In less than a year, Anubhav Sinha has made films on two burning issues: the anti-Muslim environment and the broadening caste divide. He talks to us on changing tracks, from Dus and Ra.One to Mulk and Article 15
Anubhav Sinha sits for our interview a tad reluctantly because, "Now people discuss politics with me. They donu00c3u0083u00c2u00a2u00c3u0082u00c2u0080u00c3u0082u00c2u0099t discuss cinema with me." Pic/Atul Kamble
In 1949, while writing the most important book in the country, Dr BR Ambedkar made some bits autobiographical. In Article 15, he put his thoughts and personal experiences to paper and spoke of the birthright of citizens: no citizen can be discriminated against on the basis of religion, race, caste, sex and place of birth. In 2014, a few Hindu men from Badaun, UP, who hadn't read that section, raped two teenagers and hung them out to dry from a mango tree. In 2017, filmmaker Anubhav Sinha sat down to write his first draft of Article 15, a story that includes all of that, and a story that has been 2,000 years in the making.
Releasing this week, with actor Ayushmann Khurrana in the lead, Sinha tells us that his film is actually based on several incidents. "When you see the film, and if you've been reading newspapers, you'll see all those cases. Government data tells you it happens once a day." In the film, the teenagers are raped and murdered because they demand a raise of three rupees. "When I wrote this, my CFO, Dubeyji, who is a Brahmin, said, 'Nahi sir, aisa nahi hota.' So I called a friend from Delhi, whose been a journalist for 20 years, and put her on speakerphone. She said, 'Within 15 minutes from Delhi, this could happen to a girl for three rupees.' It's not about three rupees; it's about 'I will tell you what you deserve. And if you have a voice against it, I will show you your place'."
For Mulk, "I was quite sure that Chintuji will not do the film, but he heard the story and he was onboard. He's a Punjabi puttar. Once he’s said yes, he gives a damn."
After 20 years in the entertainment industry, and after making films such as Ra.One, Dus and Tum Bin, it appears that Sinha has finally found his place. Last year's Mulk, with actors Rishi Kapoor and Taapsee Pannu, showed the rills between Hindus and Muslims, simmering and poisoning over 70 years. As the son of Benares and the alum of Aligarh Muslim University, Sinha is an insider in both worlds. "My father's best friend was a Muslim, and he would eat with us in ceramic plates, while we would eat in steel plates. One day, my elder sister and I protested. Mom realised that we also cook mutton. So, we changed it inside the house."
What started out with regular housecleaning has now grown to include his mulk. "There was too much going on in the country at that point vis-à-vis Hindus and Muslims, and I was sick and tired of it. There was a narrative being built, which started with some headlines in the newspapers that by the year 2000 and X, there will be more Muslims in India than Hindus and some sh*t like that. And I wanted to have a voice and I did." But, it isn't like he had a sudden change of heart. His concerns were "brewing" and niggling at the back of his mind his entire life. "I always saw the wrong in things that were happening around me, whether it was class politics, caste politics, or more than the two, gender politics. I've been [dead] against this idea of two human beings not being equal because of their place of birth. There is no reason why society should not offer [someone] the same opportunity as somebody who was born 200 yards away. These are questions that you want to ask society and ask yourself. And if you can weave a story that can encompass all of that and still make an engaging viewing, then you have a movie."
People kept warning Sinha that Article 15 might get banned. But, he says, "They asked for four minor cuts, one of which was a maa ki gaali. If your intentions are clear, then there's no problem."
In recent times, Sinha attributes his change in sensibilities to a specific activity. "I had stopped reading. I come from Benares, where music and literature are very rich. And then I became an engineer, and the whole relationship with literature was lost. And then I came to Mumbai, where I was into another art form, which I had no idea about. So, I was learning lensing and editing and blah and blah, trying to survive and make a place for myself. Somebody asked me, 'Is there something new that you started doing in the last five years?' I've started reading again. I accept and recognise that now I get attracted to a very different kind of material than what I used to sometime back." These include dog-eared copies of Republic of Caste by Anand Teltumbde, Joothan by Omprakash Valmiki, Humans by Tom Phillips, and books by Mahatma Gandhi, whom he lovingly calls "the first Indian rock star."
Article 15, in its heart, reflects his library. "I belong to a caste that doesn't belong to any of the four varnas from Manusmriti. But because Kayasthas are educated people, we are considered upper caste. So, I was never personally affected by it in an adverse manner, but I could see where [someone from] a lower caste would treat himself differently. Because that's what he's told and that's what he believes and, worst of all, that's what he accepts. When a sabziwala came to our house, the way he would try and not touch anything. The bai at home, it's okay if she washes your utensils, but it's not okay if she uses them. It's a bizarre mix of caste and class politics. And, it's not only a UP thing. Now it has reached a medical college in the heart of Mumbai." He thinks the world has consciously divided itself into superiors and inferiors. "For thousands of years, the world has been aligning itself into this wide inequality that we see today. There is a dialogue in Mulk, which, according to me, is the best line in the film. 'Agar sab log barabar ho jayenge, toh raja kaun banega?' We have this mean, vicious streak to be the king. That's the problem. Nobody likes the same size." None of us want to be Indians, firstly and lastly, the way Dr Ambedkar imagined.
On Sinha's bookshelf
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