In the times of a pandemic, Bollywood has been undergoing tremendous alterations. Shutting down cinema halls for months have led films to release on OTT platforms and there is a sense of awakening among the audience in terms of the content they are being served. Naturally, Maqbool Khan’s Khaali Peeli featuring Ishaan Khatter and Ananya Panday has been under strict scrutiny.
Khan spoke to News18 about Khaali Peeli skipping theatrical release, film’s casting, the controversy around its song ‘Duniya Sharma Jayegi’ and evolving audience.
Talking about Khaali Peeli missing a theatrical release, Khan says it was disheartening but this is the best one could have in the present scenario. “We made this film for theaters. The treatment it was given, the larger than life characters, it was meant for the big screen. It was originally scheduled to be released in June, we did wait for 3-4 months but there are investments and money is riding so it becomes difficult to hold a film for so long."
Khaali Peeli has been in news ever since the promo of the film was released. The trailer has more dislikes on YouTube than likes. Khan says the team was ‘definitely affected’ by the treatment it got but they moved on.
“It is sad that there are people who dislike the video without watching it. It doesn’t matter to them how or what the content is. I am hoping people don’t pre-judge the project or have preconceived notions about it. Watch it first and if you feel it’s not up to the mark, do trash it but at least watch it," he says.
One of the prime reasons that the film was mired in controversy was because of its casting. In the wake of the debates around ‘outsiders versus insiders’ and ‘nepotism’ casting of Ishaan Khatter and Ananya Panday in the lead made it a part of the discussions.
Khan says, “None of the actors were hired because they are stars or something based on it. When I completed the story, Ishaan was the only guy I got in touch with. He liked it and he came on board. Same with Ananya. And also when one is writing a story a filmmaker does imagine an actor and I got my casting based on that. I am very happy with them, they have justified their characters and I couldn’t have asked anything more from them. There isn’t any point of contemplation."
However, he considers his choice a gamble. He did extensive workshops with the actors, but it is a risk he had to take. To explain, he cites the example of Vishal Bhardwaj’s Omkara (2006) which had Saif Ali Khan playing Langda Tyagi.
He explains, “Everyone remembers Saif Ali Khan in Omkara. Before Vishal Bhardwaj’s film, everybody saw him as this chocolate boy and romantic hero and suddenly after the film, everybody kept talking about him as Langda Tyagi. Same for Ishaan and Ananya. I played a gamble and it came across because they are very focused and committed."
Khaali Peeli’s troubles didn’t end with the trailer as the film’s song ‘Duniya Sharma Jayegi’ created quite a furor for its previous title, ‘Beyonce Sharma Jaayegi’. The song was called out for its racial undertones. Post the backlash, the song was altered.
“We never realised something like this will happen. ‘Goriya’ word has been used in the past in so many songs and films. So it didn’t occur to us that the audience can react to it like this but when they did we changed it and we can say it is sounding better now."
“We are responsible creators and understand that we have a certain responsibility towards our audience so we went ahead to apologise on record," he adds.
Can it be concluded that the audience and the way they watch films is seeing a shift?
“Not just the audience but everything is evolving and there’s room for all opinions and all sort of content. In fact, it has always been like that. In the early ‘90s came Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak starting a trend of romantic films. Films like Maine Pyaar Kiya, Aashiqui became popular and then suddenly Ram Gopal Varma releases Shiva with no romance in it giving way to films like Angaar, Parinda and Satya. And suddenly between these films comes Dil Chahta Hai and everybody turns to stories based on college and friendship. And then films of different genres like Chennai Express, Gully Boy, Queen and Kahaani also made everybody spellbound. There were other films also which were being made and they were co-existing. Similarly, parallel cinema is getting equal recognition now. Earlier there wasn’t a room for them, theaters were dominated by commercial films. It’s a co-existing process we all are part of."
To sum it all, Khan concluded by quoiting Rajesh Khanna’s dialogue from Anand, “Hum sab toh rangmanch ki kathputhliyan hain jinki dor uparwale ki ungliyon main bandhi hain. Kab, kaun, kaise uthega yeh koi nahi bata sakta hai."