Abhishek Chaubey is an outstanding director and now he is back with Sonchiraiya, a movie with Sushant Singh Rajput, Manoj Vajpayee and Bhumi Padnekar. The movie will be out in theatres on February 8th 2019.
Q. How do you feel after your trailer has got an amazing response?
Abhishek: It wakes you up and people are excited to watch the film. It raises your hope that people will come to theatre to watch the film.
Q. You had Bandit Queen in back of your mind while making Sonchiraiya, was it influenced by it?
Abhishek: Not really. Because what’s similar between Bandit Queen and Sonchiraiya is the world which is set in. These movies are primarily about two things, either how somebody became a bandit or about catching a bandit. My film is about neither of them. It’s a very fresh take on a bandit film. It’s about the gang and what they believe in and their beliefs are put into questions because of the events in the film.
Q. When did you plan this film? What was the motive behind this?
Abhishek: It all started with an idea while I was working for something. we were discussing about the possibilities of doing something together and that time he mentioned would you like to do and action movie, sort of Indian western. It sounded exciting for me so I told him will try to figure out what I can do about it. It lead Sudip Sharma and me to Chambal. Then we started meeting people and reading about the lifestyle of bandit. And that was absolutely fascinating That is where I decided to make the film that I did. Yes, Bandit Queen and some others have been around but they’re biopics about why they became bandage and they did what they did but when I read about bandits and make this people I realize what kind of people these were. My film is not exploring the reasons for someone becoming the bandit as much as what is the reason for them for staying a bandit. In the sense that if something happens in your life you take revenge and you run and become a band it but what makes you continue that life because it’s an extremely hard life, it’s not a comfortable life at all. Like gangsters who live a very comfortable life amongst us, these guys are not like that. it’s a very harsh landscape no normal person would live here. You are working 40 50 km everyday, you don’t know what’s going to happen next, while you have lot of legend around you but there is no personal life. So what is it that motivated them to stay the way they did and that’s when we realise that they have a certain set of beliefs. They believed they were doing the right thing, they are not criminals but they’re rebels and warriors. So these things were very fascinating and I realised, nobody has brought these things out. That’s how it began and that’s what is unique about this film. Back in the day like 1975, there were so many gangs, I’ve heard from a police officer, that they’re still finding the bandits, there are more than 1000 gangs operating in a Chambal. While there is someone who are very corrupt, evil and with bad reputation but there were many other gangs with good reputation and had respect in that area. They used to built temples, give it back to society and they believe they are your to fulfil a higher purpose. These are the kind of bandits that interested me. From urban lens they are criminals but we go into their heads and think about who they are and what they think they are, their self image was very interesting and that’s why I decided to show it.
Q. There were speculations that Ranbir Kapoor was chosen for the movie before how true is that?
Abhishek: I think for all of us, Sushant Singh Rajput was unanimous choice at the beginning. When we are sitting in the office with producers, crew and you are talking about the possible casting options then obviously, all sorts of names will be discussed but the actors those are in the film are unanimously the first choice. We had our reasons why we wanted them. Sushant has never done thing kind of role in his life but being from Delhi, living in Bombay, he has a very sophisticated and well educated but there’s something desi about him. And his characters are desi so he could look like them. And this part requires a lot of physical energy also, so he was an action hero also and he came out as a natural choice. He came on board immediately after reading the script and then Bhumi was again a natural choice because there’s something Indian about her. She’s a Versova girl, very modern but there’s something desi about her. She heard the script and immediately joined. In fact for such a big cast, I never had an easier casting process. Everybody said yes clearly on the basis of the content on the first meeting itself.
Q. Manoj Banjpayee had early said that he wants to stay away from such films after Bandit Queen, was it difficult to take him on board?
Abhishek: that must be the case 25 years ago because Bandit Queen released 25 years ago and he did not have such issue now at the script. I met him in Mumbai and gave him the script. he told me that will read it in few days because he was busy but on the same day at night 9:30 called me and said he’ll be doing the movie. He’s now at a very different position in his life very different phase in his life. Now is at a position where is getting variety of roles and this came at a time when he was looking for something like this. And Manoj sir’s character is like a soul of a film. He is the centre of the movie, everything is around him. And I really wanted him badly in the film because I had to work very hard on Bhumi Pednekar and Sushant for making them into a character from who they are. But with Manoj and Ashwin, I had no such worries because they just got into it like that.
Q. What’s your take on MeToo movement? Recently Rajkumar Hirani was accused of such allegations.
Abhishek: It’s terribly unfortunate and deeply shocking. But more than anything else it’s deeply upsetting and saddening that such incidents are taking place in our industry. I think many of us, especially men’s, eyes have opened to realise the extent of the crime against women that are happening and they are happening because of our fellow workers and colleagues. and I think 90 to 95% charges that have been laid on people are accurate. Very few allegations have turned out to be false. So one makes you think that there has been a culture of exploitation and social harassment in this industry. And this needs to be changed. We need to get justice for all the women. So everyone, especially the men should respect what they are doing even if they don’t, they should just get scared and not indulge in this kind of behaviour. And people who have not done such thing then they should not indulge with any kind of contact with the person who has issued these charges.
Q. Your film always have a sense of dark humour and shocking or bold things in them, can we expect the same from Sonchiraiya?
Abhishek: the issue that the movie is talking about are set in 1975 but they are as relevant today as they were before, 40-50 years ago. We’re talking about discrimination because of caste, gender and these issues are as important to our sophisticated urban society today as for the rural society. So I think the issues that the film talks about are the issues to which everybody regardless of your heritage or where you come from will be able to relate to and identify. So we have been talking about these issues and they are very important. I think it’s my responsibility to talk about it and reach questions about it and you thought about it in the audiences’ mind. The dark humour you mentioned is perhaps because my humour is very dark. It makes its way into the film. It also provide some gravity into the film which is very serious. It’s an exciting thrilling action film but the issue is it’s talking about is very serious and makes you think. But there are moments in the film which provides much needed brevity. But I am not used it out of context, just to put a joke because everything is so heavy. all the things which have you maroon them have a reason why it’s there and why it’s happening in the story.
Q. Your every movie has a strong character and many a times the female also comes out strong. But here there’s only one strong male character. Why is that?
Abhishek: This is my most film actually. But I did not decided deliberately because I am doing a movie about bandits and there have been very few female bandits. One of which is a movie made already and others we can count it on our fingers. So immediately I got a male character. So its because of that that this movie is the most male film that I have made and not because of some design. But yes, Bhumi’s character is the centre of it all. It’s a layer by play a story and it tells you what the film is about and in this case it’s a very different kind of of movie unlike other my movies which have powerful female in them. Because we are talking about a woman called Indumati, which is Bhumi’s character who is an ordinary rural woman living in the society which is completely under and dominated by males. So the woman’s voice is completely suppressed. but something extraordinary happens in her life and she finds the courage to fight it and goes on a journey with these very dangerous people and how she manages to achieve her noble goal, forms the story. So it’s an empowering role but in a different way. Because she can’t pick up a gun and fight with them, so she has to use other means.
Q. Did you meet any gangsters before writing the story?
Abhishek: Yes, we met few bandits who are retired. They have surrendered and spent time in prisons and are very old now. But we also met few people who had interactions with them who used to be cooks for them. We also met many Police officers who had spent their entire life chasing the Bandits. After meeting these people is when we got the window to personalities of these people because they are not who you think they are.
Q. Would you like to have any actors from 70s era for working in your film?
Abhishek: When you talk about films like this in India, nobody can forget Sholay. It is sort of a benchmark, how to do Indian western. Although I think that Sholay was inspired deeply by the American Western movie but they manage to very successful you do one Indian take on it. It still today one of the most engaging movie that India has made but other than that Mera Gaon Mera Desh is an entertaining movie. And also Ganga Jamna and Mother India. This culture is the part of our society. More movies should be made about it.
Q. What’s next for you?
Abhishek: Next I will be doing a web series which is produced by Junglee Pictures and we we are about to finish its writing in one month and then we’ll start shooting.
BY RUJUTA THETE