This Friday, Indu Sarkar, a movie by producer-director Madhur Bhandarkar released. The movie has Emergency as the setting and tells the story of those times.
Congress workers and supporters have been trying to bring down the movie – from spreading lies against it to stopping its screenings – and that has left Madhur Bhandarkar fighting a lonely battle as not many people came out in support.
I had a small conversation with Mr. Bhandarkar regarding the movie and his experience in wake of all this controversy. Here are the highlights of that interview:
What motivated you to make a movie based on the Emergency?
I made this movie because I feel this generation isn’t aware of the period of the Emergency. Also, I have always been the kind of movie maker to make realistic, hard hitting movies. The backdrop of my movies have always been that way. I wanted to do a period film based in the era of the 1970s and what better than to make it in the backdrop of the Emergency, a topic largely untouched by Bollywood.
Once you had decided to make a movie based on the Emergency, how did you go about conducting your research?
Well, I met a lot of people from that era, especially the people who were marginalized and terrorized and their families. I even spoke to a lot of people who were held under MISA. I also read the Shah commission report to better acquaint myself with what the situation at the time was. I went through books written about the Emergency, newspapers and also a lot of material from the Nehru memorial library.
When you were interviewing the people who really felt the brunt of the Emergency, was there any story that really stood out for you? Perhaps something that moved you emotionally?
I haven’t met George Fernandes, but how he was arrested, tortured, with his nails being removed etc., stayed with me. I read about his ordeal and though I couldn’t put it in the movie, it really touched me and gave a sense of how bad things really were during the Emergency. There were lots of other things as well. Like how Kishore Kumar was banned and he had to give an undertaking before the ban was removed. The sterilization program and how harshly it was conducted. These things really stayed with me.
Coming to the movie, it is a relatively smaller budget movie. Why is that?
Oh yes. My budget was almost as much an average Bollywood movie’s costume budget, and it was deliberate. My budget has always been controlled and that’s my USP. I generally tell me stories through relative newcomers. Even for Indu Sarkar, I haven’t engaged any big stars.
With Indu Sarkar, the posters were released very recently and the marketing of the movie also started very late. Any particular reason? Was there fear of disruption during shooting?
No no, there was no fear. I don’t get scared easy. I have always made hard hitting films that have offended someone or the other. Be it Fashion, Chandni Bar or Traffic Signal. I have always been fearless in terms of my stories and concepts and there have always been people who think I’m trying to rub them the wrong way. See, Indu Sarkar is a human story, and the Emergency is only the backdrop.
But people came to know about a movie on Emergency only when posters came out and by then the production was almost complete. Was it deliberate to avoid issues during filming?
There were talks even earlier that I’m making a movie based on the Emergency (though they didn’t make headlines), the posters releasing late was a marketing strategy. Definitely not because I was scared of disruption during filming, as I said, I don’t scare easy.
Considering the current situation, I’ve wondered if the threats start coming in when word got out that you are making a movie with the Emergency as the backdrop or did it start trickling in later, closer to the release?
See, I was aware what was happening. As a film maker, I have friends across the political spectrum. But yes, the whole thing started when word got out that I was making a movie with the Emergency as the backdrop. The moment they heard, they thought it was a political film so the threats and intimidation started. In fact, I got some calls from my well-wishers in Congress also asking me why I would want to make a film that would create trouble for me and would upset people.
The thing is, in 2014, when the entire film fraternity went on a platform and started an anti Narendra Modi tirade, I was the one, along with Lata didi, Kher sahab etc. who stood up and said Narendra Modi should become the Prime Minister of India. From that moment onwards, there is a certain hostility towards me in the film industry.
That would seem so. I remember you were in a debate with Sagarika Ghose in the panel and she accused you of staying silent when Karan Johar, or Anurag Kashyap were attacked. This was of course a lie. You had spoken up for their rights and movies.
Oh absolutely, I have always stood up for my fraternity. Whether it was Aye Dil Hain Mushkil or Udta Punjab. In fact, people had put up screenshots of my tweet because some ignorant people made claims about my silence. It was necessary to educate them.
So did you feel bad, that the people you had stood up for, like Karan Johar, Anurag Kashyap, Bhansali, didn’t speak up for you when you needed the fraternity’s support the most?
Oh yes, I had spoken up for Mr Bhansali also, and it was very unfortunate that none of these people, and the entire film fraternity, bothered to stand up for me. When I was gheraoed at Poona and then again in Nagpur where I had to cancel my press conference, it was scary. A Congress leader announced 1 lakh rupees award for anyone who blackens my face!
See, I knew the film industry makes fluff movies and it’s a very shallow and superficial industry for the most part of it, but I did think they would voice support; if not for me then for my freedom of expression. I genuinely thought they would stand for my right to make this film, because today it’s me, tomorrow it might be someone else, but I was disappointed. This selectivity in the film industry is very unfortunate.
But why do you think this happened? Do you think it’s because you took a stand for Narendra Modi when industry stalwarts like Mahesh Bhatt and company were against the PM? Or do you think it was because of this specific topic?
Other than the topic, I have always been seen as a Modi supporter and I have always been very vocal about my political preference. Through this interview, I would also like to clarify one thing. Many people said that I was given a Padma Shri by the Modi government. Let me put it on record, that my Padma Shri was recommended by UPA ministers and the UPA government. It was recommended in 2013, and I eventually got it in 2016.
So it was not by the Narendra Modi government?
Absolutely not. Now tell me, after winning national awards (before Modi took over) and also international awards, am I not eligible for a Padma Shri? That’s why I had asked some media persons to do their homework. My award was recommended by the Congress led government and not the Modi government, and regardless, I was eligible to get the award.
A section of the media has given raving reviews for your movie. But there is another section that has given terrible reviews. Do you think that’s because of your political leanings?
Yes. a large section has given excellent reviews. But the “award wapi gang” has gone hammer and tongs after it. More than the movie, they are attacking me personally. They are saying things like he is a Sanghi, or that I am looking at the movie through a “right wing prism” or that I have timed my movie to benefit politically. Their vengeance is evident against me, and it is completely because of my vocal support of Narendra Modi.
When the award wapsi brigade started, I was completely against it (Mr. Bhandarkar was one of the organizers of #MarchForIndia protest against award wapsi drama). I asked them where were they when in Kolkata Book Festival Tasleema Nasreen’s book was removed? Or when Salman Rushdie wasn’t allowed to even speak via video conferencing in the Jaipur lit fest? I asked them where was their voice when they should have supported Shereen Dalvi? None of these people came in support.
Well, none of them have come in your support either. There has been a lot of commotion since yesterday with Congress hooligans protesting in front of theatres and disrupting screening of the movies
Exactly. They’re scaring the audience from going to watch the movie. I wish I could ask Congress why they want to disrupt a movie that has been legitimately been passed by the censor board. When you read the reviews, you realize its pure vengeance. In fact, it’s laughable when they say it’s a propaganda movie. If I had to do that, I would have released the movie closer to elections and not now. All this is just very sad. Reviewers should review a movie genuinely. We work very hard for its completion.
So basically, you are saying they are doing exactly what they are accusing you of!
Yes. I think they were waiting for the movie to release so they could start printing their prejudiced reviews. They had already made up their mind about this movie. Judging from the personal attacks, I suspect some reviews had already been written before the movie released. That their level of vengeance. They say I’ve made the movie from a right wing perspective, I think they should go read some books and read the Shah commission report.
Was there any pressure from the distributors? Any distributor that refused to run with this movie because of its backdrop?
Nothing like that. But after everything that’s been happening since Friday, some people refused to screen the film because all the ruckus being created by Congress hooligans. Nobody wants business to be affected. Also, because of such hooliganism, cine goers also get scared. Word of unrest and shows getting cancelled spreads fast these days and force people to stay away from the movie. I am guessing these are all local level karyakartas looking for their moment of fame.
It’s been a while since such hooliganism has been happening. Did you receive any call from the upper echelons of the Congress party assuring you that they will support your freedom of expression and that no harm would befall you?
None. Not even one. This is the same Congress party that talks about freedom of expression and women empowerment. And today, they are obstructing a movie that has women centric protagonists. They went to the Censor board and fought for Udta Punjab and today, their duplicity has been completely exposed.
You, in fact, tweeted to Rahul Gandhi…
I was held captive in a hotel for over 3 hours because of a mob. It was all very unnerving. I had to change 3 cars just to get to the airport because there were people chasing us. That’s why I tweeted to Rahul Gandhi. I thought he is a young guy who will understand the problem and instruct his karyakartas to back off.
And you got any response?
None. Even my friends in Congress have tried to distance themselves from me. I understand their compulsions.
So who has really stood with you in this entire ordeal?
Some friends like Ashoke Pandit, Kher sahab etc. And of course, Social Media. Through you, I would genuinely like to thank the people on Social Media because these are the people who gave me the energy to go on. Had social media not been there for me, I think I would have gone into depression. I was fighting on all fronts. Hooliganism, sponsors, courts; every day was a battle. I don’t scare easy, perhaps that’s why I could survive. Nobody from even my own fraternity came for support.
Did you call anyone for support?
No. I knew I was going to be fighting a lone battle. I’m a very shy person when it comes to these things. In my career, I have been a one man show. I don’t belong to any coterie and don’t have too many friends in Bollywood. I do what I think is right.
Recently, there was a storm about nepotism in Bollywood. Do you think that plays a role in you being the proverbial cheese that stands alone?
Absolutely. That might also be one of the reasons. I don’t come from a film family and I come from a middle class family who has struggled a lot to get where I am today.
So you are stuck between two nepotistic industries?
Yes. You can say that. And I can fight my own battles, that’s okay. I just hope people judge the movie and not resort to personal attacks. Though I give it back as good as I get.
There was one review that subtly accused you of being misogynistic. Saying that the antagonist in your movie if generally powerful, successful, evil and manipulative, while the protagonist if an innocent woman who first gets misled and then finds their true voice and that you never bother to show the journey of the antagonist. What do you say to that?
Firstly, Indu Sarkar is not a biopic. It’s about a poetess called Indu and her journey. Secondly, I have made my entire career on women centric movies, they should first see my movies before commenting. Like in Satta, Raveena Tandon’s character was of a fierce politician while in Chandni Bar the protagonist was very submissive. I think women have different shades in their personality and any artist who deals with women centric topics, has to understand all shades of a woman’s personality. Though since I haven’t read the article, I can’t comment on this particular review too much.
Considering all the drama, would you continue to make such controversial movies in the future?
Absolutely. I will make the movies that appeal to me. I will be back to making movies after taking a break for a while.
Any message to your Bollywood comrades who have kept silence through it all and continue to keep silent today?
I’m not surprised. I tweeted to you, didn’t I… “Kitne ajeeb rishte hain yaha pe..”