Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury: I bet with Shoojit on Pink’s exact box-office collections and I won!

The Pink director spoke exclusively to about how he managed to make a financially successful socially relevant film with female protagonists.

Suparna Thombare

With the director of Pink, Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury, present at a discussion on 'changing discourse for women and commerce in Hindi cinema', it was natural that he received a unanimous applause for being a part of that very change by making a successful mainstream Hindi film, with female protagonists, that talks about the important issue of consent. 

When we caught up with Chowdhury after the discussion, we spoke to him about the strengths of the film — script, setting and the entertaining courtroom scenes — that connected with the audience and made it a huge box-office success.

Did people around you suggest changes to the original script of Pink?
Lot of changes were suggested by Shoojit [Sircar, producer]. I had a script of 80 pages which I wanted to do in Bangla. This is a universal story, but it was (originally) placed in Shanti Niketan, Kolkata. Shoojit said let's place it in Delhi. In Kolkata, the scenario is slightly different. Even in Mumbai, you wouldn’t mind your daughter or friend living alone and working till two in the night. But in Delhi in the night it's a more eerie feeling. So the location really helped. We decided to place it in Surajkund — people from Delhi go there for an outing or weekend getaway. Those suggestions were good. A script does change, it's an organic process. In all my films, when I have a bound script, I can’t work only with that particular thing. While shooting so many things happen organically.

Do you think then that writers should be open to inputs from directors and producers?
As far as my Bengali films are concerned it's always a collaboration with my writers. Hindi I don’t know, but I know the language of films. Here, Shoojit was there. He took my concept and story, and we started jamming. Me and Ritesh (Shah, co-writer) were jamming for four years. Then Shoojit came in and we jammed again. But Hindi has its own nuance. If I do a film in Malayalam, it will have its own nuance. It will change. If your producer is also a director and is also sensible, it will take the film to a different level.

What happened to the script and the film once Amitabh Bachchan’s came on board?
We had an elaborate bipolar thing in the beginning, but due to the length of the film we changed that. But I remember how Mr Bachchan came on board. Shoojit said Tony (Chowdhury’s nickname) come to Mumbai tomorrow we will give a narration to Mr Bachchan. Let’s see. Shoojit explained the film to Mr Bachchan for half-an-hour at his home. He instantly said ‘ok let's start shooting in Jan’. This happened in September. I remember us jumping with joy outside Mr Bachchan’s house. But then I said delay it for some time... let's start shooting in February. Ritesh said don’t do that, you just got someone’s dates. Then finally we started shooting in March. He furthered the film... all the boys... all the girls... all the small characters... they believed in the film so much that they furthered the script. After a long time it was such a democratic film, a collaborative effort.

Do our films need to be more socially conscious in the way we write our characters and present our stories in commercial cinema?
A film is a reflection of your mind and social and geographical environment. The time and space is very important in a film. I am not talking about mindless films, but sensible commercial films like Deewar or Zanjeer. They were socially relevant films. Commercial, but social. Even Kaala Patthar. Whatever films I have done in my life which is very less — four Bengali and one Hindi — all the films had some kind of influence from my social surroundings. Even Buno Haansh, which is a thriller about a guy comes from a lower middle-class family who gets into pressures and makes mistakes. He gets into a zone from which he can’t come out. We have to do something that is a response to the reality around us or else we make fantasy. But even in a fantasy all ideas come from around us. They are the moments from your life.

How did you work on the courtroom scenes, which were a major strength of the film?
What I had in my mind and what I discussed with my team was that I wanted to shoot it like a documentary. People will act, minimalistic stuff, and we will follow them with two cameras. The last scene was shot with six cameras. Shoojit was conducting rehearsals till like 5 in the morning to make it feel real. It was a heart-warming experience. Some junior artistes were crying; it was so real. 

The female police officer, Sarla, was very real in the courtroom...
She is the assistant casting director on this film. She was really good! When we were shooting in Surajkund with her, some people asked me if she was a real policewoman. She didn’t look corrupt. So minimalistic and real.

As a society, we are still coming to terms with a progressive urban woman. She is judged for her choices. Your film reflects that...
Why is sex a big deal? It's overrated! It’s your mind, your body, you want to have sex with somebody it is your choice. But it needs to be consensual. There needs to be consent within the two parties. If the boy says yes and the girl says yes, what is the problem? If you are mature enough, you can do whatever you want. What is the problem with drinking or sex if you are an adult? If you drink 100 pegs then there is a problem. What is the difference or the big deal between a girl and a boy? But that is the problem as we differentiate between man and woman! I used to drink with my mom. She was a middle-class Bengali woman. When my father was not there she used to say 'Can I have a beer and fish fry' So what’s the big deal? 

Were you expecting the kind of response you got from the audience for Pink?
I had a bet with Shoojit... I won! I had told him exactly how much (money) the film will make and it did earn that much.

People connected to the film. They had a very personal reaction to it, didn’t they?
I was very positive about the content and what we were trying to say. The way Shoojit and company, the whole Rising Sun (production house) got behind the film was incredible too. Life is all about collaboration. If there is right harmony, it will happen. We become megalomaniacs. It’s not about ‘I’ but about the ‘we’.

Are you writing something in Hindi?
I am writing a Bengali film right now, but I also have an idea for a Hindi film I am working on. Too early to tell you what it's about. I need to finish writing it first.