Hi, how are you doing. No health problems, I hope?
No health problems, except that I had broken my knee. During the shooting of my last film Ghawrey Bairey Aaj. That will remain, I guess.
Satyajit Ray made Ghaire Bhaire in1984?
Yes, his film and mine were both based on the story by Rabindranat Tagore. Except that mine is set in present times.
And now Rapist…quite a provocative title ?
Well, I wouldn’t say it’s provocative. Because it is about a rape and a rapist. I didn’t want to hide that fact.
The Rapist is actually your first film in Hindi?
Well I did a Hindi adaptation of Badal Sircar’s play in 2015. It was called Sari Raat. But that was a short film. So yes, The Rapist is my first full-length Hindi feature film. The language has to happen organically. My first film 36 Chowringhee Lane had to be in English because the protagonist was an Anglo-Indian. Or Mr & Mrs Iyer one protagonist speaks Tamil the other Bengali. So which language should they communicate in English, right? I don’t think language is an issue any more. Because all films are subtitled in English. Also, our kind of films are rarely seen by rural audiences. The urban-rural divide among audiences has become really sharp.
I remember you struggling to put together a Hindi project years ago?
Yes, that was a Gulel. It put me off Hindi films and Hindi films stars. Every film happens when it has to happen.
Were there any problems dealing with the Hindi dialogues in The Rapist?
No, not really. I do understand Hindi, though I don’t speak it fluently.
In fact you’ve done some Hindi films, I can recall Vishwas and Imaan Dharam?
Yes, and for this film I had an excellent Hindi dialogue writer Hussain Haidry. You must have heard of him. Then we had all these boys from the slums playing slum dwellers. They were all very good actors. They spoke a language that I had no clue about. I am talking about the hardcore cusswords which I wouldn’t know in any language. I gave them the basic lines and I asked them to embellish the lines with cusswords. Of course Hussain was a great contributor. The peculiar Delhi flavor which I am not familiar with, were done by Hussain. He actually visited Delhi to get a feel of the dialect.
So in a way getting the words in place was more difficult in The Rapist than in your Bengali films?
No. Even in Bengali I wouldn’t know these cusswords. It’s not about the language, It’s about the slum language, Otherwise the Hindi was not a problem with me. Actually I agreed to do Hindi film because it was set in Delhi.
This is your first film with Arjun Rampal. How was he to direct?
It was wonderful. You know, Arjun is so gorgeous-looking that people tend to undermine his skills as an actor. People get so hooked on the looks that they forget there is a very finely-tuned actor underneath. He tends to underact which is perfect for the part. Arjun plays Konkona’s husband. He plays a Muslim. She is a Hindu Brahmin girl.
Do you foresee any trouble?
None at all. They are all liberal in their outlook, as all of us ought to be.
When do we get to see The Rapist?
After it does the Festival rounds. My producers Applause Entertainment and Quest Films are the best people to decide the release. I get along very well with Sameer Nair of Applause Entertainment. As also the other producer Quest Films. In fact Suchhanda Chatterjee of Quest films came to offer me a short film in an anthology of four films. I declined and offered to make a full-length feature film. The next thing I knew, I was narrating The Rapist to her. The idea was with me for ten years. She liked it so much she wanted me to make it immediately. Then they roped in another studio Applause Entertainment who asked me to come to Mumbai to narrate the story. Initially I refused.
I mean, they already had the synopsis. So why did they need me to narrate the film to them? Luckily I did. Because they had been given the wrong synopsis. Sameer Nair loved the story. It was a pleasure working with him.
Are you happy with your film being released on the digital platform?
Even my previous film Ghawre Bairey Aaj first got a theatrical release where it did fairly well. Then a few weeks later it was released on the digital platform. The same will be the case with The Rapist. One has to move with the times to stay relevant. To me the platform doesn’t change anything. There is no point in fighting technology. In the beginning when we moved to digital, I still shot on celluloid. Even The Japanese Wife in 2010 was shot on celluloid . Now digital technology is advancing so rapidly that one would so not miss celluloid at all. I’ve shot three or four of my films on digital. And I am getting used to it. It is more practical. No worries about wasting footage.
Somehow in spite of your impressive directorial repertoire your first film 36 Chowringhee Lane remains everyone’s favourite?
That often happens with filmmakers. I mean Satyajit Ray made many masterpieces. But Pather Panchali is everyone’s favourite, right? Look, India is changing. I am part of that change. It’s about what occupies my mind at a given time. My last film Ghawre Bairey Aaj was about the bogey of national Hinduism. I cannot make 36 Chowringee Lane today.