There was a time when the film industry would largely stay away from voicing their thoughts on political issues, except for those who chose politics as an alternative after their film careers took a backseat. It was hard to tell what the industry as a whole thinks. That has gradually changed, election after election, as more celebrities have opened up about their opinions in public.
Sure, there are still those that choose not to comment on any party or the government, like Kangana Ranaut pointed out earlier this year. But we definitely do see Bollywood taking more interest in political affairs now than before – the two meetings with PM Narendra Modi and a number of parties using star power to attract voters are proof.
Several actors and filmmakers even went ahead to sign a petition as a call to vote against "Modi and all other parties that have in the past and continue to profess and divide people on communal lines." The move was criticised by many within the industry itself, who were "shocked" to see their colleagues "dividing a secular place like Bollywood."
Filmmaker Sudhir Mishra thinks that this whole talk of polarisation in Bollywood has been blown out of proportion. "A lot of polarisation takes place because of elementary advantages. Mostly, people don't care much. They are interested in the box office, whether their films are working or not. I don't think 99% of the Hindus in the film industry even think that the guy next to them is a Muslim. Is there any polarisation between Anurag Basu and Imtiaz Ali? Who will not work with Salman Khan or Aamir Khan?"
He continues, "If four or five people have chosen to go to one side, they're entitled to. Because of those two-three individuals, the whole thing is overblown, I don't think even those who have joined the BJP will have any problems with Muslims. So, I think that the polarisation in the industry is exaggerated. Society is another matter, though. Society has many problems, I am not commenting on that."
Mishra has not only made films on political issues, coming from a political family, he has seen seats of power closely. "My grandfather used to be once Chief Minister of MP. He was very close to Mrs. Gandhi. My father walked out of that. He brought us up on a teacher's salary. One of my uncles married a lady and she became Sheila Dikshit. But I didn't get any advantage of that. I didn't get the Padma Shri or the Raj Sabha. One of my uncles, Brajesh Mishra, was once head of the PMO for Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee. So I know power."
Mishra chooses to remain politically vocal through his work of art only. "I didn't join the Award Wapsi gang. I think it's good for me to be an artist and a person who understands things and let my films reflect it. I made a film called Hazaron Khwaishein Aisi and released it in 2004, and there was 10 years of UPA rule after that. I was not even considered for the National Award for that film. But that's a chance that you have to take."
Hazaron Khwaishein Aisi is just one of the many films on hard-hitting socio-political issues that Mishra has taken up in his films. He was the screenwriter of satires like Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro and Mohan Joshi Hazir Ho!, and won the National Award for his debut film Yeh Woh Manzil To Nahin, a story of student activism, betrayal by comrades and conscience.
Thirty-five years later, Mishra is stepping away from his pet genre to make his digital debut with a thriller series. Hostages has been adapted from an Israeli series, as part of the Hotstar Specials programme. The series, starring Ronit Roy and Tisca Chopra in the lead, will begin streaming on May 31.
Tisca plays a surgeon who is asked to kill a chief minister in the OT in exchange for the lives of her children and husband, who are held hostage by a group of criminals. Mishra, who has made thrillers like Is Raat Ki Subah Nahin before, says he had great fun doing Hostages.
"The actors are wonderful. I have not seen a female character like this, so stubborn. She's someone who will do the right thing, who doesn't fall into the cliches of reacting typically like a mother. She's willing to take wild risks with her children. It's very fascinating. I loved delving into her mind with Tisca. When you watch the show, you'll think that Ronit's character is wrong, but then you won't understand what he is doing in the series till the end," the director says.
Ask him why he chose to start his digital work with an adaptation, and Mishra says, "I am working on multiple projects for digital, some of which I am writing. This happened to get made first. Also, how many directors in India anyway do original stuff? You can ask that question anywhere else in the world, expect India. Even when they claim that this is original, 90% of the time it is not. At least I was there for 40 days, I directed every shot. And I had great fun. I'll do it again, the second season. I hope they do it with me."
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