The road to evolution starts with change and who would know it better than Anubhav Sinha. An engineer by education, he was bitten by the film-making bug which made him land in Mumbai to become a director, and since 1991, he has been working on that dream. His journey started as an assistant director on TV shows, he became an independent director in 1994 with a show on Zee TV and went on to direct one of the very popular Sea Hawks, starring R Madhavan, Milind Soman and Om Puri. Soon, he moved on to direct music videos, and by the end of the millennium, he was into feature film-making. His debut film, Tum Bin, was one of the biggest hits of 2001. Since then, he has directed films of various genres like Dus, Ra.One and Tum Bin 2. But, he finally discovered his voice with last year’s sleeper hit, Mulk, a heart-wrenching socio-political film which got a lot of love (and questions) from all quarters. He returned to the genre with Article 15 last month, starring Ayushmann Khurrana, which is based on Article 15 of the Indian Constitution, which prohibits discrimination on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex and place of birth.

 

 

 

From making films like Tum Bin, Dus and Ra.One, what made you shift to films like Mulk and Article 15?

 I consciously made the shift. The only shift that happened — when I look back and analyze — is that, now, I’m not designing films for the box office. I’m saying what I want to say and this is the kind of films I’m making. Films have become more personal now.

What interested you about Article 15 and why did you decide to make a film on it?

 It is actually the other way round. I wrote the story first and then I was looking for the title. One day I was sitting with Sudhir Mishra and Gaurav Solanki (co-writer of the film) and I just happened to mention that there must be some article that would be addressing this issue. While we were talking, Gaurav was googling and reading out Article 15 of the Constitution, which was probably the story of the film. I’m very happy that the film actually made people sit up and google Article 15. Many people used to ask me whether I would change the title of the film, but I had no intention of doing that.

Caste discrimination has become a very important issue in our country…

 I have been reading these stories regularly on the front page of the newspaper, so that means people are talking about it. I’m realizing that I’m getting attracted to stories that are rooted in the life and in the world that I live in. Caste discrimination is not a new phenomenon. I wouldn’t know if it is happening more or if it is being reported more now, but the only change that I can see and can vouch for is that it is happening more blatantly. You will keep on hearing about Dalit girls being raped and people being beaten up on the streets. These were the reports that were affecting me. The caste hierarchy — which I’ve never understood — has always bothered me. I researched on the roots of the caste system and where they come from, and they also make sense. The worst part is, something like this exists in our society not only in rural India, where few people get to go to school, but it also happens in a medical college in Mumbai. This needs a bit of discussion and conversation, which this film tries to encourage.

One scene in the film which has caught everyone’s attention is that of cops spelling out their caste to Ayushmann Khurrana’s character.

That scene is one of our favourites too. It is a much longer scene. Actually, it is a very ironic scene, you will end up laughing in the end, but it was quite magical to make. I’m told a lot of people are getting angry because of that scene. I’m very happy that they are getting angry. It is high time people got angry and we try and change things. Article 15 is a very angry film. I remember showing the trailer to a friend who is not a film buff and he asked me ‘How much anger do you have inside you, Anubhav?’ I was surprised with his reaction and when I saw it from that perspective, I realized it is a fairly angry film. It will make people angry and it should. The film says something that hasn’t been said in the public domain. In fact, I’m very happy I could make a mainstream Bollywood film with this subject. I always say that making a mainstream film is always difficult than making an indie film because in the latter format, you give a damn. But with mainstream, you are fighting various battles like box office collection and weekends and all that.

What made you think of Ayushmann Khurrana as a cop for the main lead?

Him working in the film is very much a providence. We met for something else which he was going to read. He had seen Mulk a few days before the reading and he was a huge fan of the film and he asked if I can do something similar, something intense, something socially relevant. I had the story (Article 15) which I was planning to put on the back burner as I was not getting the right actor for the film. I hadn’t even approached many people, there was nobody who was fitting in, I wanted someone of a particular age group, a fishout-of-water of sorts… I ended up telling the story to him and he jumped at it and he wanted to do it now and he told me, he wouldn’t let me make it with anyone else. I told him I don’t see him in the role, he told me to try to see him in the role and I bought into his enthusiasm and conviction to be part of the film. This was few a weeks prior to his double whammy of Andhadhun and Badhaai Ho. We barely met post our initial conversation. Both his films released and they were huge hits, and generally, things change after hits but the first person he met was me. We met in December and we had started shooting by March. Both of us were so charged and excited about the subject that we jumped straight into it.

After Mulk released, there was a targeted campaign to give a bad rating to the film on IMDB. Has that left a bad aftertaste for you?

 Not at all. A lot of people disagreed with Mulk and they did what they wanted to do. I actually reported to IMDB about it and they did say that they can clearly see that it was a campaign, but Mulk changed my life. It got me addicted to the kind of films where my heart is invested. Now I cannot make films which are not close to my heart. I’m extremely thankful to Mulk.

Today, everyone is jumping onto the digital content bandwagon. Will you be joining in as well?

 Right now, I’m in that phase of my career where I’m shooting films in 30 days. I completed Mulk in 27 days, I completed Article 15 in 30 days. I’m also in that phase where I want to do two films a year, which I’m able to do right now. I start shooting my next film in August with Taapsee Pannu and another one sometime in March-April next year. So, right now, I don’t have the time. But I’m being told by the platforms and my team in the office that we should do something in this space, but right now I don’t have anything to offer.

What kind of films do you like to watch? Are you very similar to your director self?

I love to watch the kind of films I make and I also like to watch the Simmbas of the world and all the other kinds of films which are not necessarily content-driven cinema. I’m a big Rohit Shetty fan. I always feel that movies and cuisines are similar. You can enjoy a sushi and a pani puri – the only difference is that, when you are having pani puri, you are not looking for nutrition and when you are having sushi, you are not looking for spices.

How was your experience with the censor board? Given the nature of your film, it could have gotten into trouble with them.

I had a fantastic experience with them — they didn’t change a single thing. I’ve been lucky in both the cases, be it Mulk or Article 15. I keep on urging people to read the Cinematographer Act of 1952 on which the censorship rules are based. The act was made after just 5 years of India’s independence. Also, I don’t think enough attention was given to the act then and nor did anybody have a clue of where cinema would be in the future. If you truly go by the book, it would be impossible to release any film. The act says vague things like “No one’s sentiments should be hurt” and because of that, it becomes a matter of interpretation. Sometimes the board ends up interpreting it more stringently and sometimes not so much. In my case, they were very understanding. They saw the film from the perspective of its intention and they didn’t get into the details of why did this guy throw away the skin of the peanuts and why did that guy pick it up. My meeting with them was done in 30 seconds.