Sunday, November 4, 2007

Finding his Astitiva

Mahesh Manjrekar, who was present to showcase his latest film, The Struggler at the Asian Film Festival, spoke to Sandhya Iyer about why he must stick to his own brand of cinema

Few directors in mainstream Hindi cinema have dared to attempt as many socially relevant films as Mahesh Manjrekar. If Astitiva gave a voice to sexually repressed middle-class women, Vaastav was a gritty portrayal of misled youth. Then again, his film with Ajay Devgan, Tera Mera Saath Rahe took up the issue of mental retardation. Nidaan explored the subject of HIV Aids, while one of his recent films, Virrudh was based partially on the Jessica Lal murder case.
Even one of his least commercially successful films, Pran Jaye Par Shaan Na Jaye, was a dark satire on the sprawling Mumbai chawls and related underlying issues. In fact, Manjrekar says that he’s particularly fond of this film. “I think the marketing went wrong, otherwise it was one of my best written films,” he says.
Even otherwise, most of the filmmaker’s films have suffered on account of marketing and other external reasons. For example, several of his very sensitive and niche films released at a time when multiplexes were few and far in between. Again, his film, Virrudh, which won a fair bit of critical acclaim went down the drawn as its release collided with the infamous July 26 rains in Mumbai a couple of years back. Manjrekar says he’s wisened up. “The multiplex culture really allows me to make the cinema I believe in. Today, I can pick and choose the films I want to do and I know there are producers waiting in line, who will market my films well,” he says.

The last few years haven’t been as fruitful though. The filmmaker has allowed himself to get distracted doing inane movies and being part of dance shows etc. Manjrekar says that he does not regret doing a Musafir etc, because he insists that’s where he makes his money to do the kind of films he believes in. But he does admit that he tried to do a David Dhavan and failed miserably. “I think Padmashree Laloo Prasad Yadav was a terrible film I did but that happened because I tried to do something that didn’t come naturally to me. It requires some intelligence to even make crass comedies. Unfortunately, I do not have the requisite acumen for it. That film taught me that I should stick to my brand of cinema,” he says.

His latest film, The Struggler, is a solo-act, where the director-actor has given expression to his anger about the innate impotency that ails social beings. “There were various issues that I wanted to talk about and I felt that cinema is the perfect medium. It’s a one and half hour film and here, you will see the camera becoming a character as well. I’ve spoken about everything from America trying to be a monitor the world to the issue of stray dogs. Now, I am a dog lover but I will not close my eyes to the stray dog menace. No one wants to talk about that.”

While the film makes a powerful comment on present-day living, The Strugger has found no mainstream release so far. “The film was stuck with the Censors for a long time. When I went to the Tribunal, they passed the film with 54 cuts. When I approached the Revision committee, they added four more cuts to the existing 54, so it’s been a struggle to even bring it this far. But I’m happy the film is being shown at the Asian Film Festival, where it will be seen by the right audience,” he says.

Finally, the director is keen as ever to continue producing socially relevant cinema for the Marathi film market. “You know, the Marathi market is entirely two two-tier. You can either make totally crass masala films or then cater to the niche, discriminating audiences. I’m clear what I want to make.”
As for Hindi films, the director is in the process of making a film called Vibgyor, a film about different emotions. “I have finished scripting for Green, Blue and White. The last one, White, is a step ahead of Astitiva. Let’s see how it goes.”


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