The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Same theme, different deal

Twenty-two international festivals and nine prestigious awards later, My Brother' Nikhil maker Onir is still an unhappy man. He feels his directorial debut didn't get its due back home. And he is not even talking about the box-office figures, which have hardly matched the critical acclaim.

'I received a huge denial from the film industry and that was because of the subject I was dealing with,' says Onir about his first film, which explored the life of a gay swimmer whose world comes crashing down when he is detected with AIDS. 'Everyone had raved about the performances of Sanjay Suri and Purab Kohli in the film but they didn't even get a single nomination in any of the dozens of film awards happening everywhere. It's a joke, really.'

What infuriates Onir further is the fact that the same people are going ga-ga over Brokeback Mountain. 'When the Ang Lee film released in the US, there was so much hype around it and the awards just kept coming in,' he explains. 'Even in Mumbai, everyone went overboard with it being the first mainstream Hollywood film on gays. But My Brother' Nikhil was also the first mainstream Indian film to touch the subject of gay romance. Then, why make an exception'

No wonder, for his second film, Onir didn't get sucked into the strangling folds of the Mumbai film industry. 'There were many production houses which wanted me to direct a film for them,' says the comparative literature graduate from Jadavpur University. 'But they wanted me to make the films they want to make rather than something I want to make. So, in the end, for my new film Bas Ek Pal, I got a friend to produce the film, someone who believed in my vision. There has never been much support for me from the industry anyway.'

So is Bas Ek Pal another message wrapped in a movie' 'I would call it a mature, sensible, mainstream film,' Onir defines his latest baby, which got completed earlier this month. 'It is a very urban relationship-based film which explores the different faces of love. I can't call it a teenybopper film but you get to see all the emotions of deceit, jealousy, passion at play. The story basically revolves around one incident that changes the lives of five people involved in it. The format of the film is like a thriller but it is not a whodunnit at all.'

Bas Ek Pal was, in fact, conceived much before My Brother' Nikhil but it was the latter that got funding first. Call it superstition or plain comfort, Onir's repeated his My Brother' Nikhil lead of Sanjay Suri and Juhi Chawla in Bas Ek Pal. 'The reason I am working with the same people, both in front and behind the camera is because I want all of us to grow together,' comes the explanation.

'However, Juhi wasn't my first choice in Bas Ek Pal. Only after I worked with her, did I start imagining her in the role. Sanjay, of course, I developed the script with him in mind.'

Onir with Urmila on the sets of Bas Ek Pal

There are three other fresh castings ' Urmila Matondkar, Jimmy Sheirgill and Rehaan Engineer. 'For the character Urmila plays in the film ' a very independent today's woman who is a glamourous civil engineer ' I wanted someone who is a good performer and also very attractive,' Onir describes. 'And Urmila is simply brilliant in the film. Jimmy, like Sanjay, is a good actor who hasn't got his due. As for Rehaan, I had unconsciously named the character I wanted him to play as Rehaan.'

But after getting such critical kudos for his first film, couldn't Onir have afforded bigger names' 'See, with bigger names come images bigger than the characters and the film,' pat comes the reply. 'Also, I can't take their attitude of doing a favour to us directors, of us running behind them. In this industry, no one does any favour to anyone. This whole eagerness of stars to do sensible cinema is all big shit. You ask any actress and all they want to know is the hero opposite her and the banner of the film. Anyway, the stars have just looks or lineage, the acting capability is a serious question mark. I can say that my film has the top performers of 2005 ' Urmila of Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara, Juhi and Sanjay of My Brother' Nikhil and Jimmy of Yahaan.'

Currently in post-production, the music of Bas Ek Pal by Pritam will be launched on May 15, when Onir also announces his next film, Kaash. 'It's the first script I ever wrote, it's high time I made the movie,' smiles the man who is on the lookout for a good story to make a modern Bengali film based in Calcutta.

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