Director Dibakar Banerjee's films have tackled the uglier aspects of society: patriarchy, honor killings, fascism. In an exclusive chat on FC Front Row, he talks about the fear of continuing to make political films in the current climate and why he wouldn't make a movie like Khosla Ka Ghosla today.
Do you, given the current climate in the country, find yourself not self-censoring, but saying: Maybe I shouldn't say that much, maybe I can camouflage it more, maybe the film can be a Trojan horse – it's one thing but says something else? Are you having those problems because you're a political filmmaker?
DB: First of all, like everybody else in these times, as soon as you start making any film, you start from a position of fear, from a position of personal, financial and social risk. We are living in a society, which we have contributed to, where a body politic of what we call trolls are actually the agency of the state through mock power, whether it is virtual or physical. This is an environment that uses fear as a clear political tool for social engineering. I am as afraid for my safety as any other guy. But what needs to be understood is that to some extent, fear is only as much as you are afraid of. One needs to control that fear and keep a cool head, keep their nerves going, do what one can and make personal calculations of safety and committing to one's position.
Come to think of it, filmmakers like me fortunately are not very consequential. Films don't change much, don't do much. Films keep some thoughts and ideas alive, to a lesser extent than books, to much lesser extent than pamphlets, lesser than political discourses. They do help to some extent – I think they are an adjunct to the cultural thoughts of a time. But when you look at social activists, at politicians, social workers, at people who run NGOs, innocent people or just average Joes who have spoken out about something and have faced a lot of mental and sometimes physical violence for it, you realise that political filmmaking in the context of Bollywood and the fringes of the star system, is on the fluff side. We don't have the power to change things beyond a point.
The shit we're in was brought in by the middle class of India, the audience and the champions of Khosla Ka Ghosla, Oye Lucky Lucky Oye, not so much the champions of Shanghai. They were complicit in this situation that we have brought upon ourselves now. While making my first film, I was not political at all. I was being a good, bourgeois, middle-class boy who wanted to get famous making films. I got the story from Jaideep Sahni, I got the film from the producer and they somehow had faith in me as a director. And I badly wanted to make it work. Of course I did not want to work with Shahrukh Khan or Aamir Khan, I didn't want to work with any of the big stars of that time because I didn't see them fitting into the film. So therefore we cast the people we could and those we thought were best for the film. But I genuinely wanted to make it big. I wanted to be famous and I wanted to be known and I wanted to have a big house and a big car. I didn't have any political motives at that point. I had psychological motives. If you watch Khosla Ka Ghosla, at least it is infused with some kind of psychology. There's a lot of hidden patriarchy and capital hoarding in the film. It's benign, it's fine, all of us have lived through that. But 15 years on, looking back, I wouldn't make that film.
DB: No. That doesn't mean that I don't like that film. I'm not that person anymore, I don't have those beliefs. I don't believe that Chiraunjilal Khosla should get into his train-ka-dabba apartment with Papa Khosla and live all his days out there because I think that is a recipe for patriarchal disaster. What I'm doing right now is trying to reach the audience of Khosla Ka Ghosla or Oye Lucky Lucky Oye or LSD and the cumulative audience that I've had over 15 years and half a generation later, with some kind of polemical device. I want to send out certain thoughts and warnings on as long as I can. There is nothing else to be done right now. And it has to go on like this till something changes for the worse or for the better. If it changes for the worse, we'll know, if it changes for the better, we'll raise a drink.