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Raazi was always a careful project as protagonist was a woman: Meghna Gulzar 

On her 45th birthday, we revisit the filmmaker's conversation about making Raazi non-judgemental, the economics of making a female-led film and the challenges the she faced in getting producers and actors before Talvar's success.

Suparna Thombare

Last few years have been good for Meghna Gulzar, who had been struggling to get her films made. While in 2015, Talvar, based on the Arushi Talvar murder, received appreciation, she delivered a big hit with Raazi this year. 

Not only was Raazi an engaging thriller, but it also portrayed the India-Pakistan conflict with a rare eye that did not indulge in bashing and jingoism. Meghna says that her decision to stay away from that was a logical one that arose from the story itself. 

Today, on her 45th birthday (she was born on 13 December 1973), we revisit what the filmmaker had to say about making Raazi non-judgemental, the economics of making a female-led film and the challenges the she faced in getting producers and actors before Talvar's success.

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"I knew where my film is going to end, and the sentiment with which it was going to end. I know that this woman is going to come back to India and refuse to abort the child of her Pakistani husband. That means she must have been in love with him. For that to happen he must have been a good man. For him to be a good man his family has to be good people. So it was that chain," said Meghna, during a conversation on women directors in Hindi cinema at the International Film Festival of India, Goa, in November 2018. 

Meghna also deviated from Harinder S Sikka's Calling Sehmat, the book the film is adapted from. The book narrated the story of an Indian girl who enters Pakistan as an undercover spy by marrying an army man. She also skipped showing Sehmat's love interest before she leaves for Pakistan and her life after she returns to India post the mission. 

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"In the book, Sehmat's character never ever questions her actions. Whereas, in the film, I wanted her to question her actions because you can't be so mercenary that you go and do atrocious things and it does not ever impact your conscious or your soul. The confrontation that she has with her handler where she says that before I become totally like you, I want to go back. I don't understand your sense of loyalty."

Thankfully, the people around her did not ask her to compromise on her vision. 

"There was never a demand to tailor anything to make it more commercial [from people involved in the project]. The only request I got was to lighten up the use of Urdu in the initial five minutes of the film because people won't understand it," she says. 

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The Alia Bhatt-starrer went on to become a big hit, earning around Rs122 crore at the domestic box office. 

Meghna, though, admitted that the economics of her film did depend on whether the protagonist was male or female, apart from the subject itself.

"When it was coming together as a story, nobody knew it was going to make Rs100 crore," she said. "It was always a very careful project because the lead protagonist was a woman and that did affect all the numbers involved in the making of the film."

The economics of having a female lead was also a key reason why Meghna failed to get her first film Filhaal (2002), starring Sushmita Sen and Tabu, off the floor for the longest time, despite being the daughter of acclaimed lyricist and filmmaker Gulzar. 

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"If there is a living example that nepotism does not exist in our industry, it is me," she remarked. 

"My first film was about two women who decided to have a child out of surrogacy, where one friend was helping the other out because she had fertility issues. And it was perceived that there was absolutely nothing in this film for men to do. Now, I know science has advanced considerably, but I still don't think a child can be born without a man's contributon. So, why is it that there is nothing in this film for the men to do? Yes, there is nothing traditionally for them to do. So it was a struggle, it took two years for that film to be put together."

Meghna recalls how she struggled to even get actors and producers to discuss her project. 

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"I would wait 12 hours outside a studio to get two words in to an actor. And I would not say who I am. Of course, they would know who I am, but that didn't get me easy access. My first film failed miserably and it took me seven years to make my next. And it didn't matter what my last name was. It was only after my film [Talvar] succeeded that it became easier to make my fourth film," she said.

Meghna ended up making only one feature film, Just Married (2007), and a short, Dus Kahaniyaan (2007), in the 13 years between Talvar and her first film, Filhaal. 

The filmmaker is already on to her next which is also a female-led story. Starring Deepika Padukone, the film explores the larger issue of acid violence through the story of an acid attack survivor Laxmi Agarwal.