Anubhav Sinha is always a delight to chat with. This one was a freewheeling conversation with the man behind films like Mulk, Article 15, Thappad on cinema, censorship, why audiences aren’t getting attracted to the theatrical experience... and his aspiration to make a great sourdough!
What kind of mind space are you in these days?
Reading, watching, chilling....
Have you started working on your next film?
Not yet. I am just chilling at the moment and hearing and reading about what people are saying about Bheed (which came out in theatres in March) after its release on streaming.
So does the ‘chilling’ bit mean that you are less angry about things at the moment? You have always been pretty passionate and vocal about the state of the country....
(Laughs) I am actually happier right now. I am not angry, I know I will be (smiles). But these days, I am just working on myself. I have moved into a new house which has a pretty peaceful corner. I like to sit there all the time.
So what are you up to when not making films?
I am learning to sketch these days. I have actually got addicted to it... I am sketching all the time. I want to be able to draw my own storyboards for my films in a way that I am proficient enough and I don’t need to explain what I am saying. It started from there, and I am having fun. There are no professional aspirations as such with my sketching but I have realised I like to draw characters and work on figures and postures.
It’s never too late to develop new interests....
My plan for the rest of my life is to pick up one new skill every year. I don’t want to become excellent at it, but I want to be proficient at it. This year it’s been sketching and baking. Baking a great sourdough and baking a great ciabatta is at the top of my list.
I find baking quite de-stressing. There were two loaves which I made which were quite edible (laughs). But I haven’t been able to make a good sourdough yet. I am a purist about these things and I don’t use any machines... I do it with my hands. I make it from scratch. I like to get my hands dirty....
Do these skills that you pick up also benefit you as a film-maker?
Sketching is, of course, indirectly involved. Baking isn’t. But I don’t bake for that. I get fascinated by a lot of art forms and I want to experience them. Maybe I would like to start sculpting someday.
Even if these skills help me in my film-making, they would probably do so on a subliminal level. Like when we listen to music, it creates visuals in our minds. Various art forms stimulate us.
Have you watched anything of late that’s impacted you?
Lately, I haven’t watched as much as I would like to. I have a lot of catching up to do. There are so many films and shows that I have heard of and been recommended that I have to catch.
These days, actually, I end up watching stuff that has something to do with what I am doing. So right now, I am not indulging in any flirtatious watch... everything is a committed watch. Kuch dekh kar usey aadhe mein chhod dena is not something that I have done in a long time now... woh mujhe karna hain.
What’s on the watchlist?
(Martin) Scorsese’s new film (Killers of the Flower Moon) which, of course, I won’t get to watch soon. I plan to watch AIR (directed by Ben Affleck). There is Triangle of Sadness... also, some Indian shows.
How do you look back at the reception to Bheed, which you directed, and Afwaah, produced by you, that didn’t find an audience in theatres?
But people are anyway not going to the theatres right now. They are not interested in the experience of collectively watching a film. And people, even before OTT platforms boomed, have always had these options. Films, after their theatrical release, have always gone to satellite TV. The audience has always had the option to wait and watch a film later.
Film-watching in a theatre is a separate experience from watching it at home. You watch a film in a theatre with strangers — 300 of them — and your laugh resonates with others, your silence matches theirs. Right now, the audience, I feel, is not interested in that collective experience. It has happened before, it is happening now and it will happen in the future too. Watching a film in a theatre is the fourth dimension of the cinematic experience and I don’t think it is going away. Yes, it is temporarily missing... the audience has not gone to watch Bheed, but neither are they going to the theatres to watch a more tried-and-tested Bollywood recipe film. They are just not going.
As film-makers, we don’t need to panic. We just need to believe in our stories and our art form and our craft and do a good job of it.
I don’t think it’s any longer a post-pandemic fallout....
The film industry is still trying to figure that out, they are trying to articulate it. But they can’t because there is no pattern to this. Sometimes, the audience goes in and watches Uunchai and Mrs Chatterjee (vs Norway) and Pathaan and The Kerala Story... but there is no way to figure out what’s working and what’s not because they are all such different films. Then the narrative invariably becomes ‘OTT film’ and ‘theatrical film’... that is nothing but sheer lack of articulation. The audience, for the most part, is not interested in the theatrical consumption of films.
And watching a film in a theatre has become very expensive. Producers may slash ticket prices to get in audiences, but look at the prices of food in cinemas....
Of course! That’s a big factor. This also probably explains the difference in the audiences in the north and the south of the country. The ticket prices, the samosa prices... it’s a ridiculous amount of money to spend for a family.
But I am not saying that is the only deterrent. Because when they want to watch, they do. Even now, many families can afford the samosas in cinemas. It’s just that now they are spoilt for options. There is a bit of promiscuity in their viewing experience... ‘okay, today I will watch this series on Netflix’, ‘tomorrow I will watch that film on Prime Video’. So there is a lack of loyalty to the experience itself. But even in the past, these patterns have never lasted very long.
You have also been vocal about the kind of censorship that both Bheed and Afwaah were subjected to. What’s the scenario with censorship in the country today?
These days there is a lot that goes on behind closed doors in terms of offline discussions. It’s not as lucid and as easygoing as it used to be. Earlier, there would be an argument and there would be discussions... I had a 90-minute argument with the examining committee on Mulk. That was about two thinking heads talking. Now, at least in my last two films, there were two manipulative heads that were talking. Bheed and Afwaah were not the best experiences for me as far as interacting with the censor board was concerned.
How are you looking at this four-way collaboration between you, Hansal Mehta, Sudhir Mishra and Ketan Mehta developing? It’s produced films like Faraaz and Afwaah so far....
The major impetus to produce these films (Faraaz was directed by Hansal Mehta, Afwaah by Sudhir Mishra) was to see from the inside how these film-makers work, and why they are so good. Both Hansal and Sudhir allow more spontaneity than I do. I love that and I want to learn from them.
What is your biggest deterrent to watching a film in a movie theatre? Tell email@example.com