Watching the powerfully written Mulk, one wonders how it is dramatically different from filmmaker Anubhav Sinha's earlier work like Tum Bin and Ra.One. Sinha admits that over the past few years, he felt something within him shift, which led him to make a film that felt more honest and true to his voice. Mulk is the story of a Muslim family in Varanasi that is put through a gruelling court procedure when a young member turns out to be a terrorist. "Like I've been saying, the uneasiness with the disharmony has been with me for many years. In the last few years, this increased a lot and based on certain headlines in the papers, this story just happened. I thought this was a good story to put it all together," says Sinha. The filmmaker says the respect of his peers and the joy of making a heartfelt film is too liberating for him to go back to making films customised for the box office.
When I saw Mulk, I couldn't believe this was the same filmmaker who made Tum Bin 2 just two years ago. What shifted?
I think this is the most honest film I've made. The rest of a lot of my films were customised for box office. I don't want to disown them but they were made for a different purpose. This was straight from the heart. This time I chose to not consider anything else. At that point the idea was to mount a film and find money for it and create some good songs. I was known to package it nicely and deliver. That was what I was focussing on. This time I focussed on something I had to say.
People who are big in their worlds have found me and called me. Also a lot of people who had met me for the first time and got to spend some time with me told me that my movies don't reflect my personality and who I am and that is not the best thing to hear for a filmmaker. Those things too must have done something to me.
How have you processed the overwhelming feedback? There are filmmakers who are actively asking people to see Mulk on Twitter and on the other hand I saw you talking about people attacking your IMDB rating.
It's been absolutely overwhelming. It is difficultly for me to cry so I haven't done that yet. The whole team is saying, 'Let's do a party' so we are doing one. I said, 'Let's not call it a success party but a sharing happiness party'. I haven't told anyone this but one morning I get up to a message saying 'Hi Anubhav, my name is Sooraj Barjatya' and then a long paragraph about the film. The moment I finished reading, I get a call from Anurag Kashyap saying 'I can't get the movie out of my head'. Look at the spectrum! Then this morning Neeraj Ghaywan also spoke about it.
Is there a special joy when you're lauded by your peers?
These are people I've been jealous of – Hansal Mehta, Sudhir Mishra, Anurag Kashyap and Neeraj Ghaywan – when they call you and can't stop raving about your film it is amazing. Also I have seen pretty much 17 years of my career where critics didn't think much of me and rightfully so because those films were not aimed at them. And here I made a film that was not aimed at anyone, only at me. The love has poured in from critics whose reviews are based on trade and to critics who don't give a damn about the trade. The whole spectrum has given me 4 stars. I haven't seen anything like this before.
Given the current political climate, were you cautious while working on the script?
I wouldn't write it if I was weighing my words. It is straight from the heart. I wrote what I had to say. There were times I myself got scandalised. There are times when you write something and then when actors perform it, suddenly the same words have a new meaning to it. I remember this happening with one particular line. I had a legal expert on set to make sure I wasn't doing anything technically wrong. He was a Muslim. And my executive producer Sagar was a Hindu. So there was this shot that happened and I clapped and said 'very nice'. Suddenly I see that both of them standing being me and saying this cant be said. I considered what they were saying for a long time and then said no, this will go in the movie. Rishiji's famous line was 'aap yeh picture ban karwaenge'.
What was the toughest scene to write? Was it Taapsee's monologue at the end?
Taapsee's scene in the end was something I had to say so that was easy to write. It was the phone call between Prateik and the family that was hard. There was no way to justify what he was doing and he still needed to sound convinced. So how do you share the conviction of a terrorist? I didn't know and I did a lot of research and I went into some seriously restricted websites. I informed some senior police officials that I was venturing there.
What's next for you? Will we see more of this Anubhav Sinha going forward?
I'll continue to do my work but I will probably lose that filter that tells you that this works and that doesn't. I'm conscious of the costing of the film. Mulk has been made at an unheard of budget within 27 days. What I have learnt is to make what comes straight from the heart. When you make custom-made films it is for others. This I made for myself. It's so liberating, you have no idea. These films make us better human beings.