Interview Hindi

Am not Rajkumar Hirani that stars will put their trust in me: Kamakhya Narayan Singh

The director talks about what went into the making of his film Bhor, which has a subject similar to Akshay Kumar-starrer Toilet: Ek Prem Katha (2017). 

Photo: Shutterbugs Images

Suparna Thombare

Kamakhya Narayan Singh's first feature film Bhor has become one of the most-talked about films at the 49th International Film Festival of India, held in Goa, after its premiere on 22 November, and rightly so. 

Bhor revolves around a girl from the Musahar community in a Bihar village who demands a toilet in her home and the right to pursue her education, after she is married off. 

The subject of Singh's film obviously bears similarity to Shree Narayan Singh's 2017 film, Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, but the treatment is far from similar. 

Kamakhya's version is a more realistic despite being a completely ficticious one, where each of his characters become one with their setting.  

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In an exclusive conversation with, Kamakhya, who has been a creative director with Travel XP, discusses why he chose not to go mainstream with the subject and what went into creating a film with a realistic, yet entertaining story about the untouchable community. Excerpts:

What went into the creating an authentic depiction of the Musahar community?

I am a documentary filmmaker. I do lots of travel documentaries. I am a student of social work. I always felt disconnected when I used to watch the stories told in villages in the last 10-15 years. The reason behind that is we create a set. It will never look like what is in the village, so we decided to shoot in the village from where the story is inspired. We went to Bihar and shot there.

I was born in Assam, but my family is originally from Bihar. I went to the place where I had seen the Musahars, but now it is well-built. So we went into the interiors and in Nalanda district, near Navadha, we found this place. My co-writers Bhaskar and [Devesh] Ranjan contributed hugely. Bhaskar comes from that place.

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First, we built a rapport with the villagers because Musahars are very simple people. They don't accept people from outside. But when they spoke to us and understood our motive, they gave their houses, they gave their food and everything else. Then I was speaking to the regular costume designers of Bollywood [Hindi cinema]. They started telling me that we will dip the clothes in chai ka pani and then take it out and it will look like old wornout clothes. I said that's bullshit, it never looks original like that.

I asked one of my friends,Sandhay Yadav, the costume designer, if she would do the costumes the way I wanted. She used to be part of the channel I used to work for, Travel XP. So, I said you don't need to do anything. You just need to go to the villages and give them new clothes because they don't have the money to buy good clothes. Give them some money also and take their clothes. So, in that village in a week's time there was happiness that they were getting money for their old clothes. And we collected all those clothes and we started giving it to our characters.

We told all our main characters to stay in the village for two months. And they used to work with the locals, go to the fields, take care of the pigs and eat with the villagers. So that was our production design plan, to create an authentic look. 

You also have a dance number, but extremly authentic looking one, especially compared to ones we see in Hindi cinema. 

I wanted the song to be original. So, I went to the music director. I wanted it to be recorded live in the open like it is shown in the film. He said I don't know how we can record this in the open. Then I went to the sound desgner and he said 'bring the music director and we can orchestrate that sound there'. I spoke to the regular big ones, but finally Gulraj did that one song. It is first time in Hindi cinema that someone has recorded an orchestrated song in a village with public there. And its part of my feature film. 

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The dance movements too were not very filmi...

I had a difference [of opinion] with the choreographers also. It's Bihari, and they relate Bihari to Bhojpuri so they wanted to have a vulgar kind of Bhojpuri song. And I said no to that. They said you cannot sell this kind of song. I said I don't even want to sell it. I want to make the film the way I want. 

Are you looking at a wide theatrical release?

Yes, I am looking at a wide release. 

Your film comes after Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, which is based on the same subject.

When Akshay Kumar gets hold of an idea, he gets the money. When we get an idea we have to look for a producer, actors and everything. 

Why didn't you go the mainstream route then. The story has huge potential for that. 

I wanted to make the kind of film that I wanted to make. I went to mainstream actors, and they did not agree to come to the village and stay there for 2 months. They want to do films in comfort. Neither did I have the budget to do that nor am I a Rajkumar Hirani that they will put their trust in me and agree to do that. If Hirani would have told them to stay in a village for 2 months, they would have done it.

For me, they wouldn't have come. And I wanted to make it the way I had envisioned.

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First three months I tried to cast mainstream actors and then I realised its not going to work. And then I approached Dilip Shankar, who has been a casting director on films like Life Of Pi (2012). I spoke to him and we decided to go for new faces, so that people identify the characters as Musahars. When you see Chamku (character in the film) you feel like you are seeing a Musahar. 

In a film like yours which focuses on the untouchable community, you have shown the Brahmin's to be good-hearted human beings and not as villains, which could have been a natural route to take?

While writing we have forgotten that even Brahmins had good people. Even Rajputs were good. We started writing stories that put them in as grey characters, as the villain. Not every person is a villain. I have seen my grandfather who lived in a village and all my vacations were spent in the village. And I saw him, people there respected him. People in nearby villages too respected him. There is a co-existence factor in the village which went wrong somewhere.

When we produced things in our field, part of the crop used to go to the barbers house, to the perosn who ploughed the field, to the pundit who did the puja, to the musahars, too. I always want and like films and stories to be told without villains. Villain me bhi to kuch acchai hoti hain [there is something good in a villain too].

Through our films, lets tell the upper-caste people that you can be like this. Let's not only show them as villains. We can show them that you can be like this. Why do people read Gandhi's biography? So people can follow his charitra [character]. Why don't you show that in films and inspire people, instead of always painting people as villains? Entertainment is a bigger frame work, so people can do that of course. But I wanted to make it like this.

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