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Lajmi upset with response to Chingaari

Kallpana Lajmi is upset with the response to her film. She says the multiplex culture smashed the film. Chingaari   review

india Updated: Mar 18, 2006 13:11 IST
Indo-Asian News Service
Indo-Asian News Service

Kallpana Lajmi is upset - with the response to her film Chingaari, the multiplex culture that "smashed" it, romantic lead Anuj Sawhney for ruining the role, Mithun Chakraborty for being drunk and music director Aadesh Shrivastava for disappearing.

A part of the Rs 23-million budget for the film had come from Anuj's father, which is why "he could get away with his obnoxious behaviour", says Lajmi, who looked for other actors in desperation but all refused to work with her.

Discussing the non-existent kissing scene with Sushmita Sen that Anuj went to town with, Lajmi says: "This is the problem with young male actors who want to co-star with established actresses."

According to Lajmi, Mithun abused her in "graphic language" and was drunk half the time. As for Aadesh Shrivastava, "He disappeared after a point... He's too busy on Sa Re Ga Ma Pa. He had promised he'd get me rustic voices from Bihar and UP. He lied."

However, the filmmaker is full of praise for her lead star Sushmita Sen, who she says is the only actor in her six films who have given all that she wanted "and more".

"This is the best performance I've got," Lajmi saidin aninterview, opening her heart out for the first time about the gender and economic politics during the making of the film.


Your new film looks far better than your other recent films.
But I'm not happy with the opening. Who will pay Rs300 per ticket in the multiplexes even if they worship Sushmita Sen? I thought the multiplex culture would help Chingaari. Instead, that culture smashed my film. The single theatres are doing well. The release of a film has to be patterned according to the subject... People prefer to see Kalpana Lajmi on pirated DVDs. I had only Rs2.30 crore (Rs.23 million) to spend on the film, a part of which came from my romantic lead Anuj Sawhney's father's pocket. That's why he could get away with his obnoxious behaviour. My producer was too new to argue with the father-son pair. I tried getting several other heroes, including Akshaye Khanna, Dino Morea ... even Tusshar Kapoor in desperation. They all said they won't work with me.

Because I'm a woman making a woman-centric film. I didn't charge any directorial fee. Still, the budget went haywire. Anuj was given full attention by Sushmita, Mithun-da, Ila and me. But he ruined the role. The postman was meant to be a mini-actor. He was supposed to give a performance every time he read a letter out to a villager. When Anuj reads a self-penned letter to Basanti pretending it's from someone else, his love for her doesn't come through at all.

You can't imagine how hard Sushmita worked on his performance. But this fellow simply froze in front of the camera. The essence of the love story doesn't come through. I had to salvage my film on the editing table. I completely transferred the film from being a postman-prostitute romance to being Basanti's film, which wasn't what Chingaai was meant to be.

Why do you think Anuj went to town with stories of the non-existent kissing scene with Sushmita?
This is the problem with young male actors who want to co-star with established actresses. When Anuj gets an Urmila or Sushmita, distributors think there must be something to him. I couldn't afford two major stars. If I got Akshaye, the relationship with Sush would've been volatile and vibrant. Anyway, my film got a 50 per cent opening. The distributors have flooded the theatres with 130 prints all over India.

It has been a traumatic time for me. I've gone through hell with Anuj Sawhney and his father. At the end of it, I truly feel conflicted. Should I just give up making films I believe in and became an escapist filmmaker? I haven't earned a penny from Chingaari. Is the pain, agony, humiliation and indignity worth it?

There's no kissing scene between Sushmita and Anuj Sawhney!
I know. I kept insisting there isn't. But no one believed me. It was all a publicity stunt by Sawhney. The fact that he apologised two months later means he has owned up to his crime. That put my film even more in trouble. We've lost a lot of money over Chingaari. Sushmita truly let me down in the marketing. Because no mediaperson wants to talk about a film's content, only the stars. I've to live with this marketing reality.

Frankly, when Sushmita decided to withdraw her support to the film after this foolish boy's cheap stunt, I didn't blame her. As a woman I understood her sense of injured pride. But as a filmmaker I needed her to stand by the film. Because of her obstinate withdrawal of promotional support, we lost business worth lakhs of rupees. The electronic and print media have been hounding me as to why she isn't responding. What answer can I give? But the film overrode its problems because of Sushmita. She promised Bhupen-da she would see the project through. And she did... until the publicity.

Sushmita's performance is incredible.
I know. Of course, I pampered her to the core. But finally it was her take. In my six films so far, this is the only actor who has given me all that I wanted, and more. This is the best performance I've got. A lot of people told me that Basanti isn't Sushmita, it's Kalpana Lajmi. I told Sushmita not to give me a single expression or body movement that she has given in any of her popular films. I told her to apply Johnson's baby lotion to soften her jaw line. She doesn't look harsh anywhere. She never ever disobeyed me. She's a genius.

Her confrontation scenes with Mithun are unprecedented.
She did something remarkable. She asked me to let her do an entire take without rehearsals. I agreed. When she gobbled up Mithun-da he didn't know what hit him. That stunned look on his face was real. After the shot, Mithun-da was livid. He called me to a corner and abused me in graphic language. You don't know what I've gone through. Half the time he was drunk. I had put my foot down. He didn't like it. For the last five days, he didn't touch a drop. Hence the inconsistent performance.

I believe Mithun and Sushmita had major problems.
He never expected her to be so gifted. They have equal footage. I made it into the story of the prostitute and the priest because the actor playing the postman let me down so badly. Mithun-da came on the sets nonchalantly as someone whom Sush and I admired for years. He never ever imagined Sush was a volcano waiting to erupt. The minute he realized her potential he froze. For the confrontation scene between them my brief to Sush was, "The predator becomes the prey, and vice versa". And she took off... She gave me tonal variations that even the awesome Shabana didn't give me in "Ek Pal". I made her do unbelievably long shots which pissed off Mithun-da. She completely ate him up.

Some portions are crude.
Twice with Mithun-da I had to show what a prostitute goes through. I'm very grateful to Sushmita for breaking the mould as to the way prostitutes are shown in our films. I asked her to let me film two scenes of sexual crudity. She thought about it and trusted me. Even here Mithun-da was very, very difficult. I refused to let him compromise my artistic sensibilities. Sushmita truly went beyond the script even in the crude scenes.

I'll never stop loving her for what she has given to my film. What Meena Kumari did in Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam, Nargis in Mother India and Shabana Azmi in Ankur, Sushmita has done in Chingaari, and more. And to think she's only 29. She told me she had become Basanti for five months, and was scared she would ever be Sushmita again. She understands the film in all its nuances, like a true critic. We met last week. She got very emotional.

Are you happy with the music that Aadesh Shrivastava has done?
He disappeared after a point. I had to get bits of background music from his arranger. He's too busy on Sa Re Ga Ma Pa. He had promised he'd get me rustic voices from Bihar and UP. He lied. Except for the one track by Himani Kapoor, which in any case is a traditional thumri, I don't like the other compositions.

First Published: Mar 18, 2006 13:11 IST