Bengal’s most successful auteur director Srijit Mukherjee, currently shooting his first Hindi film Beghum Jaan, is a relieved man.
His new Bangla epic Zulfiqar has finally been cleare following the direct intervention of Bengal’s chief ministerMamta Bannerjee after Muslim organizations in Bengal objected to the content in the trailer as being derogatory to the entire coummunity.
Zulfiqar was cleared only after two changes were made to appease Muslim sentiments.
Speaking of the changes forced by official and unofficial channels in Bengal Srijit says, “I had to mute the names of real localities in Kolkata where criminal elements flourish. Now, the Fort/Dock areas where my film is located is infested with anti-social activities perpetrated by no particular community.I was told the mention of place names from Kolkata denigrated the Muslim community. But these localities are not Muslim dominated. We also have a large Chinese community and other communities there.”
Srijit anyhow removed the names of real localities from Kolkata in his Shakespearean gangster epic.
The other change at time when people all over the world are being killed in the name of religion is even more ironical.
Laughs Srijit nervously, “In the trailer they saw a Muslim character saying, ‘Allah Hafiz’ before gunning down a person.I was asked to remove ‘Allah Hafiz’ as the name of God cannot be uttered in connection with bloodshed. I readily removed ‘Allah Hafiz’ and replaced it with ‘Alvida’ as it made no difference to the dramatic context of the scene.”
Srijit doesn’t discount an upsurge of protest when Zulfiqar opens this weekend. “People protest against films without seeing the entire film or even a portion of it. There are misconceptions about my film based on the trailer. It is not based in the Mulsim community and it doesn’t defame any community. My film is a tribute to four of my favourite artistes: Shakespeare, Akira Kurosawa, Vishal Bhardwaj and Mario Puzo.I idolizeShakespeare and I think the best Shakespearean screen adaptations are by Kurosawa and Vishal. The inspiration for Zulfiqar are Vishal’s Maqbool and Omkara. And by far the best novel on family crimes is Puzo’s The Godfather. For the first time two Shakespearean plays Julius Caesar and Anthony & Cleopatra have been fused together in my film.”
Srijit is understandably anxious and nervous, specially since Zulfiqar is a followup release after his stupendously successful Raj Kahini which smashed records. “Zulfiqar is getting an unprecedented number of screens in Kolkata this Puja. It is my most ambitious film to date.It has the biggest Bengali stars all together in one film , with (matinee idols) Dev and Parambrata Chatterjee playing the same Shakespearean character .”
Interestingly both Raj Kahini and Zulfiqar contain substantial smatterings of Urdu in the dialogue, although both films are in Bangla. Srijit sees the linguistic barriers among the various Indian languages dissolving. He has just completed a Hindi remake of Raj Kahini with Vidya Balan in the lead for his producers Mukesh andMahesh Bhatt.
Says Srijit fondly, “The Bhatts have adopted me in Mumbai. Given me an apartment and a free hand to make my film the way I want. Beghum Jaan the Hindi version of Raj Kahini is the same in spirit but different in treatment. The film will open in March 2017.”
Now the Bhatts are keen to do Srijit’’s Zulfikar in Hindi.
Says the director, “In fact they hosted a screening of Zulfiqar in Mumbai last week for Bollywood . The only problem with doing Zulfiqar in Hindi is the cast. We’d need star-actors like Ajay Devgn, Akshay Kumar and Shah Rukh Khan for the main parts. But Bollywood no longer finds multi-starrers economically feasible.”