Sickened by the violence in his own film that ensues when a Muslim girl falls in love with a Hindu boy, Habib Faizal has decided to take a long break. Says the discernibly upset director, “I’m an extremely non-violent person. I knew there was a lot of aggression and violence in Ishaqzaade. I knew we had shot a lot of violent scenes. It’s one thing to shoot them. To watch them is quite another. When I watched my two beloved characters encounter such violence, my stomach churned. Such was the nature of the subject. You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs. And the sooner we stop trying the better.”
To solve the problem of the communal divide, Habib Faizal feels we first need to address the issue openly, which our movies fail to do by and large. Smirks Habib, “In that cast we might as well make government-sponsored DAVP (Directorate Of Advertising & Visual Publicity) short-films.”
In Ishaqzaade, the unabashed treatment of Hindu-Muslim relations has taken audiences by surprise. Never before have we seen characters from the two communities exchanging insults based on communal differences, so openly.
In fact, the Hindu hero Parma (Arjun Kapoor) refers to the Muslim heroine Zoya (Parineeti Chopra) as a ‘Musalli’. Halfway through the film he decides to marry the ‘Musalli’ firebrand .In a graphic love-making sequence in an abandoned train, Kapoor and Chopra are shown indulging in serious real-time kissing and making out.
Director Habib Faizal admits he was apprehensive of how the censor board would react. “There’s so much Ishaqzaade that we as moviemakers and as a society in the larger context tend to sweep under the carpet. But if I as Muslim filmmaker shied away from addressing the issue headlong in attempting a Hindu-Muslim love story, then I think I’d have failed to convey what I had set out to. The censor bard was exceptionally tolerant. The love-making scene is not gratuitous. I shot it in a long single-shot scene. If the censors had asked me to cut I wouldn’t have been able to,” says Habib a day after the film’s release.
As for the boy addressing the girl as ‘Musalli’, Habib says, “In the beginning he means to rile her by calling her a ‘Musalli.’ Later it becomes his term of endearment for her. Why are we focusing on the names? The problem is very deep. Hindus don’t even know how to greet Muslims on a social level. They wonder if they should say ‘Salaam’ or ‘Namaste’. In my film when Zoya takes her lover Parma to her house, he doesn’t know how to greet Zoya’s parents. The initiation of a dialogue between two cultures starts on the wrong note.”
Habib thinks it is unrealistic to think the divide between Hindu and Muslims doesn’t exist. “It does. And to say by addressing the palpable problems that arise when a Hindu boy falls in a love with a Muslim girl is according to me unrealistic. Look around. The Hindu-Muslim divide is everywhere. In a so-called metropolitan city housing societies, do not allow Muslims or Hindus depending on which area you’re house-hunting in. In fact I’ve witnessed more communal integrity in rural areas.”
As a Muslim, Habib became conscious of how deep those differences were after the demolition of the Babri Masjid. “These differences are normally swept under the carpet. I don’t think that helps. The fact is, we have not really progressed intellectually in understanding let alone bridging the chasm between the progressive and regressive India. Just the other day, a senior police officer in Bangalore publicly endorsed honour killing. Why does a couple belonging to two different cultures or communities have to meet surreptitiously in public places? I’ll tell you why. Because every parent, no matter how progressive outwardly, throws a fit if his or her child brings a mate home. This is why I made the Muslim girl Zoya’s family an educated relatively sophisticated bunch of people. I wanted to show, no matter how educated people still suffer from lethal prejudices about inter-communal alliances.”
What Habib didn’t want to show was the small-town UP characters getting abusive in their spoken language. “I knew I had the license to let them get abusive. But I don’t use abusive language in my speech and I’d be uncomfortable if my characters did the same. Besides I find the generous use of BCs and MCs in the films set in the North Indian heartland distracting. Audiences laugh and snigger when a character uses abuses. In this day and age of ‘D.K. Bose’ my demurral on expletives is perhaps a little outdated. I’d rather be true to myself than trendy.”
Habib says he watched some Hindi classics about outcast lovers as preparation for directing Ishaqzaade. “I saw Mujhe Jeene Do and Reshma Aur Shera. But it was Dharmputra made in 1961 where I found the issue of the Hindu-Muslim divide being so unabashedly delineated. Coincidentally it was the first film that Mr. Yash Chopra directed. Today I’ve directed another film on the same theme for Mr. Chopra’s banner.”
Habib can’t praise Aditya Chopra enough for giving him freedom to make the film he wanted.
“Not once did Adi question the hard-hitting content and the dialogues. He left it all to me. I suppose it was my destiny. I wouldn’t have wanted to make a film on the communal divide without addressing the issue directly.”
The director admits he had to work very hard on his two actors, “Arjun Kapoor was put on a six-month trial period to see if he fits into the part of Parma. To his credit he kept at it until he got it right. As for Parineeti I had to take her native ‘punjaabiyat’ out of her and make her this Uttar Pradesh his musalman ladki Zoya. I was lucky with my actors. Except for Gauhar Khan I wanted no known faces in the supporting cast. I stuck to my guns.”
As did the gun-toting characters of Ishaqzaade.Arjun Kapoor Habib Faisal Interviews Ishaqzaade Parineeti Chopra