Dibakar Banerjee, Vetri Maaran, Nagraj Manjule, Nandita Das and Anubhav Sinha are some of the country’s leading political filmmakers, having crafted films such as Shanghai (2012), Visaranai (2015), Sairat (2016), Manto (2018) and Article 15 (2019). In today’s polarizing times, we asked them where they find the courage to keep making art that sparks a reaction:

Vetri Maaran: The films give me the courage. If I feel that there is something in the story that represents the times, my people, my world and if I feel that it needs to be told, then that is what gives me the courage. I just want to be very committed to it and make as few compromises as possible, in terms of the political correctness and not in terms of look and feel. The more serious my content is, the more songs I would like to have to camouflage it  as a crowd-pleaser that doesn’t have much thought in it. That is what keep me going. 

Nandita Das: I think your conviction, what you care about and what is happening around you – if it disturbs you enough and you feel like you have the opportunity to tell a story, which in itself is a big privilege, then you just want to say it the best way you can and hope that more and more people can start a conversation. We don’t think much about courage. If you want to say something and you have the conviction, then courage automatically follows. It’s more an outside perception, you don’t really think of it as some courageous act. You are just telling a story, it is a compulsion almost. 

Nagraj Manjule:  I don’t understand why I need courage to make a film. I’ve gathered the courage I need to live life. And I always strive to say what I believe in. My life is my inspiration. So I’ve gathered the courage to live. I don’t believe that I make politically heavy films, but any action is considered political. Even if you’re sitting alone at home…if an old man is alone at home, that is political. If someone commits suicide, that is a political and social concern. Fifty people coming together to cause riots is also political. So, everything is political. All of us gathered here is political; whatever we do at home is also political. I’m not against anyone, I’ll speak against inhumane actions. I have no personal enmity, I have no particular stand against anything. I won’t benefit speaking against anyone. I just want humans to live in harmony and love each other, and not differentiate based on caste, religion, gender, and to not depress or torture anyone. I don’t think you need courage to put out these humanitarian messages. If a human is able to express properly, that should be enough.

Anubhav Sinha: I don’t deal with courage at all, I deal with the need to say it. And then that is the goal. In the process, you make courageous choices and you’re aware that you are dealing with danger, but once you have set the goal, you know the path and that is not something that is going to bog you down. I am not dealing with courage at all, it’s just the need to do it. Once you feel there is enough need to do it, then you are old enough to know what will happen and you deal with it. 

Dibakar Banerjee: The only personal layer I can add is that I make a film, I don’t make a political film. I just make it as something I have to say. What happens is that when you are part of an elite (class) in a society which is highly unequal and hugely unjust, when you can feel that at every level, what happens is that not only does it affect you psychologically but it also affects your sanity. I see that effect on the collective sanity around me and over the last 25 years I have been worried about sanity levels as inequality goes on increasing. I have decided that I can’t not make films which do not address that inequality. As a result of it, my journey because in life is going to become harder and harder but I am reconciled to it. I am also aware of that fact that I can’t do anything outside making films. So it has to be a very carefully considered thing because I still have to pay my EMIs and I am not rich at all. 

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