Creator of such substantive and acclaimed films as Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi, Chameli and Yeh Saali Zindagi, Sudhir Mishra tells Nichola Pais that the industry needs to be nurtured, even as the walls between mainstream and indie cinema come down.
As we draw towards the end of the year, how have things been with you?
All good with me…but not this morning actually – Donald Trump is winning! People are filled with hate and they need an imagined enemy. The only catharsis is hatred. And I think this mood will last another 20 years.
That is a frightening prediction… What kind of year has it been for the Hindi film industry, in particular?
The most significant thing is that the big mainstream stars have also realised that they need a story and they need a film. I’m quite happy that Salman is working with Kabir Khan.
This interaction is great! I’m very happy that in the mainstream there is a consciousness of the need for more imagination in films. Also the need to be rooted somewhere… it can be seen in every sphere, even casting, in the rise of casting directors. Mainstream people are almost casting like we used to in parallel cinema! The casting of Dharavi and the casting of Bajrangi Bhaijaan is not very different now, except for the star. So there is a lot of consciousness seeping in and that, I like.
The newer wave of filmmakers is definitely heralding change…
I think there is a takeover of the industry by another generation of new rooted directors. It hasn’t really sunk in yet. Even when the media talks about the leaders of the industry they talk about the same 10 people.
But there is Vishal Bhardwaj, Raju Hirani, Abhishek Chaubey, Imtiaz Ali, Anurag Kashyap, Vikram Motwane, the director of Sultan, Ali Abbas Zafar, Neeraj Pandey… You see, it’s a takeover by rooted, interesting guys connected to their stories, who are imaginative, creative and also knowledgeable about other arts.
Many of them are coming from theatre. So there is an interesting mix between the commercial and so-called parallel cinema of people who talk to each other. Whether the mainstream or the independent or low-budget cinema, they are all interacting with each other. I see that as the major shift in the film industry.
One can sense the positivity and excitement in your tone…
For sure! Who are the top 10 filmmakers and writers? There is a writer called Juhi Chaturvedi, there is a director called Shoojit Sircar. There is a writer called Himanshu and a director called Aanand Rai. And behind them will invariably be their rooted, small-town background, with a lot of imagination, who are redefining even popular cinema. I find this very interesting and I am very happy being in their midst, personally. I am 57 years old; I came in at the age of 22, so it has been 35 years. I’m really inspired and it’s great to be among this new breed. I find the younger lot really inspiring.
Ironically you were making interesting, offbeat cinema way before it became fashionable to do so. Does that cause regret, in a way?
I mean, what can you do? It’s like a relay race – you can’t control your time, you are where you are. And the great thing is that I’m still around! I do Yoga, I still have five films in me or 10. I’m still young compared to Woody Allen! The advantage is I am more a maverick than the younger guys, actually! I’m very comfortable with them – they don’t shock me. It is a good place to be.
It’s on the cusp of a change. I think we will see a lot of guys running away who came here only for the money. The real film people will stay on in this business now. Those that are story-tellers will stay on and that will be great. Those who make films as opposed to products will stay. I see no problem with the traditional film production houses like Yash Raj. They are filmmakers; they are not selling something else and using films as an excuse. Aditya Chopra has already welcomed this change and as a producer is one of the few genuine ones. I think there is room for them.
How much do you see audience taste changing?
Among the audience, there is a place for romance, for melodrama, music – it’s not like the popular Indian song will disappear. You just have to use the form more imaginatively. Filmmaking is not such a conscious activity, so there should be no pressure on directors to mimic each other.
A healthy industry would see all kinds of films being made. And that will happen slowly. Even Rohit Shetty is starting a film production company where small interesting films can be made. At one time you could not have imagined a big time director doing that – there used to be a wall dividing commercial and offbeat. Now there is no war, which I find interesting.