with the contention that it is easier today for young filmmakers like her to get their projects off the ground. "It is not simple as it is made out to be," she says. "If you propose a film that is not quite run of the mill, the budget allocated to you is no more than Rs 1.5 crore. I don't want to do a shoddy job," she says.

Money seems to be the most important factor in the making of a film these days, she argues. "When you come up with an idea, the first questions that you are asked are, how much money the film will cost and what will be the returns on the investment," adds Meghna.

As a consequence of this increasingly myopic approach to film production, the space for issue-driven, socially relevant cinema has shrunk drastically, she argues. "What sells," Meghna adds, "is what attracts money."

She says: "In cinema, it's sex and sleaze. On television, the saas-bahu serials, game shows and reality programmes hold sway. And in music, the emphasis is on remixes and exploitative videos. Where is the space for alternative films and television programmes?"

It is clear that Meghna Gulzar knows where she wants to get. One box office hit and she'd be on her way. Her first film failed to set the cash counters jingling. Will her next live up to its title and signal the beginning of her honeymoon with the box office?

First Published: Sep 23, 2005 15:48 IST