In the short film Devi, Kajol plays the voice of reason in a roomful of women, including Shruti Haasan, Shivani Raghuvanshi and Neha Dhupia, whose conversations slowly reveal to the audience what the common denominator between them is. The film, released on March 2 on the Large Short Films YouTube channel, has racked up 11 million views on YouTube but has also been beset by allegations of plagiarism by director Abhishek Rai, with whose film Four it shares certain similarities. Kajol and producer Niranjan Iyengar addressed the controversy. An excerpt from the conversation:
Anupama Chopra: I have to begin by addressing the elephant in the room that is the plagiarism accusation. Abhishek Rai, a director, has said that it is very close to his film. I did watch Four and there are many similarities which seem too much to be a coincidence. So how did something like this happen?
Niranjan Iyengar: Both the films are in the public domain. People should watch and decide for themselves. It is not for me to comment on similarities or dissimilarities. It is a film that came to us. It is about an issue that we feel strongly about, we saw merit in the script, and we made it. The rest is for the people to decide.
AC: When you say it is a film that came to you, you mean the script that Priyanka (Banerjee, the director) brought to you?
NI: Yes. Priyanka got us the script and my business partner and founder of Electric Apples Entertainment, Ryan (Stephen), was the one who basically got the script to us. Everything was in place. It is a registered script. It came to us in 2018 November. We put it together, we made the film and now it's out. So I have nothing else to say except that both the films are in public domain and that is for people to decide.
Kajol: And please watch it! We really want you all to watch the film. Please go ahead and watch it. We are really waiting for your decision.
NI: I would not like to comment any more on this because this discussion can go on endlessly. Like I said, my only point is that both the films are on public domain and both are on same platform, YouTube. People should see and make up their own minds.
AC: Kajol, I think it is amazing that it is a 13-minute film that has 9 characters and also you, of course. It is wonderful that you do it without worrying about how you come across or what is your space. How have you arrived at this place as an actor where footage really doesn't matter?
Kajol: It never mattered to me. I have been offered titular roles in films where they have told me your (character's) name is the title of the film. And that was all that I had. And I have not said yes to them. I have never worried about what my footage in a film is. I was never that person. And if you see my movies as well, you will understand that I was really never that person. I don't have… I wouldn't say insecurity, but I don't have that concern as an actor to say 'oh my role is bigger than yours or has to be equivalent to yours'. I judge a script on what it says as a script, what it says as a role and what my character is actually going to go about and do in the film. It is very important that I understand and identify with the character I am playing and believe in her. That is the most important thing.
If you don't believe in the character then yes, you will come up with inconsistencies and if you are not 100% sure that the character you are playing is going to be portrayed in a certain way, you will have certain concerns and they may not be related to your co-stars. But I have been pretty confident of my roles and my characters and my judgement for that matter.
AC: Tell me about the shoot. I believe that most of the crew was female as well. What kind of energy was there in the shoot?
Kajol: I can't tell you how amazing it was. I think it was due to the topic we were shooting as well and the fact that we all did it kind of pro bono so nobody had that hierarchy. There was no hierarchy on the set which is so nice to see. This is one of the few sets I have seen where there is no 'oh you are better than me' or 'did she get a bigger van' or 'she is the bigger star' or 'does she have a chair and I don't?' these kind of idiotic things really. It is a very natural phenomenon that happens (on a film set) but it was not there on this one. We all sat together, we all chilled together and we all rehearsed for everybody. Everybody sat and gave cues to everybody.
NI: That is right. Right from the outset we were very clear that this was about 9 characters, so for us they were all characters when they came. And all of them were so loving to the film. Like she said the film itself was so dear to everyone. The person who did the line production with us, Ritika Bajaj, she was a woman. The DOP was Savita Singh, a woman. It was not by design, it just happened. We never really went for it. Ritika and I were planning to collaborate and we ended up collaborating on this film with Electric Apples and Indian storytellers. Savita was Priyanka's suggestion so she came on board. It just happened and then at one point we just looked at it and we said "Oh my god. Except Ryan and I, everybody else on this set is a woman!"
Kajol: But I have to say this that all of this has come together because of Ryan and Niranjan. This film has happened because of their goodwill, because of their relations with everybody in the film industry because in their tenure, all the relationships that they have made throughout the time they have been working in the film industry have made it happen. And they have been working in this industry for the last 30 years. So it has got to do with relationships as well. So I am saying that these 9 or 11 or 13 women have come together because of these two people. I have worked with so many people in the film industry, people that I like, people that I don't like, heard gossip, but I have never heard anybody say two bad words about both of them. These two are the most amazing people and we have had a blast working together.