Interview Hindi

What’s the harm in it? Tigmanshu Dhulia on cinema being used to propagate political agendas

On the filmmaker's 50th birthday, he tells about his upcoming film Raag Desh, ideologies of Mahatma Gandhi and Subhash Chandra Bose, politics in cinema, his birthday celebrations and more.

Photo: Shutterbugs Images

Mayur Lookhar

Tigmanshu Dhulia is perhaps a misfit among the millennium directors. He shares the same passion as directors like Anurag Kashyap, Imtiaz Ali and Karan Johar, but unlike the trio, he’s more unassuming as a person. He’s not one you’d find at too many parties, stays clears of controversies, does fewer films, never goes overboard in his film promotions, and nor is he swayed by his success. He’s a man of few words too. He keeps his answers simple and honest, much like himself.

Dhulia is the man with many hats — director, screenwriter, casting director and actor. He began his career as casting director in Shekhar Kapur’s critically acclaimed Bandit Queen (1994). Dhulia then did his bit on television before directing his first film Haasil (2003).

He is known for his realistic, unconventional stories and achieved great fame with the biopic Paan Singh Tomar (2012), the story of an athlete-turned-dacoit. He then showed his flair for palace politics with the Sahib Biwi Aur Gangster franchise. When he had free time, Dhulia showed his calibre as an actor with stellar show in films like Gangs of Wasseypur 1 and 2 (2012) and Manjhi – The Mountain Man (2015).

In a first, Dhulia now delves into a pre-Independence saga with Raag Desh, that is based on the 1945 Red Fort trials of three Indian soldiers — Gurubaksh Singh, Prem Kumar Sahgal and Shah Nawaz Khan. The film is being produced by Rajya Sabha TV and its set to be released on 28 July.

Dhulia turns 50 on 3 July 2017.  

A few days before his birthday, Dhulia shared with his thoughts on Raag Desh. He says despite their ideological differences, Mahatma Gandhi was in some way influenced by Subhash Chandra Bose, and the director finds no fault if a film has a political agenda.

Excerpts from the conversation:

You turn 50 this year. Wonder if this occasion would merit some 'Tamanchey Pe Disco' [song from Bullet Raja (2013)] kind of celebrations?

No, I don’t think so. Definitely not 'Tamanchey Pe Disco'. It will be the usual celebration with family and close friends.

Considering it is your 50th birthday, doesn’t it call for more elaborate celebrations?

No, I’m more concerned with the release of our film. I’ll be busy promoting the film. Most of my time and energy will go into it than in organising my 50th birthday. 50 is just a bloody number yaar. People just need an excuse to drink.

Your father was a judge, mother a Sanskrit teacher, one of your brothers followed your father, while the other one joined the navy. How did you end up in cinema?

My two elders brothers, they did theatre, they had a band. They used to play the guitar. There is an age difference between my brothers and I, they were my heroes. I just aped them. Life kind of pulled me here, whereas they followed the normal path.

Your film Raag Desh is around the corner. Raag Desh has so far created a good buzz mainly because of the untold history. Most ordinary citizens haven’t come across this chapter of Indian history. One is left to question why didn’t Bollywood tap into this piece of history before? Besides, why has this piece of history remained a mystery?

Well, it remained a mystery for me too even though I was a history student. I knew about Netaji (Subhash Chandra Bose) and other noted leaders, but these details were not known to me at all.

So, the idea was mooted by Rajya Sabha TV to you.

Yes, I had never thought of making a film on Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. When I was offered this film, I said that it will be interesting to do something like this because this project would have never have come to me from a regular Bollywood source. I just grabbed the opportunity with both hands.

What made you pick Amit Sadh, Kunal Kapoor and Mohit Marwah for the lead roles of Gurubaksh Singh, Shah Nawaz Khan and Prem Kumar Sahgal, respectively?

I wasn’t looking for stars. I don’t make films with stars. It’s too much of a hassle to get three stars together. I didn’t have any faces in mind when I was writing the script. Young men from that era stood for their innocent looks. They were humble in the manner they spoke. Humility reflected on their face. We don’t get to see those sharif (innocent) looking men today. I’d seen a bit of Kunal Kapoor and Amit Sadh, and I thought they could fit the roles of Gurubaksh and Khan. For the role of Sahgal, I had to audition Mohit. All the these men have that innocent look on their face.

It’s nice to have a period film that doesn’t celebrate the glory or sacrifice of a Mahatma Gandhi or a Bhagat Singh, or the Indo-Pak wars. While Bengal and its cinema always honoured Subhash Chandra Bose, why is that whenever Bose was depicted in Hindi cinema, it raised eyebrows in some political circles?

Shyam Benegal had made a film – Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose: The Forgotten Hero (2005) and then many years back, there was one film called Samadhi.  Besides these two, there weren’t too many films made on Bose. I think people got more interested in the mystery surrounding him, tales of him still being alive, him becoming a sage. Even Bose’s daughter came to me and wondered why are people more interested in the mystery behind the man than the work that he did.

Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and Mahatma Gandhi, two iconic leaders but both had a different ideology. Gandhi believed in ahimsa (non-violence), while Bose said, 'Give me blood, and I’ll give you Independence'. Will there be a clash of the two ideologies in the film?

They had ideological differences but both had one common goal — Independence. However, if you look into the history of the Quit India Movement in 1942, Gandhi’s slogan was 'karo ya maro' (do or die). So somewhere even Gandhiji had this realisation that may be non-violence alone cannot help us get Independence. So, in some way Gandhi was also influenced by Bose’s ideology. The British were left weakened during the World War II. So, perhaps both Gandhi and Bose knew that this is the time to strike and gain Independence.

Reading about the Red Fort trials, I’m convinced that Raag Desh is not anti-Congress or against any party. Unfortunately, today there are couple of films like Indu Sarkar, that clash with your film. Then there is one film announced on Manmohan Singh: The Accidental Prime Minister. Both films are accused by the Congress party of being sponsored. Political vendatta was something used in political circles, but there is a fear now this vendetta may also be transferring to the screen. Your thoughts.
I have no idea about this Accidental Prime Minister film. I’m not even sure whether that film is getting made.

Well, the makers have just announced the film. Central Board Of Film Certification chief Pahlaj Nihalani has reportedly asked the makers to get a No Objection Certificate from Dr Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi and others on whom the film is based.

Yes, they will have to get their permission otherwise you will not be able to use their names.

May be cinema is being used to propagate individual/political agenda. How do you see it?

Well, if it  is happening, then let it happen. What’s the harm in it? People are intelligent enough to understand what is true or false. However, through films you cannot affect someone’s morality.  

Historical subjects have perhaps lost their appeal today. It’s not that youngsters don’t care about our past leaders, but beyond history books they don’t really connect with the leaders. How tough is it then to make a film that appeals to the youth today?

To some extent, I agree with you.  You say this because youngsters don’t talk about the past. However, if you show them something interesting enough through a feature film, if it is entertaining and engaging enough, I have full faith that youngsters will like it. They don’t talk about it, but that doesn’t mean that it is completely out of their system. It’s not that they wont be able to fathom the fact that we had such great leaders who fought for our freedom. The problem is that we haven’t done anything for them.

It’s been years four years since you last directed a film. What kept you away from direction this long? Was it the dearth of good scripts or financiers?

Bullet Raja released in 2013. Thereafter, I began shooting immediately for a film called Yaara. Hopefully, it will get released by the end of this year. As soon as I finished that, I started working on Raag Desh. It took a year-and-a-half to research and write the script. On my last brithday, we started filming Raag Desh. So, I was busy.

With Bullet Raja, you worked with a popular actor Saif Ali Khan. The film didn’t do that well. Where do you think you went wrong?

I really don’t know. I won’t be able to put it down to any specific reason. We didn’t see anything wrong while making the film. Some people told me that they couldn’t fathom Saif Ali Khan in such a character. I felt that may be people didn’t expect such a film from me. I had this image of a serious intense director making realistic and low budget films. I always wanted to make an out and out entertainer. Probably, if the film had the name of Prabhu Deva as director, then may no one would have had a problem with that. I guess people were pissed off at how could I make such a film.

While we didn’t see you direct a film, Dhulia the actor was very impressive in Gangs of Wasseypur. Does a director find it easy to adjust to facing the camera?

After working for so many years, you do gain confidence. Earlier, I was very shy.

That’s it? Nothing to comment on your short acting career so far?

Well, I hardly have an acting career. I have done just 4-5 films, that too with friends. I don’ go out looking for roles. I don’t have any manager. If friends call me and if I have the time, and if I’m in need of money, then I act in films.

You’re working next on Sahib, Biwi Aur Gangster 3 with Sanjay Dutt. Dutt has played a gangster before but what can we expect from this film?

It will be sensual, very intriguing. There’ll be action and good music, old world charm and palace politics. My gangster is never an out and out gangster. He has solid reasons for doing what he is doing in the film. Most characters in the film are grey. Randeep Hooda had a motive in the first film, similarly Dutt saab will have his strong reasons.

Biopics are in great demand today which wasn’t the case before. Does having a set script makes the task easier for the directors?

I can only say about myself. I only get interested in making biopics if the story of the character is too cold. Paan Singh Tomar was an army man, he was an athlete, and then he became a dacoit. Just to make a film like Mary Kom may not hit so much because there are many boxers. I think the Sanjay Dutt biopic would be great. He’s had a roller coaster life. That would be really interesting.

You are turning 50. You've have spent some 25 years in the industry. If you were to summarise your life so far, how would you describe it in a few sentences?

Your struggle never stops, your wisdom keeps growing, your wants and desires never end. You’re striving for more. I guess I need a comma somewhere in between. Bahot ho gaya (this is too much).