Interview By: Ankita R. Kanabar

With ‘Raazi’ turning out to be making the right noise, post her critically-acclaimed ‘Talvar’, we realise, Meghna Gulzar has that knack of striking an emotional chord with the audience. We catch up with the lady to discuss her latest release and much more…

“I don’t know if I do have a signature style. I am not aware of it”

Would it be right to say, that you have a very sensitive approach towards making films or rather it comes from your personality that you chose certain subjects and go about it in this manner?

Every director has a signature style which reflects in their films, but I don’t know if I do have a signature style. I am not aware of it. Also because every film I have made is so different from the other that I don’t know what is the common thread which ties them together. The audience says that it’s sensitivity or rather, I handle tough subjects with sensitivity. Possibly. But it’s a very unconscious thing. I am guessing it’s unconscious because I’m a sensitive person. Calling it an approach would make it technical and it’s not. So, it’s a completely subconscious thing which is going on, so maybe it comes from my personality. There is no approach. I don’t even story board my scenes. I just sit on my set. We were doing our recce and we knew where we were going to shoot our film and our DOP, Jay Patel wanted to sit and break down the script with me because he needed to be prepared for his requirements. For 2-3 scenes, he asked me, how are you seeing this scene and I said, I don’t know. When I get there, I will react to my surroundings and then I will know how I want it, which made his life difficult. I need to be in that space because I need to work instinctively. I have no method.

How did things begin on ‘Raazi’?
It happened very sublimely. I was figuring out what I wanted to make after ‘Talvar’ because they were very big shoes to fill. I was quite intimidated by the way ‘Talvar’ was received and then you wonder, what after this? I was not happy with the scripts coming my way, so I thought it’s better to create your own content. So, I started working on my own scripts with other writers, with Bhavani Iyer also. I was working on three scripts and in between Preeti Shahani of Junglee Pictures told me, there’s this book which I want to acquire, would you like to make it? That is how it first came into my orbit. Then after a month, she told me it’s not working out. A little while later, another production house reached out to me, again with the same book and same story. Talks progressed further. Then I went to Alia. The way she popped into my head for this character, I wanted to be very sure that she will do the film otherwise it would be difficult for me to make it. So, I went to meet her without even one alphabet on paper, which I never do. That’s not the kind of person I am. I just verbally explained it to her and asked her, can I write this with you in mind? And she said yes. Which is something she never does. But 4-5 months later, even that conversation between that production house and the author didn’t work out. By the time, even the author and I developed a rapport and he told me, I don’t know who is going to produce this film, but you are going to direct it that’s for sure. So, I said, okay, let me develop it into a story and take it to a production house. I developed it and took it right back to Priti Shahani and Junglee Pictures which was morally a right thing to do.

The kind of benchmark which ‘Talvar’ set, and it turned out to be one of the best films of that year…what is it that you took back from that whole experience?
I worked very hard on that film! I made a film after seven years. Technology had changed, the craft had changed, the dynamics on a set had changed. The world had changed from when I had last made a film. Plus, I was entering a genre that I had never done before and I never thought I could do or want to do. It’s just that the story had fascinated me so much, even as a normal audience, that I didn’t want to miss the opportunity when Vishal sir suggested but the insecurity of whether I will be able to deliver, redeem the faith he has put in me – that insecurity made me work very hard and I don’t think I worked that hard on my previous two films. I realised that the more challenging it is, the better I work. And when I push myself, it shows in the film, it works for the film. That’s what I learnt from ‘Talvar’ – that I need to be constantly insecure of my craft, to push myself a little hard and that’s what works for the film. Not be complacent, and just work hard.

What was the challenge on ‘Raazi’ and how did you overcome that?
You know you are visually trying to create something that you have no reference of – Pakistan in 1971. So, you are doing it based on the research that the internet throws at you, Pakistani plays and all of that. Yet, it needs to be more real because it’s based on a true story. The character is a spy, you need to show how she trains, how she operates, and passes information but people from the world of intelligence do not talk, so you don’t even have people to go to, for research. Fortunately I had a few people who helped me to get few nuggets of information without giving too much. And the third thing was, in her journey there is a lot that goes on and it’s not black and white. So, again to tread that balance, not to put the audience off, or rub them the wrong way, or not alienate them while walking that tight rope – for the actor as well as for me as a director, that was a challenge.

What are the kind of films which you’ve emotionally connected to or gotten influenced by?
I am a very lay audience, if you ask me. And I don’t even think I could be called a cinema lover, because that’s a very high word for me. I haven’t seen those classics which people talk about. I have seen some classics which are meant to be seen but it’s not like I live and breathe cinema. I’m a creative person. I just knew that I needed to have a creative expression. I have done writing, painting, I was a freelance journalist. I realised that the visual medium is the most powerful medium to express yourself, creatively. And even in that, I have done short films, documentaries, music videos and feature films. That’s where I am coming from. Speaking of films, I was just getting out of college when I saw, ‘When Harry Met Sally’, and just the simplicity of it and yet it was so absorbing emotionally. It was a very defining film for me. I still cannot get over it. It maybe an average film cinematically and there may be many films which are better but the art of telling a story which is so simple and saying it so organically is something I got really inspired by.

Are you satisfied with how ‘Raazi’ has turned out to be – from the book to the script to the screen?
It just so happened, that the post production of the film stretched so much that I went on from mixing to check DCP in a gap of two films. So, I have not had a break where I stopped watching the film for technical reasons and sat back to see it. Even while editing, I am not emotionally attached to my material. If it’s not working, it’s not working, I will cut it out if it’s compromising the film in any way. I am not self-indulgent with my material. My editor gets surprised with it. Also, we have to keep in check the run time of the film. What has happened is, there was something which I wanted to say very subliminally as a film-maker through this film which is not very subliminal. Everyone who has seen the film, is getting that quiet thing, which the director’s voice wanted to say which I am very happy about. But I’m not easily satisfied. But you grow with time. For example, ‘Filhaal’ – that was a 27 year old Meghna Gulzar making that film. And now here’s a 42-year old Meghna Gulzar making this film.

‘Filhaal’ was quite beautiful in its own way though, and to be making that film in those times was quite a gutsy choice!
Yes, I was 25 year old when I was writing that film, and I wasn’t married, nor was having pregnancy so it wasn’t my own experience which I was getting into (smiles). I am pleasantly surprised.

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