If filmmaker Kalpana Lajmi and the cast and crew of her under-production film Kaanch are back from location in Bhopal to the relative safety of Mumbai, it is only because of Mahesh Bhatt’s timely intervention.
Grateful to Bhatt, Lajmi, still shaken, says, “Now I know why the film industry calls Bhatt Saab its saviour. The man is an angel. If it wasn’t for him my cast and crew would still be stranded in Bhopal.
The minute we informed Bhatt saab of how we were being held hostage in our hotel because of our producer, he contacted the Chief Minister’s office, the Principal Secretary and the District Magistrate in Bhopal. I’ve known him from when I was 16. He has always been there to help and support me.”
Last week, Lajmi and her unit of Kaanch arrived in Bhopal to shoot, only to realise that the producer was unwilling/unable to pay for the shooting. The 120-member unit found itself held hostage in four different hotels of Bhopal until the bills were cleared.
Apparently the producer sent goons employed by a bar owner in Mumbai named Hanif Bhopali to “fix” Lajmi and her crew in Bhopal because she demanded that he fulfil his financial
But what happens to the fragile production (aptly entitled Kaanch) about a village where the men throw their womenfolk into prostitution and live unscrupulously on the women’s earnings? Lajmi and her team have decided to rescue the film from the truant producer and fund their own way to the finish line.
Lajmi says, “We’re very proud of what we’ve managed to shoot. It’s a very delicate film that needs a lot of nurturing. Instead it’s stuck with a producer who seems to have very shady connections in very powerful places.
Now we feel as helpless but determined as the women in our film. Women are not susceptible to sexual assault alone, as we’ve shown in Kaanch. Emotional and spiritual violation is as horrific as rape. What we’ve gone through is worse than rape. And we’re determined to rescue our fragile baby from the clutches of this man who has goons that can get us eliminated.”
Says the shaken filmmaker, “Seventy per cent of our crew is back in Mumbai. But we don’t feel safe. We’re under tremendous threat. It’s sad for an independent working woman to say this, but I feel the absence of a man in my life. If Bhupenda (her companion of 30 years, late musician Bhupen Hazarika) were around, I wouldn’t be feeling so vulnerable.”
She adds that the important thing at the moment is to not let the film be shelved. “We won’t allow that to happen. We’re going to buy the film off the producer. Apparently there is a rule of law whereby a defaulter in any business venture can be compelled to relieve the venture of his presence.
We will examine all our possibilities. But the film belongs to my cast and crew Ila Arun, Veena Malik and Avika Gour. We are the creative owners. We will find a way to become its financial guardians.”