I had decided that come what may, I won’t interview Shoojit Sircar before the release of his film, Madras Cafe. His film had already spawned a controversy which just got bigger and bigger as the release date approached.
Not that I could make a difference to what was happening all around, but I desisted from using the controversy to my advantage by fanning emotions of an already enraged section of Tamilians who felt that the film had portrayed the LTTE in a negative light.
The film released amid sporadic events of violence across Mumbai and rest of the country, but then it strangely died down with the same speed that it flared up.
The film garnered generous marks from critics and some of the protesters, who were violently opposing the film’s release, took a step back. So, I stepped ahead and made that phone-call to Shoojit.
It was easier to get hold of Shoojit because the filmi press had already moved on to promote films like Satyagraha that was lined up next.
I know that this interview won’t get as many shares or views as it would have normally got before the film’s release, but then that has never been my concern.
Here is some straight talk with the director of Madras Cafe:
Your phone was switched off…
I was on a flight. I just landed in Kolkata and I will soon be on my way home.
Where do you stay in Kolkata?
My home is near Salt Lake and I am here till Durga Puja is over. I am exhausted is an understatement. I am drained and I desperately need some rest. I just want to switch off. Till then, I am not talking about my next project.
I don’t want to talk about your next project, I want to talk about Madras Cafe…
Really? It’s all out there in the open (laughs).
Tell me Shoojit, were you scared and intimidated when you started hearing about the protests and violence before the film’s release?
I was actually in a different zone which was a very lonely one too. I wanted to tell everybody that I have neither portrayed any community in bad light, nor did I have any intention to do so. I kept telling everybody through whatever channel I had, to see the film first before reacting. But it didn’t happen.
The film was not being perceived in a way it should have been. I have written a fictional story around a historical incident and to make it appear authentic I have peppered the dialogues with certain terms (like Eelam). But some people were perceiving all of that in a wrong way. I felt helpless. At the same I knew that the feelings of hatred would die once the film was out.
Now that the film is out in the open, I have got so many calls from my Tamilian friends telling me that they didn’t find anything wrong with the way the characters have been portrayed. I am glad that people are realising it in the end. Guess that is the reason why the protests have died down suddenly.
Did you re-edit and chop off some scenes to avoid enraging the protestors further?
No. The film was not re-edited. I was happy with the first edit itself. There was no question of chopping any more scenes.
During the promotions, I noticed a very conscious attempt to not use words like LTTE though it was the moot point of your film…
I tried to take enough precautions to ensure that I put my film across as a work of fiction and not as a biopic or a slice of reality.
I kept telling everybody one should see the film before reacting adversely to it. But somehow things had taken its own course and was beyond my control.
I was surprised to hear some people referring to my film as a biopic. None had seen the film though. Making biopics in India are a cautious zone for all filmmakers.
I feel that the biopic that everybody should see is Gandhi (by Richard Attenborough) to realise how biopics are made. It is not easy to make something based on history because of its numerous interpretations. It is a very difficult job. I was certainly not ready to take that route.
I noticed that ‘Madras Cafe’ has been influenced by documentaries such as ‘The Sri Lankan Killing Fields’…
Not one, but I was influenced by a lot of documentaries. I had also read up a lot of articles from The Hindu and keenly followed as many documentaries, short films and articles that I could find on the subject.
I am a guy from Kolkata who makes Hindi films in Mumbai, naturally, I didn’t have any first-hand information about the Sri Lankan civil war. Whatever information I got, was from the internet and the newspaper archives. So, there was no question of taking a stand in my film.
What is your stand about the war that Sri Lanka waged against the LTTE?
I don’t want to take a stand for or against anybody because I am not qualified enough to take a stand. I can speak for humanity. All I can say here is that my heart goes out to the number of people who got displaced due to the war.
I showed that in the film too. The war had a huge and lasting impact on the civilians who got hit during the war and thousands got displaced overnight.
By the using the term ‘displaced civilians’, you are actually referring to the civil Tamilians in Sri Lanka, right? Why are you still so cautious and calculative?
Yes, I am. I have tried to show a displacement towards the end of the film.
Some just didn’t understand that I did not take a stand for any establishment, but for humanity. The number of people who got displaced and affected due to the war are huge and I have merely tried to bring that suffering out in my film.
Some people have interpreted that as me taking a stand for the Tamilian civilians in Lanka, but I have taken a stand for those who had no role in the war and still got hurt by it.
Your film has got good reviews. Has it made money too?
I think my film is a lesson for me as well as for my colleagues. In spite of a film which was not trying to score on the entertainment factor that so many films are trying to do these days, my film has made money.
I am told that my producers are happy because they are taking home a profit. I am not bothered about any benchmark of hits, I am simply happy that my producers have got back their investment.
That is enough for me because I was not looking to entertain my audience. I was merely trying to break the clutter. I am glad I could. All I want is a bit of rest now.
The short interview was soon over and it seemed that Shoojit got busy as he spotted his bag on the conveyor belt.
It was obvious that he was excited to head back home for a sumptuous Bengali lunch.
For a man who went through an emergency surgery, a tirade of gaalis on social media and people tearing down the posters before the film’s release, the lunch was surely well-deserved.
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Categories: Is the movie worth your buck?
A very beautifully put interview
Good interview and responses which are more real and make sense. I liked the fact where he stated that he is happy for his producers. He knows the things that matter
My problem with Madras Cafe was the fact that no light was thrown on why the conflict in Sri Lanka started. Perhaps if that had happened, the protests wouldn’t have erupted. Anyway, it was a gripping thriller. Shoojit Sircar has only got 3 releases to his name, but he can be proud of his entire filmography.
I was upset for a week when the movie was brought down from UK cinemas because a few Sri Lankan Tamils had protested loudly. Very disappointed that we didn’t get to see it here, but will definitely buy the official DVD to watch it. The director sounded very low, and rightly so, I guess.