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Sunday, December 10, 2023

Anubhav Sinha on Article 15: “My Nationalism is About How We Can Improve Our Country”

Anubhav Sinha. If you see his filmography, then you will realise that versatility is his forte.

After his tryst with romantic (Tum Bin) and action/thriller films (Dus, Ra.One), he has ventured into making socially relevant films.

Last year, his movie Mulk was a critical and commercial success. It even won Sinha the Filmfare award for the best original story.

That film tackled racial disparity in India and now Article 15, starring Ayushmann Khurrana, addresses casteism.

The film’s title is a reference to an article of the Indian constitution that prohibits discrimination on the basis of caste, religion, race or sex.

It showcases a cop’s (Khurrana) investigation into the disappearance of three teenage girls in rural North India.

During this ordeal, he comes to terms with the deeply entrenched corrupt system where, in 2019, a 1000-year-old practice that divides human beings on the basis of caste continues.

Ahead of the world premiere at London Indian Film Festival, Filme Shilmy speaks to director Anubhav Sinha.

Article 15 premieres at the London Indian Film Festival. What are your hopes/expectations from this?

I’m hoping more people, especially youngsters see it so that they can relate to the film as I feel this may be an alien concept for the rest of the world.

They know of discrimination, which is known by casteism in India. I hope we do something about it, I have raised some questions through the film.

I hope people start looking for answers.

There have been several Bollywood films in the past which have tackled the issues like casteism, for instance, Lajja and Aakrosh. What stands out the most about this movie?

I haven’t seen both of these films but I’ve seen the trailers and this is more real and relevant to today.

I’m never really interested in being different from anything… It’s a story that has come and narrated from my heart.

I’m hoping that it will touch people.

The main character is a high-caste Bhramin who is ironically fighting casteism. Do you not feel it could’ve been empowering to have a lower-caste character in fighting back the regressive system?

I think it’s the privileged people that must question the other privileged people. That is my reason for choosing this style of a character.

If an underprivileged is questioning the privileged, then it’s natural and quite obvious.

Whereas if the high-castes asks another high-caste, then I think it’s more revolutionary and interesting.

The film doesn’t need necessarily be resolve the issue, it doesn’t win the war.

It just wins the battle and leaves it open for the rest of us to participate in the war… Hopefully, we can all overcome it.

How do you hope the film will entertain the audience as well as make a political statement?

The film works on two levels: One, as an investigative social drama.

So if the viewer is not politically inclined, they can view it as a police procedural piece.

Two, if you are politically inclined, it will be tough for you to not see it.

I’m not into party politics at all. I criticise them all… But that’s not my game.

In what way do you feel the film will help eradicate the caste system in India?

I don’t think a film can bring about such massive social change. That’s just too much onus on a movie.

But the best that film can do is it can raise questions and make the audience reflect over that.

That’s all which the film is attempting.

Your directorial career began with romantic dramas, then superhero/action-thrillers and now social films. What has determined this change in filmmaking styles?

I don’t know… I’ve been asking myself this same question.

Perhaps I’ve realised my social responsibilities more.

Those who have known me for long are aware that these stories have been with me for a while now.

They say that this is the real me.

For instance, Hansal Mehta saw Mulk and he tweeted saying: “A fantastic debut by Anubhav Sinha.” He thought it was a debut when he knows me for 30 years.

Before, I think I had a misplaced sense of success.

To me, a bigger film was a bigger success and now that definition has changed.

However, what evoked that change, I don’t know.

One cannot deny that there’s a certain and evident change in the kind of films I’m making now.

Nowadays realistic films are gaining more prominence critically and commercially. Do you think this shift has been long-time coming?

Yes, I think so it has been.

When I narrate authentic stories like Mulk, I feel more liberated and happy. I’ve never had this sense of liberation when making other films.

I love them, even the ones that turned out to be bad.

There is a lot of hard work that went into them but the sense of pride and happiness that realistic/social films give me. This feeling is outstanding.

There is also a rise in patriotic films. What is your opinion on this trend?

There’s a bit of a difference. Some of these movies are on the verge of jingoism.

Currently, in the country, the word ‘patriotism’ is also slightly misunderstood.

It’s more about celebrating the nation, rather than building it.

My nationalism is about building it. The celebration is a by-product which will happen on its own.

There are various aspects of nationalism and this discussion must take place in its entirety.

My brand of nationalism is more critical of ourselves and it’s about how we can improve our country.

The country has transitioned in the last 70 years. Some fantastic things have happened but some not so great things.

This is natural. So my angle is about identifying what isn’t good and how that can be better.

Finally, post Article 15, what other social issues are you keen on exploring and why?

There’s a very interesting film that I’m doing with Taapsee Pannu that I’m shooting in August.

She is an addictive actor, so is Ayushmann Khurrana.

So this film is about a very relevant issue and it’s releasing on 6th March 2020 which is International Women’s Day.

(As for this long-time-coming trend in female-centric films) it’s a very give and take between the audience and the filmmaker.

The audiences have opened up to different films.

Once they show their love towards one particular film, then that movie gives birth to many more.

Subsequently, many other filmmakers/producers have more confidence and courage to go ahead with another project that they really love but thought it wouldn’t have worked.

Now, they know that such projects will succeed and it’s high time.

Post the world premiere, Zee Studios will officially release Article 15 in the UK and worldwide June 28.

The Bagri Foundation London Film Festival celebrates a decade of bringing the best new South Asian films to the UK, with 5 cities, 25 venues and 25 specially curated films.

It starts on 20th June 2019 in London continues until 8th July 2019, at cinemas across the UK.

For more on the festival, please visit: http://londonindianfilmfestival.co.uk/

Watch the festival trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RNdLixFRPf0

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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