Shonali Bose. Amu. The Sky Is Pink. I think to myself before I start my zoom call with this powerhouse of a person, whose films come from a sense of deep rooted reality. I’m excited to see what Bose has to say about her appointment with BAFTA’s Breakthrough Initiative in India as a jury member. As I had to congratulate her, she says, “I was just honoured to be on this panel. It is something I really look up to, so it was a gift for me to be a part of this.”
Explaining what the BAFTA Breakthrough initiative is all about, Bose tells me, “See, what I found is that the talent themselves already had challenging stories, and what we are doing is furthering their careers by giving them an international platform like BAFTA. So, by BAFTA coming to India and choosing breakthrough talent from our country, the new generation of talent who have their career ahead of them will now get an international platform now. Their work will be seen. They will be talked about. That is something terrific for the very deserving people from our country.”
While Bose is a proud awardee of many big accolades, she still wishes that this interesting and engaging initiative had started when she was a young and aspiring director. “I wish it had started 10 years ago, and I could have been a recipient because it is amazing. There is really no other award as exciting as the Oscars and the BAFTAs, and the Golden Globes, actually. Within these, I feel the BAFTA is even more authentic. Oscars, when I see the winners’ list, I am often like something is really off here. But with the BAFTAs and the Globes, I have always found them very solid. I really look up BAFTA as an organisation for its credibility, and the kind of talent they recognise,” she adds.
Bose also feels international recognition encourages film-makers from India to continue working on their craft. “We have very thriving industries. We have industries in Bengal, in the South with Tamil, Telugu, and Malayalam cinema. I love the fact that we have such diversity of talent. So for the entire film industry, for the country, these international platforms help. I went to Berlin, TIFF, and Sundance for different films, and for those who are getting a BAFTA, some of them have already been in major festivals already. Everyone now watches work from all over the world, but we want our work to be seen also globally. Art is something you can understand and watch from anywhere. So how do we get that kind of level of global cinema, or that kind of reach and base? It is when organisations like BAFTA will nurture people and help them own their skills and art,” she says.
All the characters in Bose’s movies are so real and authentic, given that the story lines also come from a personal space, so I have to ask her how she does it. How did Kalki Koechlin in Margarita with a Straw or Priyanka Chopra in The Sky is Pink do what they did, so effortlessly? “For me, the director-actor relationship is a really sacred relationship. I feel I have an umbilical cord between me and my actors. The pre-production process is when speaking to the actors and really helping them get into the skin of their characters happens, and that is sacred for me. During that process, I want my actors nude — emotionally. You have to be absolutely honest in front of the camera, and because it is often from my own life, even I am emotionally naked with them during the process. It was the same process in Margarita with a Straw where the straw is about my own sexuality, and in The Sky Is Pink, talking about the death of my own son,” she explains.
Bose goes down the memory lane, and recalls the times she was working with Chopra for The Sky Is Pink. She narrated an incident that moved me. “Priyanka Chopra agreed to play the role of a mother, but she is not a mother in real life. When we were shooting for one of the scenes where Aisha, her daughter, has a video message that is played after her death, and Chopra just has to cry seeing the video message. So she is crying, and we are done shooting the scene, which was in a crowded place with a hundred extras. When I call cut, I always go and hug the actors, and she just holds me and howls, saying, ‘I am so sorry’. I could not understand, and then she said, ‘I am so sorry for Ishlu’. In the film, she was playing the role of the mother of Ishaan (who doesn’t die) and my son’s name is Ishaan, who died. Now, this is entirely a coincidence that Aisha’s brother’s name is Ishaan. When Aisha’s parents approached me to make a film, I was like I cannot believe your son’s name is Ishan. Like this was a sign from the universe that I had to do this story. So there is Ishan, and Chopra meant my Ishan, (I used to call him Ishlu) and she knew that. She knew that because we talked so much about it. That is a direct example of how me being emotionally naked helped Chopra get inside the skin of what it means to lose a child,” she reveals.
Shonali Bose has always made films that have a sentimental touch. What’s next? “I have gotten some good transgender stories, which is great. But I really want to do an action-hero movie. I want to do an out-and-out comedy movie. If I don’t write that material, I am just not going to get it. I have written a really kickass, badass action film. But I will be happy to get an action film. Somebody give me something with a male actor. I keep doing stuff with women because as a writer, I sort of tend to write female characters. Men mainly read your magazine, so I want to tell them to give me some exciting male story that I can write and tell. It has to be fun,” she says. Men, are you listening?
She feels sensitising a subject is very important, even when it is an action-hero film. “In our country, for the most part, tropes of stereotypes are followed. If you have one successful Salman Khan movie, they will keep making a repeat. Then you keep feeling that you cannot sensitise your audience. So what I am trying to say is you can give me a really ridiculous subject but how my characters are in their gender, in their politics, and in their outlook, that sensitisation I will bring. That is important. You could have a really fun comedy but do you have to be patriarchal? Do you have to have a hero who is casteist? I don’t think so, she explains.
What does she feel about awards, but? Does that influence how she makes films? “No, I don’t. I just feel everybody should be honest, and not think about getting an award. Not think about what kind of audience they are going to cater to. Just write for yourself, and be honest. That will be the best kind of film, and you will end up getting a BAFTA,” she says.
While I wanted to keep the conversation going, the PR interrupts. Schedules are such. I quickly ask her to give some slice-of-life advice. “Anything can happen if you are open to experiences, and don’t have so many restrictions on yourself. All you need is perspective. Also, let’s not take film-making so seriously. It is not the beyond-all and the end-all of life. Let life surprise you. Go with your instinct and where you want to be. Tomorrow, if I change my mind or I am bored of film-making, I am not going to keep making films. Being happy is what’s important to me,” she signs off.