BENGALURU: About Chauranga... Chauranga is set in the dark hinterland of India where tradition and modernity collide precariously. It’s about a fourteen-year-old boy who wants to go to school like his older brother in a village that’s steeped deep in caste hierarchy, oppression and debauchery. Infatuated by a girl, he dreams of writing her a love letter and go to school.
In Sanskrit ‘Varna’ can also mean colour or class. Chauranga means four colours and classified into four varnas…four castes.
About your character...My character, Dhaval, is a man who is threatened by the imminent change - his ancestral mansion has lost its glory with the abolition of Zamindari system. A man literally cut into two - who loves a lower-caste woman but can’t bear the thought of his own daughter falling for a ‘low-born’.
Working with Bikas...Bikas never made me feel nervous as his grasp of the script and vision of the film was clear. He showed immense maturity and an artistic vision as a director. The entire journey has been a satisfying one.
Why did you produce this film?
I loved the script and the vision of the director. I knew that it was not going to be an easy journey in terms of finding traditional funding for the film but then we make cinema and not products or projects. For me, ‘the first audience’ is me...myself and I need to love it to be able to find that energy in me to make it.
Working with Onir...We have been working together for about 11 years now and we have a great work relationship. We respect each others vision, body of work and at the same time agree to disagree with one another (smiles). At the core, there is a deep friendship. I like his aesthetics as a filmmaker.
Onir claims that some cuts in the film by the censor board are unfair. Your take?
Yes. I think while certifying a film, one needs to view things in totality and understand the narrative as well. The love making scene between my character (a high caste ex-zamindar) and Tannishtha’s character (a dalit cleaning lady) is crucial to the narrative. It provides the backdrop against which the story of irony and double standards of the elite plays out. While Dhaval can make love to a dalit woman; when his daughter receives a love letter from a dalit boy (the same woman’s son) - his sense of morality is outraged. So, if there are cuts in the love making scene between these characters - it deprives the story of certain context. But it’s okay, our film still retains its essence.
Do you think censor board curbs the freedom of speech and expression of a film?
We are not talking about trainspotting, we are talking about a voluntary act of an individual to watch cinema... an individual’s choice, where one makes the effort of stepping out of your house, buy a ticket and then watch a film. It’s a choice driven act. So many questions come up when someone else is deciding what you must be allowed to watch and what not. So automatically, there is some expression that has been curbed or some freedom compromised. My fear goes deeper than this, the board at a subconscious level is clipping a writer’s or an artistic expression at the very ‘thought level’ which is a dangerous trend in times to come because people will be worried what will be allowed and what won’t be. No great cinema can be produced then as cinema besides entertaining, is also meant to engage, educate, provoke, reflect, start a dialogue or discourse etc.
Is it difficult to get crowd sourcing for such non-mainstream film project?
I did it before with I AM. Yes, it’s always difficult to pitch stories that don’t have big cast attachments.
Is it also difficult to get screens for the non-mainstream films?
One can get screens provided the audience come to watch independent films. I feel there is an audience but they don’t want to spend `350 on ticket and then popcorn, coffee and parking for an Indie film, they rather watch these at home. As for the youth, it’s expensive going out. It’s a whole big debate. The entire ecosystem of distributing Indie films is to be looked at.
Do you think such films are being overshadowed by the main Bollywood commercial films?
I think all can co-exist and mainstream is extremely important as it keeps the entire food chain greased (sic). But there needs to be space for another kind of a voice which India lacks, unlike the European art house chains.
What are your upcoming projects?
After Chauranga, I will be seen in a psychological thriller that I have also produced called My Birthday Song directed by Samir Soni. I also have Onir’s Shab which I have only produced but not acted.
Chauranga is set to release on January 8.
We are not talking about trainspotting, we are talking about a voluntary act of an individual to watch a movie