As a man known not to mince words, it’s not surprising to see director Raju Murugan jump straight to the heart of the conversation.
"We are not used to films made on a large scale that talk issues. We had to cross obstacles such as the censors. But what we wanted to convey has been accomplished. The general public is happy with the film. As far as reviews are concerned, some call the film extraordinary, while others have given it a mixed review. Just like the film itself, the reviews too are a mix of everything," says a laughing Raju Murugan.
The nature of reviews has been a topic of discussion recently.
Art forms always give the space to debate. We are open to criticism. At the same time, there are very few people who use that space to look at a film politically. Also, a comedy film cannot be judged the way a horror film is. Critics should have enough social exposure in order to review political films.
Casting has always been interesting in your films. For Gypsy, apart from roping in director Lal Jose and Sunny Wayne, you have also got names such as Susheela Raman, Piyush Manush and Bant Singh on board.
As it's a film about travel, we needed a variety of faces. I liked Lal Jose sir when I saw his photo; he felt apt for the role of a Muslim father. Despite being a famous director in Malayalam, he was humble. We felt Sunny Wayne would be a good fit for the youth communist leader and he did a good job too. The story also demanded a person who collects music and the character reminded me of the album Maya by Susheela Raman that I once heard in Kasi.
I really liked her voice and when I asked her if she would be a part of the film, she accepted. Bant Singh is also someone I met in Punjab while travelling. He is a rebel singer in his region with a backstory as well -- his daughter was gang-raped and when he used the justice system against the perpetrators, his arm was hacked by them. Even then, he made sure that they were given the due sentence by the court. I couldn't use him much in the film but I wanted to show his face somehow. Similarly, for the scenes where we showed Muslim areas, we used actual Muslims from that region. I believe such things make the film more believable.
Tell us about the additional measures you had to take when making a film like Gypsy to be politically correct.
It's extremely hard to be politically correct when we deal with a film that touches upon so many topics. Even when shooting a Muslim ritual, we did it with those who actually do such rituals, so we don't do anything wrong. Doing a political film is tougher than just talking about it. When a political film takes a side, those on that side celebrate that film.
When a film does not take a side, everyone is unsatisfied. As a creator, I don't have the compulsion to support anyone but I should be clear enough to know what I stand for. It is my liberty to criticise certain people. Intha mathiri chinna chinna vimarsanagal vechu ottumothama namakku yaaru edhirinu adayaalam kaaturom.
How do you think the balance between art and politics can be maintained?
I strongly believe than when we bring politics into an art form, there should be no preachiness. When a film turns preachy, the art form loses its value. That's why I try to infuse my political standing inside the art form. There's also a general opinion that my films have political dialogues. When it's not there, they ask why it's not there, and when it's there, a group says, "Look at how he keeps campaigning his views" (laughs).
Ironically, compared to my first two films, I have used lesser dialogues in Gypsy. Even the relationship and the heroine's mindset is shown visually -- she enjoys the rain and her father who is seeing this plans for her marriage. This has not been able to be accepted by some who feel that some sequences like the love angle were not established properly.
Just in a few places, dialogues are political and even that's mounted on a leftist protagonist. Even the characters were not a figment of my imagination but inspired by photos of Ashok Parmar and Qutubuddin Ansari from the Gujarat riots.
How many cuts did the film get from the Censor Board?
As far as I know, the film has 52 cuts apart from recommended colour changes. Ezhuthurappove naan personal-a oru nyayam vechu dhaan ezhudhuven. But what they understood from the film is their point of view. I feel that the Censor Board should have educationalists, philosophers, poets, writers and human activists and not people with political inclinations. When that happens, there's no democracy.
After the cuts, we don't have a choice. I can take it to the North but we don't know what repercussions that might have. The film is made on a huge budget by Ambed Kumar sir, and if it wasn't for him, we couldn't have done this film. The only option was to rework and get the best version of it with all these cuts.
The film had a lot of metaphors. Tell us about them.
Yes, and I leave them to the viewer. For example, we use a lot of portraits of leaders in the film, but not everything needs to have a deeper meaning. Ellathukum pinnadiyum oru arasiyala kattamaicha, adhu kalaai-a thaandi poidum. I try to use them in the most important places.
Usually, the best scene of a film is used for promotions as sneak peeks, but for Gypsy, you opted to release the deleted scenes.
The scenes where he satired real issues did not make the final cut. Similarly, people ask about how Gypsy became a rebel singer all of a sudden, but we established it with the Very Very Bad song right in the beginning which got chopped. Sneak peek felt like a good platform to put these portions out.
Will the OTT version of the film come without these cuts?
Yes, we have teamed up with Zee5 and the film's uncut version with the scenes you didn't see in the big screen, will be made available there.