– Yaser Khan
When a Bollywood fanatic talks about directors with a difference, Vivek Agnihotri is a name that adorns the list. He made his directorial debut with a multi-starrer film ahead of it’s time named ‘Chocolate: Deep Dark Secrets’ and then went on to do ‘Dhan Dhana Dhan Goal’ that gave football relevance in a cricket dominated country. He then accelerated towards directing bolder subjects like ‘Hate Story’ and ‘Zid’. He successfully made a political drama ‘Buddha In A Traffic Jam’ and the a love story ‘Junooniyat’. He now makes his debut on the digital platform with his film ‘Mohammed & Urvashi’ which depicts the inner conflict of a God fearing man who has surrendered himself to his religion and his human side that leads him astray, who he believes is the Devil. The film features acclaimed actors Mayukh Ray, Manoj Raghubir Sharma and Khushboo Upadhyay.
We chatted with the director about his short film and here’s what he had to say:
Q. The title of the film is quite intriguing, what does it suggest about your protagonists?
Vivek Agnihotri: Mohammad is an extremely God fearing man. He is afraid of sin; Mohammad is a caretaker of an isolated Makabara, untouched by the civilisation. There is only him and God. I wanted to understand what goes on in his mid. Is he ready? Does he have lust? What does he do for sex? While exploring his mind the film evolved. Urvashi is an illusion. It means Maya. Is it possible for a rigid believer to be attracted by Maya?
Q. Fundamentalism in religion and fear of sin, these are the two aspects that make a human being God fearing, and we assume there’s a line that cannot crossed in either of those aspects to keep the surrounding peaceful and going to the extreme. What’s your take on that?
Vivek Agnihotri: Religion has become the opium of the new times. Religion is used to discipline a society. Discipline makes minds dull. Don’t do this… that’s a sin. God will punish you. These are the tactics to create fear in our minds. Then this fear dictates all our actions. My question is that by following a strict religious regime, following rituals, surrendering yourself to a religious book, can you fight Maya? Can you beat time? Can you escape Karma?
Q. How did the idea for ‘Mohammed and Urvashi’ come up?
Vivek Agnihotri: I was travelling in Rajasthan and found an isolated Makbara. There was a caretaker. I started talking to him and found out that all his life is centred around God. Not just that, he prayed 5 times and read the Holy book in rest of the time, he was extremely sin conscious and wouldn’t even hurt an ant. While on my way back to Jaisalmer, I kept thinking what goes on his mind. Can he spend all his life without any sin? And why is the sex and greed considered to be wrong? What is his Karma?
Thus, evolved a script which initially scared me. It was standing in front of me as a stark, naked truth and truth is always scary. But then I thought if I don’t express myself, it will haunt me. It’s too bold a subject to make a full length feature film so I decided to make a short film, my first ever.
Q. Is extremism taking over our country us well? What’s your observation on the current scenario of our nation?
Vivek Agnihotri: There is extremism in every form. In actions and in expressions. Problem is the ideas in modern times are just fleeting. Nothing stays. Nobody cares for anyone. People are realising that they are heard only when they take an extreme stand. Be it terrorism or liberalism or fundamentalism or even feminism. We are living in a ‘noisy’ world and to be heard you have to scream or disturb the motor of the world.
Q. Did backlash from a certain community because of your title and storyline ever bother you?
Vivek Agnihotri: I never thought that someone will get upset with the name. It’s only when open threats started coming I looked at the film again. Like I told you that people will go to extremes to be heard. I don’t know what these people who are threatening me with consequences want in their lives but they most certainly do not understand what does their God expect from them. I have been physically assaulted earlier and I do not fear my life.
Q. After having given your audiences films like Chocolate, Dhan Dhana Dhan Goal, Hate Story, and Buddha In A Traffic Jam what made you want to venture into the digital space?
Vivek Agnihotri: Digital has given me freedom of expression. Ease of release and financial ease. I love this technology and people who resist it now will regret later. Whenever someone tells me ‘Digital is the future’. I know he doesn’t know about it. Because digital is the present whereas cinema halls are the past.
Q. How different is it directing for a much short paced project as compared to a feature film? Do you think digital will ever eat into the silver screen space?
Vivek Agnihotri: I don’t think so. Before people start paying for short films, cinema halls will die. I am a story-teller and the format doesn’t matter to me. But, yes, I use a different cinematic language and grammar for the short film.
Q. Does it add pressure for the actual YouTube release of a short film after having already garnered appreciation at various film festivals?
Vivek Agnihotri: Yes and No! No, because if people have appreciated it outside of YouTube, there is no reason why won’t they appreciate on YouTube. Yes, because today everyone is interested in the numbers. so how many hits etc. and accordingly the media decides your success. But this is so stupid. There are shorts which got lot of hits in first three days or so and no-one ever watched them after the fourth day. And there are short films which get hardly any hits in first few months but organically and then they keep growing. I would rather have an organic growth of viewers. If after 10 yrs someone wants to see film on this theme, they should refer to Mohammad & Urvashi. That is success.
Q. How do you think people from various religious backgrounds can truly live in harmony? Since it’s been the most sensitive issue forever!
Vivek Agnihotri: People can live in harmony if they stop reading and watching news.
Q. How do you always stay so fearless as a director?
Vivek Agnihotri: Because I have nothing to lose. Second, I don’t care about Stars, Box-office and film media. So, I am very sorted. I don’t even see myself as a film director. I am a story teller. That’s’s why I tell stories through my speeches, columns, films, ads and now short films.
The film is set to release on HumaraMovie on 25th April 2018.