Thursday, November 1, 2007

'I can't make abstract films'

Madhur Bhandarkar may be credited with breaking a certain clutter where present-day Hindi cinema is concerned but the filmmkarer clearly has the sensibilities of a mainstream commercial maker, says Sandhya Iyer


When Madhur made his first film Chandni Bar, a hard-hitting story about bar girls, he was instantly hailed as the torchbearer of realistic cinema. Then came Page 3, a film that not only won critical acclaim but also became an instant hit in cities. Fired by the success of his two films, the filmmaker bravely embarked on making bold and brazen cinema, drawing heavily from real life.


But thankfully, Bandarkar admits that realistic cinema has existed for long and is hardly a phenomenon that came with him, though he probably might have revived an interest in it again. “I think what works in my favour is that all my films have made money for my producers. So while I could attempt something different from the league, I also succeeded in making sure the public came to see it,” he says. The multiplex era has made life easier for individual filmmakers wanting to attempt niche cinema.

“When Govind Nihalani or Shyam Benegal made movies like Mandi, Ankur, their films would be played only on matinee shows. Today, my film Traffic Signal gets released in 80 cinemas in Mumbai alone. It made it so much easier to recover our costs. Ultimately, it’s all about making money in the first weekend itself,” he says, speaking the typical language of Bollywood producers who want to make their loot and run. Also, even though his cinema does not strictly follow the formulaic pattern of a mainstream Hindi film, he admits he would never like to alienate his audiences.

Realism in cinema took a daring surreal leap recently when Anurag Kashyap attempted a Kafka-like No Smoking, drawing heavy influence from world cinema. The film came in for heavy criticism, but would Madhur be game to attempt something similar? He candidly denies any such possibility. “I cannot make abstract films. I don’t see the point in making something, which only I want to see or believe in. Ultimately, I have to think of my producer and whether enough people would be interested in the subject. If at all, a filmmaker has a vision and wants to try something genuinely different, he must do it on a smaller budget. Actually, abstract subjects are ideal for diploma films, etc. In the real world, economics matters and I cannot put someone else’s money at stake to make an indulgent film.”

Is he influenced by world cinema? “Not really. All my real influences have been through watching Indian filmmakers like Satyajit Ray. Not that I do not admire foreign cinema; there are times when I feel there’s a lot to learn from them. But again, as I said, I use films as a tool of communication and I wouldn’t like to talk to my audiences in a language they can’t understand,” he says. But doesn’t he feel that he tackles his subjects through a standard prism of middle class morality, wherein that conservatism often leads him to sensationalise his films? Madhur says this probably has something to do with his background.

“I have been a middle class guy, working at a video library for years. So maybe my attitude is drawn from there. Also, my films are for the common people, who can identify with the characters I’m trying to portray,” he says.

The filmmaker’s next is Fashion, a film that looks to offer a behind-the-scenes depiction of the modeling circuit. This one again is a woman-oriented subject, with Priyanka Chopra and Kangana in the lead roles. But Madhur is keen on a male-centred subject next, “Oh yes, there are so many subjects I have in mind for male protagonists," he says.