An Incorrigible Optimist
Like many of his other intense, hard-hitting films his take on sexual harassment or man-woman relationship at workplace, Inkaar too has failed to generate box office enthusiasm. What has set Sudhir Mishra apart from some of the other purveyors of middle-of-the-road cinema whose work has found acceptance with somewhat greater debate and enthusiasm is his refusal to compromise with his own beliefs: insert titillation or shock value aspects. And this attitude has not only set him apart but also provided him with an identity of his own right from his foray, Yeh Woh Manzil to Nahin which got him the National Award for Best First film of a Director in 1987.
What also set him apart from his contemporaries or younger competitors is the honesty of purpose with which he has pursued his theories, beliefs and themes that ought to provoke debate. But the variety is admirable: Main Zinda Hoon (88—National Award for Best Film on Social Issues), Dharavi (91—National Award for Best Feature Film in Hindi)), Is Raat Ki Subah Nahin (96) Chameli and Calcutta Mail (03), Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi (05—Filmfare Best Story Award)) Khoya Khoya Chand (07) and Yeh Saali Zindagi (10).
Another venture, Tera Kya Hoga Johny is yet to find a release. And though he can be accused of certain other repetitiveness, it was never with regards to themes or approach to his kind of filmmaking. That’s perhaps why he holds a unique position in the marketplace. “They are all shades of me, my interactions and distillations of my experiences within my society”, observes Mishra. An interesting part of the film-maker’s ventures so far has been working with actors without value tags.
Man-woman relationship has been a catalyst in his films especially after Is Raat ki Subah Nahin. Coming back to the basics, and taking a second look at the variety of themes, and his depiction of feminine characters, Mishra is candid enough to admit in a recent interview that he doesn’t “treat women condescendingly and respect their fundamental right to be wrong…I strive to respect the endless capabilities of women…I will always find them intriguing (watch Chitrangda Singh as Maya Luthra in Inkaar). I don’t judge. Women have the right to be independent as well as to lead a life of household chores, if they desire. They need not carry the burden of stereotypes.” But that’s likely to change soon once Mehrunissa goes on the floors shortly. But more of that later.
Cinema, for Sudhir Mishra, is an instinctive art and while film schools and institutes can help, ultimately it is up to you “to construct an effective, you need craft and discipline. I have learnt a great deal from watching cinema.” And despite beliefs to the contrary, he confesses to going back to classics. So when he started making Khoya Khoya Chand, many felt he was trying to recreate Guru Dutt’s Kaagaz ke Phool, but he vehemently denied, saying: “I think in India the problem is that because everyone is corrupt people don’t believe that one person is not, and since everyone is stealing from somewhere it is difficult for them to believe that Sudhir Mishra is not. I am sorry to disappoint them. I love Guru Dutt. I am very impressed and full of admiration for his craft. But personally I think Kaagaz Ke Phool is a very trashy story. It is too self-indulgent for my liking. As a story I think Pyasa is a great film. I think Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam is a great film. I think ultimately Kaagaz Ke Phool is a well-crafted, very well done film, there are moments that are brilliant but it is not a story that I like at all. As a subject matter there may be similarities, there is a hero, there is a film director, and films, and I have been here. So if someone says there is an influence of Guru Dutt in my films, I would say ya, it is fantastic. I think he was one of the great popular filmmakers of all times.”
“Essentially, Khoya Khoya Chand was a film about an aspiring actress who is spotted by a superstar of that time. As she is groomed to be a star she also gets into a relationship with him. And into their world, as she is becoming a star, comes this arrogant, cocky writer and a complicated relationship begins between the two of them.”
The filmmaker has often been projected as someone biased towards his female characters. That’s what seems to have been the case with the latest Inkaar. Coming to think of it this aspect has been evident in many of his other films as well. There is also then the element of time and space. “Chameli and Is Raat Ki Subah Nahin covered a small space but other films have a fairly wider space. I wanted to showcase the lives of the people trapped in a crisis in Chameli and Is Raat… and it was interesting to describe their past without actually dwelling into the past. On the other hand Inkaar covers a span of seven years but the structure is not linear, Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi showcased a span of ten years, so it depends on the story. Every story should be as short as possible.”
Currently preoccupied with completing a 13-minute film Kirchiyaan co-starring Chitrangada Singh and Sushant Singh about which Sudhir says, “It hasn’t been easy to make this film. On the contrary, it was more difficult to make this short film than most full-length feature films. Because there is no luxury of time, locations, budgets, etc. The story has to be gripping enough, every second. It took more than eight ideas and nine drafts to arrive at the final screenplay. It’s been quite a journey.”
Sudhir Mishra faces the greatest challenge of his life as a filmmaker when the ambitious, Mehrunissa eventually goes on the floors next April. The story of two friends who live with the misunderstanding that the other has betrayed his faith and has gone away with his woman until they meet again in Lucknow twenty five years later, and realise the truth. Amitabh Bachchan and Rishi Kapoor play the two friends. Shooting might have been completed by now had Bachchan’s last hospitalisation not come in the way. Although no formal announcement has yet been made about the leading lady, one can only speculate the choice.
By Suresh Kohli