Los-Angeles-based film maker Rahul Dholakia is set to pick up the Best Director honour at the 53rd National Awards for his film, Parzania, which is based on a family devastated by the Gujarat riots.
In this second part of his interview with Raja Sen, the filmmaker discusses the details of the films and the political problems it may face. In the first part, he spoke about why it is a deeply intense and personal project for him, actors Naseeruddin Shah and Sarika, and the entire team.
When you say everyone in the film is real, when casting for the roles, did you keep real-life counterparts in mind?
No, I think we were not looking at people's physical appearances. We didn't want glamorous people to play realistic roles. We've shot the film without any makeup, etc. We needed people who looked believable. So casting did play a major role, and I'm not even talking about the principal cast. Every actor in the film has been auditioned, and that includes people with one line to say or not even that.
What about the principal cast?
Naseer was the first choice, the obvious choice. But I was very apprehensive about first, whether he would do the film, and second, if I could pay his fees because this was a very low-budget film when it started. Then I went and narrated it to him, and he said, "I agree in principle, provided we make this sensitively and sensibly." So he agreed to read the script, and then Naseer, Sarika and I went through it in great detail. And there were changes suggested because of their screen and real-life experiences, and so we worked together and revised it a lot of times. I think the draft of Parzania, which was being changed even as we were shooting, would probably be the draft number 1,477 or so! (Laughs)
Sarika was an inspired choice. She's always been a great actress, but this is a pivotal role for her.
Yeah, a very important role for her. And quite honestly, the way she's performed it is phenomenal. She's done a really marvellous job. I've been very lucky with all my cast. If you look at all the characters, Sarika and Naseer are brilliant of course. Then the little girl, Pearl, she's very good in her first film. Even the small characters like Chhagan and Nikhat, they've all really played their part well.
Was it hard finding actors in English?
Important point, that. See, a lot of actors can act well in English, but they think in Hindi, or in their native language. To be able to speak a dialogue well in English, in sync-sound, is not the normal practice in India. Therefore, these guys didn't just have a good performance background; most of them had a strong theatrical background too, in English. Otherwise it wouldn't look believable. Even the English they spoke wouldn't sound real.
Now coming to the Alan character, the social commentator. He's a very intriguing figure, who speaks a lot to your audience because he literally speaks their language. Is there a particular reason you made him an American?
Yes, Alan is a very wacky character. First of all, whenever I see an American film about India where a white man comes and solves India's problems, I hate that. Because nobody solves India's problems, forget a white man. So we didn't want him to be a perfect person. We wanted him to be cocky, but then undergo a transition inspired by the Gandhian (character) and that gives him a purpose in life.
At the same time, we're using Alan as almost a sutradhar (narrator) for the Western audience. They do not know about Indian politics, Indian culture, and the President of the US did non even know where India was, at one time. (Laughs) So we needed to educate them and we thought Alan was a creative solution.
Right, also I think Alan works because as he's not Indian, there is no communal bias.
Correct. And Alan is free to say what he wants; he's not a statement. You can take what he says, and you can choose not to. He's like one of the audience. He's at the edge -- if you think he's wrong, he's wrong.
During his diatribe, he compares the Vishwa Hindu Parishad to the Ku Klux Klan. Is that how you see it?
Any form of fundamentalism is wrong. Whether it's Nazi, Bajrang Dal or VHP, Muslim fundamentalists, fundamentalists in Chechnya any form of fundamentalism is harmful to society. It's not about one religion against another, it's about them (the fundamentalists) against someone else, and as soon as you don't agree with them, you're labelled pseudo-secular and anti-something. And any form of fundamentalism is bad, from Osama Bin Laden to the guys committing the heinous crimes in Gujarat.
Your film openly condemns the actions of a prominent political party. Do you think you're lucky to have made such an inflammatory film when the party is not in power?
Uh, we shot it when they were in power, so I don't want to consider that, at least not till the film releases.
Cyrus, your friend you based the film on, hasn't seen the film yet?
No. And it'll be something to show it to him. And I'm damn scared to show it to him. But I will show it to him before it releases. His cousin, who's an extremely close friend of mine, has seen it.
Even though the Censor Board has officially cleared the film, do you foresee any hiccups before its theatrical release?
There will be people who will create problems, and there will be people who will turn up for the film. And I think people who will turn up for the film, though silent, will be more. Because the film does not propagate hate. It does not say what is right and wrong, but it talks about what happened to a family. And every father and mother will relate to it, in some form or the other. So I don't think there will be a problem. Also, I think the Indian audience is very mature, and if there is a ruckus, it would just be politically motivated.
That could still affect the film
Yeah, of course, but that can happen with a film like Jo Bole So Nihaal, for example. Parzania is a film which is thought-provoking and which does excite people and stimulate a reaction. So yes, there will be some sort of a repercussion but on the whole, I don't think it's anything to worry about.