Mainstream Bollywood is mostly about escapist cinema but once in a while comes a movie that doesn’t shy from taking the road less travelled, asking tough questions and presenting reality, in all its dark shades. Mulk, directed by Anubhav Sinha, that releases today (August 2) in the UAE, is one such film.
While its fate at the box office will be decided by its inherent cinematic qualities and whether it appeals to the audience, Mulk is nevertheless a much-needed statement about an issue that has been hogging the headlines and divided the popular narrative – the vicious atmosphere created by communal hatred and marginalisation of Muslims. Predictably, the trailer has polarised social media and much of the hate has been directed at Anubhav and his lead actress Taapsee Pannu who have openly spoken against the climate of hate. The filmmaker admits he saw the trolling coming yet this was a film he was determined to make. “Mulk is not inspired by any one story, but by a series of headlines,” says Sinha, in a chat with Masala.com. “I have grown up in Benaras (in UP) and studied in Aligarh. I have seen what lack of harmony does to society. On ground things are still fine in our country, but the divide has gradually increased.”
At a time when the religious and political discourse has reached dangerous proportions, and abuse of anyone who takes a contrarian point of view is rampant, Sinha faced his own set of problems. He first narrated the idea to a few of his friends, most of who discouraged him from going ahead. At one point, he almost agreed with them and set it aside. But not for long. His feelings about the issue was strong enough to cast away all doubts and he sat down to write the movie. “I just took a weekend off and wrote about 100 pages after which I went back to the same set of friends. This time they said, ‘Tu bana de.’ And then I went about selecting the cast.”
Casting was simple but the money was tough. Not because it was a sensitive subject but primarily because it was not the typical, rosy-hued Bollywood flick that shied away from taking a stand on a controversial topic. Yet, he managed to make it, his way. However, wouldn’t the grim subject prove to be a dampener for those looking for entertainment? “The victory of Mulk is that it’s an engaging and emotional film. It’s a courtroom drama. I believe in finding the audience and I feel this movie, will. While it’s an issue that resonates strongly within me, I am hungry as a director; I want more and more people to watch it,” he says.
Anubhav is practical enough to admit that movies do not change age-old societal attitudes. After all, there have been several films over the years that have dealt with communalism (Bombay, Firaaq etc) but haven’t really made an impact in removing prejudices in real terms. “The impact of cinema is overrated but at a subliminal level there might be a sensitive audience on who it will make a difference. Even if you end up touching one or two percent of the audience who watches your film, it’s not a lost cause,” says Anubhav.
Mulk has also opened up familiar debates about the representation of the minority vs majority community. When the trailer was released, it was predictably trolled as being too ‘sympathetic’ to Muslims. The name-calling and trolling began. “But the same trailer also talks about crackers being burst when Pakistan wins in cricket and other such issues that are routinely raised about Muslims. The problem is that they (trolls) don't want to talk about harmony. Our film is not about any one political party, it’s about people,” says the director.
“Actually it’s high time Hindus and Muslims learnt to put the negativities behind them,” he continues. “For instance, I am really impressed by the Sikh community. They have suffered the worst violence against them but they hold no malice. Some of the groups like the Khalsa Aid group (a charity) have done such remarkable work in spreading positivity. Why can’t others be like that? We must learn to forget the past and live amicably. Which religion teaches hatred?” he says.
The poster of Mulk
Easier said than done considering how even the remotest reference to religion or a political issue gets coloured in communal tones and generates controversy. From Padmaavat to Mulk, films have often borne the brunt of groups with vested interests getting offended, though Anubhav feels filmmakers should not shy away from speaking up. “The Censor Board has supported our film. They only ordered three minor cuts. Yes, because of the trouble some films have faced and the trolling and threatening that happens, there is an unspoken fear among makers today but nothing is easy. Making Mulk was not easy! But I still say, ‘take the chance, make your film the way you want.”
Controversy or not, Anubhav is not done with his issue-based films. His next one, he says, will be completely different in tone but with a political overtone. It’s titled Abhi to Party Shuru Hui Hai and the ‘party’ in this one has nothing to do with celebrations. With elections looming large in 2019, this will perhaps be the party that will become the next talking point.