Interview

It’s a bit easier to work in Hindi cinema: Shivaji Lotan Patil


The National Award-winning director brings to life the events after the assassination of India’s first female prime minister, Indira Gandhi.

Sonal Pandya

Director Shivaji Lotan Patil makes his Hindi film debut with 31st October, a period drama dealing with the immediate aftermath of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination and the persecution of Sikhs that followed. The acclaimed filmmaker won the National Award for Best Director for his Marathi film Dhag (2014), a film that showcases the difficulties a young boy who tries to buck tradition and aim for a life other than working in a crematorium, like his father.

With 31st October, he tackles a sensitive and factual subject. But Patil admits he didn’t face much difficulty while researching the subject. He said, “Google had a lot of stuff about the riots. When the writer Harry (Sachdeva) wrote this story, I wanted to know more about the matter. It’s not just about one family, this affected many more such families and what they went through during this time. While researching the film, we found out so much stuff that we could have made a film on each family. But our film is about the journey of this one family, how they survived going from one corner to the other.

Patil and his team found lots of material online, from photographs, interviews to personal family histories. There was a lot of information attained through newspapers and BBC documentaries. Patil went on to say, "There are some stories that no one knows about. We found tales like that. Taking all of this, we’ve put together a film about 1984. We show the assassination of Indira Gandhi, when the bullets first hit. From 9.30 in the morning, the film follows the entire day, night and the next morning. It was important to show the whole environment and what was happening. Whatever is shown in the film, they are all real-life events.”

Patil got the offer to direct right after winning the National Award for Dhag. He was also wondering what to make as his follow-up feature and didn’t want to spoil his reputation by just taking up any old thing. “I wanted to make a good film after the National Award. This came along and it was a subject which I liked and felt I could make a film on this.”

31st October was cleared by the Committee of Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) in August. It had its world premiere at the London Indian Film Festival in July 2015. Patil remained confident in his film and said, “We got the response we wanted for the film. Why do we make films? After showing it, we felt that people have liked it.”

Patil reveals that his lead actors, Vir Das and Soha Ali Khan, were both on a shortlist and readily agreed to star in the film. It was easier for the director to transition from Marathi to Hindi cinema. He said, “It’s a bit easier to work in Hindi cinema. Easier because you get money and a budget. I’m not talking about the director’s fees. You get money to make a movie. You don’t get that in Marathi cinema. You have to make a good film in a limited budget and have to think wisely about taking your shots. Some equipment is also not there. In Hindi cinema, you ask and you’ll get what you need. You have to use your head more in Marathi cinema.”

The director also talked about the changes Marathi cinema has seen over the years. He referenced Marathi films following the Hindi formula of casting stars and how that eventually didn’t work. “Prior to the 1980s, it was fine. In the 1980s, it started falling apart. And then after 10 years, the industry felt that content is required. Stars are fine for Hindi cinema, it won’t work for Marathi cinema. After that, good films started again.”

Patil is also insistent on creating good cinema, a sentiment echoed by his lead actress, Khan. He repeatedly talked about making films to show what is going on in the real world. “What we do is show dreams onscreen in Hindi films. Hindi cinema is a big territory and there are many such real-life stories out there. In Marathi films, it’s all about content and you are getting your money’s worth. We are not showing anything old world, it’s about today’s world. But we are showing it in a way that you can learn something. After watching it, you would want to show it to your children. It should change something in people’s lives. This doesn’t happen in Hindi films. It’s much more commercial.”

But Patil holds no grudges against any industry. He just wants to work, it doesn’t matter what language. It should be something what works for either language, Hindi or Marathi. Patil’s next will be a Marathi film, Halal, on the issue of divorce in the Muslim community.