Madhur Bhandarkar is no stranger to controversies. Yet, the storm building up over his upcoming feature, the director’s admits, has left him feeling “threatened”.
Madhur’s new film Indu Sarkar uses Emergency as a backdrop to create a fictional character that closely bears resemblance with Indira Gandhi.
No sooner did the news become public, Congress leader Haseeb Ahmad announced a one lakh-prize for any person who throws black ink on Madhur’s face. Earlier this week, a woman named Priya Singh Paul who claims to be Sanjay Gandhi’s daughter, alleged that the film would show her “father” and “grandmother” Indira Gandhi in bad light.
Indeed, the premise of his new film has not gone down well with several Congress leaders, though Madhur has claimed about 70 per cent of his film is fiction. Former MP Jagdish Tytler has demanded the film portray a clean image of him while Maharashtra Congress chief Sanjay Nirupam wants to watch Indu Sarkar before it goes to the censors.
“My sleepless nights will continue till the film releases. There is so much of pressure from political parties and people. Somebody is offering a one-lakh booty to blacken my face. I feel threatened because I am a family person. People close to me tell me I should not go anywhere alone right now,” says Madhur, sitting on a sofa in his Mumbai suburb office, remote in hand.
Emergency is one of the darkest chapters of our democracy and Madhur perhaps knew all along making a film around the subject would be a tough call. The television set in the room, on mute mode, plays out his bytes on the controversy his film is generating, as the hour’s breaking news. Madhur watches the screen intently, even as he answers our queries.
‘I AM STRONG PERSON’
Has he called to beef up his security post the threats? “Not yet. I am a strong person, a fighter. I want to see how things shape up,” he says.
On the various issues that have cropped up, Madhur’s stance is clear-cut. He will not bow before any pressure.
“The question of showing the film to any politician does not rise. The censors are authorised by the government of India to watch a film first. Why would I show it to a political party? If somebody claims she is Sanjay Gandhi’s daughter and asks me to show her the film, why would I agree? Jagdish Tytler wants his image to be a clean one in the film. What do I do? This is all completely absurd. I will not give in to unreasonable demands,” says Madhur.
He gets irritated at the mention of the Congress claim that his film has been sponsored by the BJP government. “My film is not sponsored by the BJP. If it was, then I would have preferred making a docu-drama on Emergency or specifically a biopic. Why would I invest my time on a film that is 30 per cent reality and 70 per cent fiction? Such remarks are weird and reckless. If the film was sponsored why didn’t I release it before the elections three months back? Or perhaps I could have waited to release it before the 2019 elections?” he retorts.
‘INDU SARKAR ABOUT WOMEN’S EMPOWERMENT’
Without naming any political party or politician, Madhur claims those objecting to his film are actually opposing women’s empowerment.
“The film is about women’s empowerment, about a girl who stammers, about a poetess who rebels against the system. If political parties talk about women’s empowerment, then they should support the film. You are suppressing a film that has a female point of view,” he declares.
The 48-year-old filmmaker has been known for crossover hits riding strong female protagonists in the past. Films such as Chandni Bar, Page 3, Fashion, Satta, Corporate and Heroine have been highlight projects of several top heroines as Tabu, Konkona Sen Sharma, Priyanka Chopra, Raveena Tandon, Bipasha Basu and Kareena Kapoor respectively.
For Indu Sarkar, Madhur has chosen the relatively low profile Kirti Kulhari, mainly because he wants the focus to remain on the subject of Emergency.
Why did he choose such a hardhitting slice of real life this time?
“I have made a trail of films on different issues. It’s not like I used to make candyfloss cinema and have suddenly decided to make a film on Emergency. My films have always rubbed people the wrong way over the past 17 years. Almost all my films – from Chandni Bar, Traffic Signal and Jail to Page 3, Corporate and Fashion – has courted protests. I felt Emergency as a subject has not been depicted on screen. It’s something people don’t want to discuss. I am here to make a film on something I wanted to, and only I have the right to decide on what subject I will make my film,” he declares.
Talking about the research work behind the film, the director says: “I am a big fan of the ’70s and loved recreating that era. For six to seven months, I collected things that I have used in the film – like the typewriter, gramophone records, the lights, old phones from Kolkata, Delhi, Hyderabad and Mumbai. I really enjoyed the entire process of making this period film,” he says.
How much of it does he remember of Emergency? Madhur recalls he was a child when Emergency happened and did not quite understand what was going on. However, he has managed to revisit that past through his film.
Many of today’s youth don’t even know about Emergency. Will they connect with the film? Madhur seems optimistic.
“I’m happy when I see the youth, who are under 35, expressing curiosity about the film. I have been getting so many messages every day since the trailer was released. Youngsters are reacting to the trailer and expressing their desire to watch the film. It tells a human story and will connect with everybody,” Madhur assures about his film, which features Kirti Kulhari with Neil Nitin Mukesh, Anupam Kher and Tota Roy Chowdhury.
ALSO WATCH | Documentary: The story of Emergency in India