Dibakar Banerjee on Wife, Films & Salman Khan
He wants to be 16 again. When he’d visit his aunt’s home in Kolkata and pull an old mystery book out of the rustic sandook kept under the bed. “I’d curl up on the window sill and lose myself in that world,” recalls National Film Award-winning director Dibakar Banerjee. Of course, turning 16 isn’t an option. The sandook has been replaced by a fancy bookshelf. So, the next best thing to do would be to make a period whodunit thriller. And Dibakar is doing just that. “That’s the premise I always wanted to work on. A film with no social subtext, just pure entertainment,” he smiles. There was speculation that the director had chalked out another thriller based on an Agatha Christie novel. Dibakar rubbishes the rumours. ‘‘The film is being written as we speak and the art direction research is happening.’’ He says excitedly, ‘‘My next film will be extremely romantic and lush. It’s something I’ve never done before.’’
He talks about his latest release Shanghai; a political thriller with Emraan Hashmi, Abhay Deol and Kalki Koechlin in the lead. “I knew exactly how much money the movie would make in each sector,” he says. “The title of the film is a comment on what we are as a nation,” says he. “We don’t like living in our own country. In our minds, we want to migrate to a foreign land. The film’s about the Shanghai of our dreams and how we are fighting to achieve that.
Dibakar has hit the bull’s eye thrice. His earlier films Khosla Ka Ghosla (KKG, about middle-class dreams), Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! (OLLO, a satirical comedy) and Love, Sex Aur Dhokha (LSD, about love and betrayal) appealed to both, critics and audiences. But Shanghai dealt with a different beast altogether — politics. “I do every film with a sense of freshness and innocence. I look for something that nobody will expect.” The political thriller, he says, wasn’t about politicians in khadi but the effect of politics on the common man. “Politicians decide our lives for us. Shanghai was all about that. Politics just added colour to my film.”
In an industry which is largely driven by tried-and-tested formulae, money and stars, Dibakar has doled out four diametrically different, out-of-the-box films without a big budget or star presence. “In my films, the story is most important. The stars have to decide if they want to shed their persona for my film,” says the ex-adman. “It’s a huge risk for them. Only a secure actor or someone who wants to reinvent his image would do it. Emraan was strong enough to take a risk withShanghai.”
Indian cinema is divided between mainstream and art but Dibakar has only one way of looking at films. “There are boring films and there are non-boring films. The audience also follows the same yardstick,” says he. “I look down upon the looking down on any kind of films. I don’t belong to the school of filmmakers who ‘diss’ a film.” He adds, “Stars and filmmakers have complimented my work. No one till date has told me, ‘Yaar tu aisi arty picturein kyun banata hai (why do you make such arty films)?’ If they have the generosity to compliment me, then why should I point a finger at them?”
He believes that audiences prefer to watch a Salman Khan film because of the much-needed escape from their day-to-day problems, which his films provide. “If we don’t have commercial entertainers, India will implode as a society,” says he. “Salman Khan holds the country together. He is one of the many reasons why India is still united.” His take onBodyguard? “What’s so wrong with the film?” he retorts, “It’s a comedy. What I love about Bodyguard is that it’s not taking itself seriously at all.” On being asked whether he’d ever make such a film, he shakes his head. “No, because I don’t think like that,” he smiles.
What he’s clear about is that his work should be bigger than him. “My films are not known because of me. I am known because of them,” he says. He doesn’t believe in being seen at events or branding himself. “If I start wearing fancy clothes to parties, it won’t do me any good. I’m 5’7”, nerdy-looking, shy and the retiring type. I’d rather take the way where my films lead me,” he says.
Where writing his films is concerned, he states honestly, “I’m not a good solo writer, I’m better co-writing a script. Maybe, four films down the line I’ll become a good writer. As of now, I’m still learning.” Nevertheless, the director enjoys writing dialogues but doesn’t take credit for them. “I observe people. I love the different ways in which people talk. I lead a life where I’m exposed to both, a CEO and the taxiwallah. This helps me write better dialogues.”
He has a realistic take on himself too. “Producers don’t come to me because I’m some great filmmaker; it’s because they know I’ll make something different and not play around with their money. I have a profit stake in my films too,” he says, adding, “I don’t want to be known as this intellectual director. I produce my films. Every penny I earn from them actually goes into my daughter’s education.”
Dibakar says that his wife (Richa) and daughter (Ira) don’t have too much to do with his films. “I hope my daughter doesn’t see my films till she’s 18. Right now, she’s just two-and-a-half,” he laughs. As for his wife and him, they live in a completely different world. “My wife and I like to watch Ingmar Bergman films. Today, she asked me to get Reds, a film by Warren Beatty. We hardly discuss my films.”
But she helps streamline his creativity. “She’s an avid reader and a keen observer. I use her as a ‘bullshit’ detector. She’s fantastic at that,” he laughs. There are many other things that interest the couple. “She’s an antique hunter and traveller. She leads our travelling itinerary. Once a year, we take a cultural tour.” Their new obsession is designing a home in Goa. He says, “We’ve got many things to discuss, apart from my films. My films cover only 10 per cent of our life.”
I refer to his recent interview, where he said he didn’t spend money on ‘lehengas’. Was it an indirect dig at Karan Johar? “The budget of a song in Karan’s film is the total budget of my film.” He adds, “There are certain films where people come to see how heroes are dressed. But the audience comes to see how my characters behave. That’s the difference.”
Dibakar claims that his frugal stance is self-imposed and he is content with whatever he has achieved. “I’m happy having a cheaper SUV and one bedroom less in my house. But mind you, when I shoot my period whodunit thriller, which can only be evoked by its costumes, you can bet your a** I’m going to spend double the amount Karan spends on his lehengas,” he laughs. “And I will probably go to Karan for advice.”
My Shanghai Cast
There’s something enigmatic about him. I like watching him over some other star or actor. Both of us have similar tastes in films and music. That makes for a creative partnership. Also, Abhay always tries to give much more than the script demands but in a subtle way. When I’m shooting him, I don’t realise a lot of nuances that he has added to the scene. It’s only when I’m on the edit table that I appreciate it.
Emraan is not a manufactured identity. He’s here by the dint of his own achievements. That’s what intrigued me about him. Whatever role he plays, he makes it look believable. The guy has a deep understanding of what he’s doing in front of the camera. He knows something that many people don’t — how to be on camera and maintain a direct relationship with the audience. His focus is scary. He would always reach five minutes before time for workshops while the others would invariably walk in late.
Her role was by far the strongest that any other girl has attempted in any of my films. She’s there from the first to the last frame, sharing the same screen time as Abhay and Emraan.
On My Peers
Karan handles a set of emotions that I don’t — love in youth. The love that an 18 to 22-year-old boy feels for a girl and vice versa. It is a distinct emotion. During that age, we’re a different species. After 25, we change fundamentally. That understanding is Karan’s forte. Karan has given a whole generation a way of saying, ‘I love you’. Not everyone can do it. At one point, Guru Dutt and Raj Kapoor used to do it. Today, Karan and Aditya Chopra excel in it. Remember, 60 per cent of our audience is young.
Anurag is the only guy who prevents me from being complacent. He’s directing, producing, writing, acting, lobbying for his films and even his friends’ films. But what Anurag creates is a domino effect, a vibe or a sea of activity which gets you excited. If Anurag hadn’t made Dev D, I wouldn’t have had the courage to make LSD. You know someone’s trying to up the ante. He makes me feel ‘insecure’ in a positive way.
I was hugely impressed by Ab Tak Chappan (ATC). I want the same Shimit back. He’s a director who understands silence. ATC is a tremendously silent film. At the same time, it’s so thrilling, violent and unrelenting. It was a new take. He showed how with less dialogue, the scene could be made extraordinary. If the movie had been marketed well, it could’ve reached somewhere else.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali
I liked Saawariya, which no one liked. I preferred the film over Devdas. I enjoyed the texture. Although, the commercial elements in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam didn’t appeal to me, Sanjay proved his mastery in the way he portrayed feminine beauty in Aishwarya Rai’s introductory shot. I copy him but in a way that nobody can tell.