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Vivek Agnihotri: “Success or failure  I don’t change, This is not going to change me”

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Vivek Agnihotri

Pinning down  Vivek  Agnihotri  for  an interview was  not easy. The Kashmir Files  has turned  Vivek’s  life  inside  out.But he  hasn’t changed.

“You know me  from the time  I made Chocolate in 2005. Even back then  I couldn’t  fit into the Bollywood mould.  When I started my journey  12 years ago I  decided I will make my  kind of films and I will  never make  a star-driven film. I firmly  believe cinema  is  the writer and director’s medium.”

 The Kashmir Files is  not a film. It’s  a movement.  Vivek  Agnihotri  is   filled with gratitude at the  stupendous  success that’s come  his way. “ Audiences  the worldover are  watching the  film in pindrop silence. 3 hours and  50 minutes is not  a  joke. People are reaching out to  Kashmiri Pandits all  over the world.Why is it working so well in Canada? It started  with two shows. Now it’s  more than  ninety shows. The film has connected Indians in conversations and debates  everywhere.Ramu(Ram Gopal Varma) has made a video on   the  success of  The Kashmir Files where he says explains why  he hates my film.It’s  a  brilliant  review  .We were working  on The Kashmir Files  for  four years. We  used our own money. We mortgaged  our home.We  went  to  many parts  of  the world  for research. And after  all the  expenses we didn’t even know  what   was  going to come  out of it.”

Vivek  Agnihotri  had  great difficulty in getting a  producer on  board. “ But finally we had Abhishek Agarwal who came on board unconditionally.   Then after the film was half-complete  Zee also came on board. Bollywood producerswanted me to make  typical potboilers  which we were  unwilling to  do. We decided we will make our own research-based  films with self-generated funds. This was  our  decision  in 2010. We  then made Buddha  In The Traffic Jam, The  Tashkent Files and  now The Kashmir  Files. Then The  Delhi Files.”

Vivek  Agnihotri  admits  he is clueless as to why Bollywood follows the star system and  pays  actors in  multi-crores.  “ I resigned from  Bollywood  long ago. Even while promotingThe Kashmir Files  my wife (actress Pallavi Joshi)  and  I  do the needful.Because we  believe we are the creators of  the  product.We need actors  not stars in our  films.”

Vivek  Agnihotri  admits  there  were  threats to his wellbeing after the controversial  success  of The Kashmir  Files. “Yes, there have been threats. Recently two boys barged into our office when  my wife  and I were  not there. Only  a manager, a middle aged lady  was here. They pushed  her  with the door, she fell they asked for me and then fled. I never spoke about this  incident  because I  didn’t want such elements to get  any  publicity.I told them not  to  bother with the  security. But they said  they have to.”

  The  filmmaker  won’t   be flogging the ‘Files’ franchise further.  “Coming up next is  The Delhi Files and then I am done with the Files trilogy. No power on earth  and no amount of money can  persuade me  to turn  the Files into  a franchise. It was  always  meant to be  a trilogy. Nothing can change  that. Those  who  know me  from  before would know that  I’ve been making  the  films that  I want to make  for the last  ten  years.I am the last person who is  going to  think, ‘The audience is addicted to the franchise, so let’s make one more.’ I will never do that.”

So the Files are closed? “The Trilogy was planned as  a trilogy. One  day I was  looking the  the three pillars  of democracy:  truth justice  and  life . The Files  trilogy was born from this  tenet.  The  Tashkent Files was  about the right to  truth. The Kashmir Files is about  the right to   justice. The Delhi Files  will be on  the right to life. The fourth pillar of  democracy is the audience. Let them  decide   what they want to see.”

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 Not just  his film, Vivek feels  the pandemic  has  changed  the  grammar  of  cinema  entertainment. “Covid also changed a  lot of things.Audiences  are  not going  to  clap for crap.You see for us(Vivek and  Pallavi)  cinema is  not about networking and socializing, We  don’t party. We  don’t drink. We haven’t  slept for more than four hours  since we  started working on Kashmir Files, not because we were out partying  but because we were constantly  checking and re-checking the logistics  of the writing filming and release. We started  with a mere 600  screens. Then suddenly  it became a  B  and C centre film as well.So we had  to provide screens to  those centres.”

Lots of people  are  saying that the film is getting a tax exemption because  of Vivek’s closeness to  the BJP. Vivek vehemently  opposes this view. “No!  That’s not true. That’s the Government’s acknowledgement of  of the  film’s relevance. If they don’t make the  film taxfree  their voters would  rebel against them.”

As for  The Kashmir  Files being labeled anti-Muslim Vivek protests, “Our intention was never to malign any  community.I have  not even spoken against Pakistan in my film. I  believe  my audience  is intelligent  enough to know that the  villain in The Kashmir Files is terrorism. There is  a line in my film where  a character says  even Muslims and other communities apart  from Hindus are  victims   of terrorism. I will tell you one  more secret.  You  remember the scene on a  shikara where a  Kashmiri  tells Darshan  Kumar what he(the Kashmiri) thinks  about the situation. I told the Kashmiri  to say  everything  that he feels . I told him to write the  dialogues  himself. That was a real Kashmiri Muslim  boy who lives  in Srinagar.And yet if the film is being branded anti-Islam  then that’s politics. I am okay with that. What  matters to me is  that the  film is  reaching out and  touching hearts.An 85-year old man and his  75-year wife who had never stepped  into a  cinema  went to see  The Kashmir Files. That is my real  achievement .The film has gone to the villages now.”

The Kashmir Files has reactivated a  the mass exodus into the theatres? Vivek is reluctant  to take credit for it.  “I had been fighting with  the  I  & B Ministry  in  Delhi, Maharashtra  government  and with Uddhav Thackeray to reopen theatres  after Covid. Nobody was listening. Then I  fought for a  hundred percent attendance in theatres while everyone was  busy collecting fat pay  cheques  by selling their  films on the OTT. They wanted  to know  why was Vivek  fighting for  re-opening   of theatres?They said he was not getting any buyers  on OTT  , that’s why he  was fighting for theatre. But I  knew cinema  needed to  be  revived. Today they are saying footfalls in  not just the cinemas but shopping falls  have revived  because of  The Kashmir Files.”

 When I  bring up the  lack of support for the  film from  within  the  industry  Vivek  Agnihotri has a priceless explanation. “I resigned  from Bollywood in 2010. We  are a very small boutique  filmmaking house.We make  cinema  out of  passion.I am happy I don’t have friends in Bollywood. If I did  I would somewhere be tempted to  make them happy by making what they want  me to make. Right now as I talk to you I can make lots and lots money  and go home happy. But I  can’t do that.It’s not in  my DNA.”