Anek director Anubhav Sinha: 'Hindi must be our national language, but it can’t be thrust on the whole nation'
In an exclusive conversation with Firstpost, director Anubhav Sinha talks about Anek garnering mixed responses, casting north eastern actors and other interesting things.
Filmmaker Anubhav Sinha’s latest work, the intriguing cryptic and complex Anek which takes us into the politics of the North East, has been greeted to mixed responses. Subhash K Jha caught up with the maverick director just before he left the country for a much-needed holiday.
Anubhav, Anek has received mixed responses?
Well, you liked it, and so did critics whose opinion I value. Even those who did not like it, I value their opinion too. I don’t know what went wrong. But a lot of the audience found the film incomprehensible. I have never had such polarized opinions on any of my films. People either love it or hate it. Nobody is just okay with it.
How much research did you do before plunging into the film?
Oh, plenty …lots and lots of research. I have to admit I didn’t know much about the politics in the region. But as I read up on their problems I grew aware of the situation, the isolation of the state from the rest of the country is very disturbing.
The separatist leader Sanga in your film very clearly says he is not an Indian and that the North East is not part of India?
How did this feeling grow? Why have we not addressed it? Why have successive governments allowed the problem to fester? In my cinema, I name political parties—and the censor board has never objected because I don’t blame any particular political party for any of the communal, casteist, cultural problems or misogyny or racism. If the North East or Kashmir feels isolated, we’ve failed them as a people, as a nation.
Why is your double-dealing manipulative fake peace broker in the North East from the Government, played by Manoj Pahwa is a Kashmiri Muslim?
Because I wanted a character who understands the pitfalls of cultural and religious segregation to come in the picture with his prejudices and hidden agendas. He is like Danish (played by Rajat Kapoor) in Mulk. I must tell you there are two actors without whom my cinema cannot be complete. One is Manoj Pahwa and the other is Kumud Mishra. Somehow, I have to have them as part of my films.
And the cinematographer Ewan Mulligan. He is a magician, a poet?
That he is. No, I can’t imagine making my cinema without him. We shot in Assam and Shillong. He couldn’t shoot Thappad with me because his wife was expecting their child and he wanted to be with her.
Quite a Thappad for you?
(laughs) No, I think Soumik Mukherjee got on the screen what I wanted in Thappad.
Coming to the casting of those wonderful North Eastern actors, who was the most difficult to find?
Loitongbam Dorendra who plays Sanga. Until three days before the shooting, we didn’t have that character’s casting in place. I had a wonderful time shooting with all the North Eastern actors. It was essential to have them on board. We can’t be talking about cultural segregation and not have the segregated people included in the cast. I must give the entire credit for the casting to Mukesh Chhabra. He not only found all these wonderful actors in Mulk, he pushed me into making space for the actors when he felt I was not doing justice to them. He would say, ‘Bhaiyaji—that’s what he calls me—how can you do this to him?’.
Did you hope to reform some of the prejudiced mindset about the North East through Anek?
That would be too ambitious of me. No, I just wanted to put the truth up there on the screen. No cinema can change such deep-rooted prejudices. Go to my Instagram account. Under a picture of my leading lady Andrea Kevichüsa, there are comments calling her ‘Chinese’.
In the North East as well as in the South, Hindi is not considered the national language by many. What is your take on this?
If you are taking this discussion beyond my film, then I would like to say that I see the linguistic debate as a constitutional issue. Not a political issue. You can’t suddenly thrust Hindi on the entire nation just because it suits your political agenda. Why hasn’t Hindi been nurtured over generations? I love Hindi. If it wasn’t for Hindi, I wouldn’t have experienced Shrilal Shukla’s Raag Darbari. I wouldn’t have read the works of Phanishwarnath Renu …But we’ve to understand that this is a land of numerous languages. After China and Russia, India has the maximum number of dialects. Urdu also used to be a very important language. So yes, Hindi must be our national language. But it can’t be thrust on the whole nation.
Subhash K Jha is a Patna-based film critic who has been writing about Bollywood for long enough to know the industry inside out. He tweets at @SubhashK_Jha.
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