For director Devashish Makhija, films are meant to be about the real world. He has tried to dramatise real-life issues in contemporary society as they really are, in all its ugliness and cruelty, with each film. With that kind of leaning in cinema, he prefers not to engage too much in any sort of open discourse.
Makhija, whose last film Bhonsle, a politically inflected drama, starring Manoj Bajpayee received much critical acclaim, is also one of the filmmakers who has started a petition urging people to not support the BJP in the coming elections.
We recently spoke to him about the joint statement, how freedom of expression has evolved over the years in the country and Bollywood celebrities' recent meetings with PM Narendra Modi.
Excerpts from the interview:
What personally led you to sign the joint statement?
I don't know if we have competent enough political party to really serve the country. But at least for starters, we need to put a party in the dock that uses hate as a foundation stone of what they do.
In the statement, you all have mentioned that the current government is "keeping the population away from the truth by banning and censoring ‘works of art’, especially the most powerful of the lot – Cinema and Books." But have you self-censored anything ever in your films?
Till now I have not self-censored. I have written ‘Bhonsle’ and ‘Ajji’ a few years ago. They only got made in the last three years. But I wrote them before the BJP came to power. However, the films I've written over the last four years are even more difficult for producers to back.
Which leads me on to my next question; Given the very distinct changes in leadership over the last two years, how do you think the censor board is functioning now?
‘Ajji’ (directed by Makhija) was the first film that was censored by the board under Prasoon Joshi. I had to take three-and-a-half minutes out of the film so I don't know if anything changed broadly because Prasoon's politics is also very aligned with the current party. It was a step up in terms of the human being that replaced Pahlaj Nihalani but in terms of politics, nothing changed.
Are films free to voice dissent?
I had a producer partner in my film and he backed out six months ago because of the fear. I lost him precisely because of this anti-national sentiment rabble-rousing that could lead to mob stoning.
Are you suggesting that the space for freedom of speech in the socio-political domain has changed?
The differences aren't many. It's just the degree of difference. I'm quite vocal about Adivasi rights and I think (the previous government) was probably doing exactly what this government is also doing with the Adivasis. So that didn't change. It's just the level of demonisation of the lower caste and the tribals; that degree changed.
Earlier this year, some of Bollywood’s biggest stars met PM Narendra Modi and were quite optimistic about their meeting. How do you see that?
I just see a lot of fear. A lot of those selfies being clicked with the PM, I know some of those people I'm not at liberty to name them but I see a lot of them operating out of fear because there is so much money running on their films. If an actor or a director vocalises their stance the fear of Rs 100 crore going down the drain make a lot of people run away from that one person. In the last two years, I have only seen one Anubhav Sinha picking the mic and really speaking his mind.
Do you feel hopeful?
The fact that we even put out this appeal in itself says a lot. It was a lot of anger in all of us but we had to really work at not letting our anger percolate through and just trying to sound level-headed because we don't know what this is going to lead to.
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