How long can you keep making films that constantly push the envelope in terms of sophistication and sensibility, going against the grain when box-office success has become all about huge openings and Rs. 100-crore collections? The maker of critically-acclaimed films “Khosla Ka Ghosla”, “Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!” and “Love, Sex Aur Dhokha”(LSD) is now ready with “Shanghai”, a political thriller adapted from “Z”, the 1966-novel by Greek writer Vassilis Vassilikos.
Dibakar Banerjee opens up about his brand of cerebral cinema and how he managed to make his style commercially viable without needing to compromise on his vision. Excerpts.
How much of ‘Shanghai’ is adapted from ‘Z’?
It is a complete adaptation because the original story concerns the situation post-World War II set in 1960s Greece whereas this film is set in India of today. Many people asked us why we took the story and bought the rights if we were going to change it completely. But the incident, the human concerns and sentiments remain unchanged to a certain degree in ‘Shanghai’. It’s about the price of life and liberty in a society where the majority and the powerful classes are deluded into believing in something fundamentally wrong…
Does the fact that a majority believes it make the belief right? If you protest that belief, can your life or liberty be under threat?
The person who protests is often victimised. In a state of low tolerance, any dissent is labelled anti-national. The other day, a marketing person from a media company asked me if I were Leftist after hearing about the film. Currently, politics in India is hardly about any ideology. But just the fact that the film has a voice of dissent goaded him to ask me if I were Leftist.
All your films have been social commentaries. ‘Shanghai’ seems to be one too.
I am yet to see a film that does not have a social context. Even the ‘Singhams’ have a social context. In ‘Singham’, we see the ‘wish fulfilment’ of people when they see a Superhero fighting politicians or criminals who walk around free. Only, the treatment is different here. Because when you make a film such as ‘Singham’ that provides ‘wish fulfilment’ against political corruption, it gives people hope. The treatment maybe mythical, whereas in ‘Shanghai’, it is realistic and intricate. But all our films say that the powerful have become extremely powerful and corrupt.
How did Vassilikos, the Greek writer, react once he was told about your interest in adapting it?
He is now an old intellectual, intrigued and tickled that someone wants the rights for something he wrote 50 years ago. Then he read my treatment and gave me his blessings… He has not even read the script. The script was written by me and Urmi Juvekar.
How do you manage to make your kind of cinema economically viable and compete with the big films?
We throw planning instead of money, and meticulous planning at that. What other films take 60 days to shoot, we shoot in 45. In ‘Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!’ we finished shooting all three roles of Paresh Rawal in 12 days. We have competent technical heads who have been working with us from the ‘Khosla Ka Ghosla’ days. People have been working as a well-knit team. We plan so much that the normal amount of wastage is absent. Our budgets are tight and favourable. Though our techniques and treatment are offbeat, we make sure there are extremely attractive commercial ingredients… Our music is a runaway hit. So our financiers are happy. We use a mix of well-known actors and use them in roles people have not seen them play before, be it Paresh Rawal in ‘Oye Lucky!…’ or Anupam Kher or Boman Irani or Ranvir Shorey in ‘Khosla Ka Ghosla’. In LSD, we worked with new faces. In ‘Shanghai’ we see Emraan Hashmi like never before. We have never seen Abhay Deol used like this before. He plays a Tamil Brahmin. And, then there’s Farooque Shaikh. This kind of an ensemble generates audience interest… It’s our way of competing. With efficient manufacturing and smart strategic advertising, we are able to take on the Goliaths… We are like the proverbial Davids. People know that we produce our films independently, there is a loyal segment that is forming slowly and surely.
So you see yourself as a small independent filmmaker even after all these films?
It is not enough to have good, well-meaning intentions of an indie filmmaker, you have to strategise, plan and set it up logically, besides being street smart. No subject or issue is offbeat, only the treatment is. Any filmmaker will have a basic pool of people watching his or her films and this pool increases with every film. We didn’t spend on TV spots or trailers because our music caught on from the moment the trailer came out on YouTube. We engage with people on Facebook, we engage with the media, even the regional media.Abhay Deol Anupam Kher Boman Irani Dibakar Banerjee Emraan Hashmi Farooque Shaikh Interviews Khosla Ka Ghosla Love Sex Aur Dhokha Oye Lucky Lucky Oye Paresh Rawal Ranvir Shorey Shanghai Singham