Monday, 30th October 2017

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Vidhu Vinod Chopra returns to the director’s chair with 'Shikara'

‘For me, this is not just a movie… it is a movement of sorts’: Chopra

  • Published 31.01.20, 7:31 PM
  • Updated 31.01.20, 7:31 PM
  • 5 mins read
Aadil Khan and Sadia in Shikara, releasing on February 7 Still from the film

His last Bollywood film as director was Eklavya. Thirteen years later, Vidhu Vinod Chopra — the man behind classics like Parinda and 1942: A Love Story — is all set to bring Shikara to theatres. The February 7 film focuses on the mass exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from Kashmir in the early ’90s, looking at themes of displacement and refugee crisis through the eyes of a young couple.

The Telegraph chatted with Chopra on his reasons for wanting to make a film on a contentious subject, his childhood in Kashmir and, of course, when he’s producing the next Munna Bhai film.

You had to leave Kashmir, the place of your birth, 30-odd years ago. What made you wait this long to tell this story of exodus, displacement and heartbreak?

I started work on this post my mother’s demise in 2007. The Kashmiri Pandit exodus is a known issue but the complexities and the build-up of events which led to the driving away of the Kashmiri Pandits is not known. This movie required significant research so that we could tell an absorbing story, which is fact-based and helps in bringing this conversation to the fore.

I have done quite a bit of work in these years but this was perhaps my most challenging as I had to remain dispassionate as a moviemaker to depict the truth and yet make a compelling argument that the only solution to such hatred is love and that is at the centre of my movie. The love between the protagonists Shiv Kumar Dhar and Shanti Dhar — Shanti is also my mother’s name, by the way — is a binding factor which forces us to think beyond hatred.

The shoot was mostly in Kashmir, which was under heavy security cover, so we had limited time to get work done. Authenticity was the key. The writing also took significant time as I had to sift through tons of documentation and video footage to bring reality to celluloid.

Apart from your own life, what’s been the source material for the film?

Real-life accounts of various Kashmiri Pandits, Rahul Pandita’s book (Our Moon Has Blood Clots) and 11 years of research.

The film was reportedly supposed to release in November last year, but you delayed its release. Was that done in the light of what’s happened in Kashmir in the last few months?

The movie has been ready for over six months and we had intended to release in November 2019, but due to the abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir, I delayed it because I did not want to look like I am exploiting the situation. It is a very intense film that tells the story about the atrocities and injustice done to Kashmiri Pandits, and I wanted people to see it in a calm environment without any prejudices.

What was the Kashmir of your growing up years like and how does it appear to you now?

Oh, it was heaven! It was so beautiful. Growing up in Kashmir was one of the most beautiful things that happened to me. My first crush, my first affair, my first kiss — everything happened in Kashmir. I tell my children growing up in Mumbai that I regret not being able to give them a childhood in Kashmir. Imagine… you have all the four seasons of the year! You have spring, then summer. Then the apples ripen and the cherries…. Then there’s snow and it gets extremely cold. You sit huddled in your razaais and eat steaming hot food. You come back from school and you sit there by the bukhari and listen to Binaca Geetmala on the transistor. I miss it! If I were to live my life again, I would tell God, ‘Please let me be born in Kashmir’. Despite all its problems today… it’s just so beautiful.

I go there every year. The land is still as beautiful as it was, but demographically it has changed, because a lot of the Kashmiri Pandits have left. So it’s not the same. It’s become slightly desolate… and that hits you sometimes. I hope and pray that some day it goes back to how it was.

What are your fondest memories of growing up in Kashmir?

One of my fondest memories of growing up in Kashmir in the ’70s is travelling with the family in a houseboat. It used to take us almost a week to reach the Kheer Bhawani temple. We used to cook on our way to the temple, stopping enroute at the Hazratbal shrine. We would do this each time, without fail. There was absolutely no distinction in our heads between those two places of worship. This memory was in my head even when I was making Mission Kashmir (that starred Sanjay Dutt and Hrithik Roshan) where I tried to portray how negative elements use religion to divide and destabilise us. I hope and pray that days like that return to the valley, perhaps for another young Vidhu Vinod Chopra who might be growing up in Kashmir. That is my dream.

Are you aware that given the current climate, a film like this could be misused for political mileage?

Only after watching the film will you realise how relevant it is to solving the Kashmiri Pandit issue. I am happy that I could bring the Kashmiri Pandit exodus issue to the fore. I am a firm believer in the fact that love conquers all and I also believe that dialogue in a conducive environment can help resolve any issue. Yes, injustice has been done and in the movie it has been portrayed in the way it occurred… ghastly, inhumane and without any mercy. This was what we all went through, but I believe this hate has to end and love and dialogue will help us do that.

Why was it necessary for you to cast fresh faces as leads and that too actors who hailed from Kashmir?

Competence and ability to depict an emotion is more important than stardom. I was looking for intensity and innocence. Both Aadil (Khan) and Sadia are from Kashmir. Authenticity was the key in order to draw out correct emotions of a community displaced from their homeland. I wanted it to be real and relevant.

You had the Hollywood film Broken Horses in between, but what was it like directing a film in India after more than a decade?

I was always involved in the movie-making process. But for me to direct, the story had to be compelling. I had made up my mind that I am going to bring the Kashmiri Pandit story to celluloid and that process itself took me all these years. I was writing, researching, visiting, talking to people, identifying actors and trying to create an authentic story, which helps me to dispassionately tell the truth. For me, this is not just a movie… it is a movement of sorts. To make the entire nation realise the trauma this community experienced and the sheer helplessness with which they were packed off in various refugee camps across the country. This movie was difficult to write. I worked with (writers) Abhijat Joshi and Rahul Pandita for several years before I could bring it to life.

What’s the one big message that you want to put forth with this film?

Pandits have to return to their rightful home and that is only possible by a dialogue, of communities coming together for sustainable future. I believe love heals.

What’s your vision and mission as a producer and filmmaker looking like in the next five years?

I will continue to make meaningful cinema… one which inspires me so that I can tell compelling stories.

Finally, the inevitable question… will there be another Munna Bhai film? Or for that matter, a sequel to PK?

Yes to both. It is in the pipeline. Once the script is okayed, we’ll move ahead.