Interview

Marijuana should be decriminalised, says M Cream director


Agneya Singh and his lead pair Ira Dubey and Imaad Shaah, however, say the film doesn’t take a stand for or against drugs. Read interview... 

Mayur Lookhar

M Cream, India's first stoner film, has already courted controversy for its content, its pot-smoking scenes and some explicit shots. The film, directed by unheralded independent filmmaker Agneya Singh, is scheduled to release in theatres later this month with its international version, which was cleared by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) over two years ago when it was headed by Leela Samson. The Indian version includes songs, but as the filmmaker has explained, he did not want to take the risk of getting rejected by the current CBFC headed by Pahlaj Nihalani.

In an exclusive interaction with Cinestaan.com, Singh and his lead pair, Ira Dubey and Imaad Shah, discussed the film's content and its message. Excerpts from the interaction:

When I first heard the title, I wondered if it was some magical cream and that is why you rolling stones hit the road to Himachal Pradesh in search of it.

(All laugh.)

Imaad Shah: I think that is the case. We went all the way to Himachal Pradesh to look for this cream. It wasn’t available at any medical shops here. So we had to go all the way to Himachal Pradesh to find it. 

Ira Dubey: Unfortunately, I’m not privy to the ‘cream’ part of it. I’m very boring in the film. 

Agneya Singh: (Laughs) M Cream is a mythical and magical drug. When I was growing up in Delhi, M Cream used to be an urban legend. The act of finding this drug and smoking it is an ultimate act of rebellion.

Is it fair to say that Agneya is a great believer in the philosophy of an I for an I. That is why he cast Ira and Imaad together. It’s rare for an Indian film to have a leading pair whose names begin with I.

ID: Oh my god, you are a cool and creepy guy. You are the first person to have pointed this out to us. Now we feel really retarded.

IS: Yes, your are right. Agneya will make us all blind.

AS: (Laughs) That’s so true. I’d written the script without keeping any actor in mind. Both Imaad and Ira were recommended to me. The role that Imaad plays is the quintessential rebel, who feels that the world around him is superficial, but instead of doing anything to correct that, he chooses to rebel through drugs.

Jay (Dubey) is another rebel. She is politically motivated, someone who wants to stand in the face of justice. We realized that we needed character actors because the film is radical and bold. We wanted actors who could take up that challenge and give themselves up to get into the sub-text of the role and bring the characters to life.

Imaad, your character is described as a stoner, writer, cynic, rebel.  Your hairdo could justify the stoner part, but can you relate to the other three in real life?

IS: I don’t relate to the character at all. Though I do try to find shades of my character in me. I’m not a stoner, nor much of a rebel. I confess to being a writer.  In preparation for the role, I did start writing a novel, but I then abandoned it.

Ira, your character is being compared to the American musician, singer, activist Joan Baez. Your thoughts? Can Ira relate to Jay?

ID: I believe in some way one needs to relate every character to yourself. To me acting is honesty, it’s being truthful. How can you be truthful if you can’t see some bits of yourself in your character?

Joan Baez was a reference that Agneya gave me. I was really moved by her story. She was in an on-and-off relationship with Bob Dylan. She was a really private woman, sang like an angel, and was also a musician. Baez went about her work very quietly. I liked those qualities about her.

Agneya, when you say M Cream is India’s first stoner movie, is that merely a marketing creative or the rebel in you inviting trouble?

AS: Well, this is a term that we haven’t created. This only started with the various reactions that we received internationally. A lot of critics and people had never seen such a film from India and so they called it India’s first stoner film. Maybe stoner film as a genre is something India is now ready for. However, I’d like to clarify that the film is more than that.

Udta Punjab, a film on drug abuse, had a tough time releasing. Their motto was ‘Drugs Di Maa Di’, but M Cream is said to be India’s first stoner film. Your thoughts, Imaad?

IS: I don’t think Udta Punab got into trouble because of the drug angle. Even if there was no drugs in the film, the CBFC would still have had issues with it because you know what the government is like there [in Punjab] today. Our film is not about drugs. It is merely used as a backdrop. M Cream is a story of four individuals. Drugs here are merely incidental.

Agneya, your film was cleared by earlier CBFC chief Leela Samson and you are going with that version for the theatrical release. Has the current CBFC reviewed your film? If yes, did they have any objection to the use of drugs or explicit scenes?

AS: The current board viewed our trailer and asked us to remove one shot. However, the uncensored version is available on YouTube. We had an international version and we had a longer version for the India release. We got the censor certification when Leela Samson was CBFC chief because we had started our festival circuit [tour] in 2014. When we were hoping to get in the new version certified, the Udta Punjab controversy erupted. We decided not to take the risk as we didn’t have the resources or the backing of a studio. So we decided not to send it to CBFC [again] for certification. Once you have got the certificate, it remains valid. We’ll be going with the international version.

The film was first screened in 2014 at the Rhode Island Film Festival, where you won the Best Feature Film award. It took two years to announce the theatrical release [22 July]. So, were you looking for backing from a big studio?

AS: This was also the time when we wanted to explore. Honestly, we were very busy with the film festivals. We screened at some 30 festivals, about two a month. I myself was not in the country. We are very excited to be with PVR Pictures, it is one of the best brands when it comes to cinematic, theatrical distribution in India. Some of the best films being released by them feature international titles too.

How many screens are you targeting for the India release?

AS: We are still working on it. We will start with a modest release, say 50-75 screens, in metros. If the response is good, then we hope to expand it.

Ira and Imaad, I read Agneya wanted to push the envelope when it came to filming the intimate scenes. He said you guys felt a little awkward. Was that the case?

ID: Sex, sex, everybody wants to talk about sex! I disagree with Agneya. I rebel. (Laughs.) The scene was shot in the forest in the middle of the night. Honestly, it was very amusing and uncomfortable.

IS: For me, the agenda while filming such scenes is to make the girl feel comfortable.

So, were you comfortable, Ira?

IS: She was very comfortable.

ID: Shut up! I remember laughing a lot. Physically, I felt uncomfortable, it was very prickly. However, since Imaad and I are good friends, it helped us complete the shot better.

Imaad, your father Naseeruddin Shah has been a rebel. So, with M Cream, are you too following suit?

IS: In his time, the difference between the cinemas was well demarcated. There was mainstream cinema and there was parallel cinema. It was two very different worlds. Now these boundaries aren’t so obvious anymore. A small independent film can also make money, while a big studio film can lose big money. Producers and audiences are becoming wiser.

Has your father seen the film? Is he tough to please?

ID: Oh, that’s terrifying.

IS: No, he hasn’t. He will see it on Wednesday. Dad has mellowed down. Years ago he might have been more angsty, but now he is the most calm person on earth.

Ira, I read your sister is a physiotherapist. Was she stunned by your performance?

ID: What does she have to do with it?

IS: As a psychotherapist, she will give her psycho analysis.

ID: (Laughs) She, too, will see the film on Wednesday. I’m sure she will have great analysis. You can e-mail me about it later.

Agneya, I read how you are not too fond of the cinema of escapism. However, does resorting to drugs really make one a rebel? In a way, those who take drugs, are they also not trying to escape from the bitter truth of their lives?

AS: A lot of people would agree with the opposite, but I would agree with you. Be it marijuana or alcohol, smoking anything in excess is taking a route to escapism. The film takes to the opposite ends of rebellion. The characters played by Imaad and Ira have different ideologies when it comes to rebellion. They kind of merge and find a middle way, I call it the notion of balance in this cinema. I personally think that marijuana should be decriminalised. [But] the film doesn’t take a stand on it. Our film is not pro- or anti-[drug], which in itself is controversial.

I suppose you will be running a disclaimer. 

AS: WE WILL BE RUNNING THE DISCLAIMER. It’s quite ironic that a lot of times, they are smoking marijuana and not tobacco. But we have to say that it causes cancer when actually marijuana cures it. Though it has not been proved fully, there is medical evidence today to support the claim. In the US, marijuana is being sold for medicinal purposes.

It’s one thing creating films for a niche audience, but the sad truth is how do you get more bums in cinema-hall seats for such films?

AS: It is hard, but what I would like to say is that it is a niche, but that niche is actually a lot bigger than what most people think. Look at an Udta Punjab, five-ten years ago the studios would have never backed it. We see the change because there is a new audience in the country today which wants to be entertained today, they also want something realistic. The studios which have not adapted to that have suffered dearly. These boundaries between independent and mainstream are beginning to blur.

Agneya, M Cream releases a day after your birthday. How will you be celebrating?

AS: I can assure you that the film wasn’t really planned around my birthday. I’m not that narcissistic. This is the day PVR Pictures gave us and we went with it.

Finally, Imaad, at the end of the film, how stoned were you?

I wasn’t stoned at all. I don’t smoke. The character was stoned. I was high on tea!