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I use only female casting directors: Sudhir Mishra

Sudhir Mishra’s films are known to hold up a mirror to the society. In his upcoming film, Inkaar, he deals with the sensitive issue of sexual harassment at the workplace. Lounging in his minimalistic but dynamic office in Versova, the filmmaker clears the air about Inkaar, how he doesn’t control rumoured muse Chitrangda Singh’s life, and why certainty of punishment is necessary in cases of sexual harassment...

What does Inkaar say about sexual harassment?
People don’t talk about sexual harassment. It’s swept under the carpet, but it is prevalent everywhere. When the writer Manoj Tyagi approached me, I asked him to rewrite the film to include power struggle at the workspace. It is a film about right and wrong, about power, ambition, greed and the extent one can go to fulfill his or her ambitions. The challenge was to balance the points of view of the characters played by Arjun Rampal and Chitrangda Singh.
A very volatile cocktail exists in the urban world —women have taken their rightful place and now men have to deal with new equations and the departure of their power. Men are not used to women asking them so many questions. They often believe that they can start and end a relationship anytime they wish. But it is no longer possible. The difficulty in the acceptance of inkaar (refusal) is also part of the film. We are trying to say that it’s a woman’s right to say no.

Why did you choose the ad world as a backdrop?
Sexual harassment is known to take place in government offices and educational institutes too. But in advertising you can explore many situations. Here, men and women work closely with each other, keep odd hours and even travel together. So the possibility of these things happeningĀ is more.

In advertising, a woman can join at a junior level and suddenly become your boss. The film spans seven years. Chitrangda’s character joins the advertising agency when she is young, goes to their New York office, returns and becomes very powerful, almost an equal to Arjun’s character. She is suddenly the cool boss, very respected, and excellent at her job, thus upsetting the balance of power.

Reportedly, both the agencies where you shot have requested you not to mention their names.
Our film is not about sleaze. We are not naming any advertising agency. It is just a location.

What is the best way to deal with sexual harassment at work?
The way to deal with it is by taking cognisance of it and ensuring punishment. Infosys has set up a department to deal with sexual harassment. In any organisation today, a sexual harassment complaint by a woman is investigated. Top management have lost their jobs, many resign rather than face the committee and many claim entrapment.

Inkaar’s trailer has sparked talk of similarities to the 1994 Michael Douglas hit Disclosure.
Inkaar has nothing to do with Disclosure.

Many filmmakers today are petrified of being accused of sexual harassment especially during auditions.

I have been conducting auditions since 1987. The process broadens your search. But I use only female casting directors. And I don’t meet anyone new. I might make the casting director do 10 auditions. But I will not meet the actors because things can be misunderstood.

The country has been shaken by the rape case in Delhi. Comment.
It is horrendous. But what is heartening is that young kids are taking a stand. The problem is that people believe they can get away with rape. The certainty of punishment will be the biggest deterrent.

Men have to be sensitised. Harassment happens more in middle and the upper class, where repression is the norm and patriarchal values are strongly ingrained. But things are changing. I don’t think India is a barbaric country.

Inkaar is your third film with Chitrangda after Yeh Saali Zindagi and Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi. What’s her appeal?
She is a very interesting actor. She possesses a lot of grace and strength but also has vulnerability and femininity in her beauty. But that doesn’t mean that Chitrangda will say yes to every film I offer her.

Will you ever helm a comedy?
You don’t want to see serious films all the time. There is a grace in nonsense. My films have an element of humour. Yeh Saali Zindagi was funny. I am credited as the screenplay writer of Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron but after so many years I don’t have the guts to write a film like that. Even though this is the right time for a satire it is very difficult to write.

What do you do for fun?
I like going to parties, but not the ones that have loud music. I like meeting people and travelling. I love spending time with my eight dogs. I am not the clichéd serious filmmaker.

Bollywood News ServiceĀ 

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