Article 15 director Anubhav Sinha opens up on making the rare Hindi film that addresses caste discrimination

Devansh Sharma

Jul 01, 2019 15:49:05 IST

Braving the Mumbai rains, I reach the office of Benaras Media Works in Andheri. It seems an unusually quiet day for the occasion of the release of Article 15, Anubhav Sinha's much-anticipated social drama. The stillness stands in stark contrast to the turmoil outside. Several Brahmin groups have opposed the release of the film on caste discrimination, alleging defamation of their community. Sinha, despite writing open letters and getting a U/A certificate from the Central Board of Film Certification, struggles to ensure a smooth release.

He calls on my phone to apologise profusely for being late. "I'm never this late. There's a technical issue," he explains. Once he reaches the office, he informs me that the police requested him to wait for security cover before leaving his residence. "I couldn't have said no so I had to wait," he says, requesting two more minutes for his daily ritual of lighting a lamp in the puja section of his office. "The non-Hindu needs to do his rituals," he says, with the sarcastic yet scathing sense of humour intact.

Once we settle, the conversation flows freely. 

The lead actor of your film, Ayushmann Khurrana, says you have discovered your directorial voice after Mulk and Article 15. Do you agree?

Haha! A lot of people say that. I don't know. I'm not interested in that analysis. I'm having a ball! I'm just loving some story ideas and loving the resonance they have with my world. So I'm going ahead and making it. I'm really not thinking about it. And that is something only someone outside of me can do. I can't analyse it.

But do you feel you have discovered your comfort zone?

I'm feeling way happier with my films. That's the best answer I can give. I'm feeling liberated in spite of all the chaos. You know, there are some people standing outside the theatres wearing clothes of obvious colours.

 Article 15 director Anubhav Sinha opens up on making the rare Hindi film that addresses caste discrimination

Sayani Gupta, Anubhav Sinha, Manoj Pahwa and Ayushmann Khurrana on the sets of Article 15

Do you feel these protests are the reason why other filmmakers do not attempt to take a stab at controversial subjects like caste discrimination. What gives you the courage to be fearless?

I've been asked this question of courage too many times. When I was making the film, I was not looking it as a brave act. If it's courage, it's great. I remember even when the trailer of Mulk came out, a lot of friends took me to the corner and said, "Security rakh yaar tu." It was the first time that it hit me. My reaction was, "Why do I need security because of this trailer?" I'm not performing any act of bravery. I don't know any other way.

But you must be aware of the surround sound in the Hindi film industry. What is stopping everyone else from touching similar issues?

I judge them on how compelled they feel. As long as you can resist resisting (making similar films), that means you're not that affected. But that's the choice you have to make. I guess it's not as compelling for them.

What compelled you to make Article 15?

You know, it's not just happening in India. I can't get over certain visuals in my head. That Syrian boy in a red t-shirt lying on the shores with his face towards the ground. That visual of the two girls (Badaun gangrape) hanging from a tree. These don't leave my head. It's not just India. It's humans at large around the world, they've gone nuts. So the other half has to go nuts resisting them. They have to tell them, "Guys, what are you doing? We were supposed to co-exist!" People must continuously ask these questions so that the world doesn't get lopsided. So if I find stories that touch on any of my concerns, I get very excited. That's why you must have noticed I've never been this fast. I had a release in August last year and now have had a release in June. My co-writer of the next film is sitting outside right now. We're going to start that one in August. There's just so much to be said and addressed right now.

You have incorporated multifarious perspectives in Article 15 like you did in Mulk. The Uttar Pradesh police force depicted in your film is a sample space of India's population. Why is it important for you to weave in multiple points of view in your narrative?

It's because I won't get to make another film on the same issue for at least two to three years, or maybe never. These films are about what I have to say and I have to say all of this. So I find the means to say all those things by creating characters and sub-plots. I use them as tools. For example, the flogging incident in Article 15. The film could do without it but I put it out there for posterity. It is just to acknowledge that this happened in my country. So tomorrow, if god forbid something does not go right and the youngsters ask me, "What did you do about it?" or I ask myself the same question, I have an answer. As far as incorporating multiple perspectives is concerned, that's part of my research process. I like to know all the viewpoints. When I'm making a film about Dalits, the first question the upper castes will ask me is, "What about reservation?". So I have to address that in my film. When I was writing Mulk, I talked to a friend who was much more on the 'right' side of things, he said, "Ye sadak par Namaz kyun padhte hain?" So I addressed that in the film through Rishi Kapoor's character. I wanted to tell the Muslims, "Yaar thoda co-existence aap bhi sambhalo".

Rishi Kapoor in a still from Mulk. Image via Twitter

Rishi Kapoor in a still from Mulk. Image via Twitter

Since you take into account so many perspectives, does that ever dilute your own directorial voice?

No, because that's what is weaving all these opinions into the film. The voice of the film will be mine. I don't talk to people who are very well read and are working with Dalits. My production crew gets annoyed when I go on a recce. I go to a tea stall and just talk to the people there, "Kya chal raha hai? Fasal kaisi hui?". Those are the people who are affected so I must hear them. And then I also talk to people who believe in that distance, between different parts of society.

Was Article 15 more challenging to make as compared to Mulk?

Not at all. This wasn't challenging and that wasn't challenging either. A bit of challenge was at the time of release. Certain people think I will expose them. In the process, if I do, I don't mind. But that's certainly not my intention. I'm exposing myself and I'm exposing society, and they are just a part of it.

What was your state of mind when you wrote the open letter addressed to the Brahmin community?

Everybody in my office was telling me to make a statement. I said the day I make a statement, they'll say, "Show us the film." This is exactly what happened. I told them I can't show the film to 1,700 Brahman organisations. I asked them to send one representative and I'd show the film to him. They didn't have any one representative. Then I asked them to watch the film once it releases and decide for themselves. They changed the goalpost and said you can't use the word 'Brahmin'. I said, "F*ck you! I'll use the word Brahmin and I'll also use the word 'chamar' because I don't think it's a gaali."

Did you see the criticism from the Dalit community coming? Were you aware that you were making a Brahmin saviour film?

I wasn't thinking of the Dalit community when I was making the film. I was making a film on my society from my point of view. You can agree with or disagree with it. I wasn't making a film to please anyone. I've criticised Dalits also, like I criticised Muslims in Mulk. But the ignorant Hindus said I've made a film to 'protect' Muslims. Some people sent me the Wikipedia page of Badaun rape to criticise my work, and I told them I use Wikipedia as my toilet paper. The problem is the youth isn't reading good books. Books need to come back to fashion. The information they're getting on their virtual capsules is the most dangerous thing today.

Ayushmann had said that you could not imagine him in the role of IPS officer Ayan Ranjan initially. What convinced you to finalise him eventually?

His passion to participate in the story. I wasn't able to see him in the part physically. It's so different from what he's done. And I don't know him personally. There are other actors, like Riteish Deshmukh, whom I know personally and so I know they can do different parts that they haven't done so far. But I met Ayushmann then for the first or second time. After he read the script, he continued to pursue this film. I looked up his pictures on the net and finally found one in which he was in an intense mode. I asked my assistant to put a moustache on his face. It was then that I was convinced of his physicality.

Ayushmann Khurrana in a still from Article 15

Ayushmann Khurrana in a still from Article 15

Did the perception of him not being from this world help your narrative since the character is also an outsider?

I was always looking to cast a fish out of the water. But the physicality of Ayushmann was a concern. I even told him to put on some weight. In my head, I was looking for this stereotypical masculine man. But the day I took his close-up, I knew I didn't need that stereotypical masculinity. He was so intense with his face.

Were you never tempted to go the Dabangg or Simmba way? Or was that just not the film you were trying to make?

Never. I wasn't even going the Ardh Satya way, as much as I respect it. I told him we're not doing that, or Simmba or Chulbul Panday (Dabangg), or Ram Lakhan or Ajay (Devgn) in Gangaajal. I like them all but Ayan Ranjan was somewhere between Ardh Satya and Gangaajal. I didn't have a specific reference point.

Did you talk to real-life police officers as well?

Most of the real-life cops are Om Puri from Ardh Satya. They are very human, very divided. So we talked to them to get a sense of their mechanics but never of their behaviour. Because I knew going to a real-life cop would mean going to Govind Nihalani. He likes to keep things real. I wanted my cop to be a little attractive. I wanted someone who the audience could root for. I wanted Article 15 to be a mainstream film. I was walking a tightrope and how.

(Also read: Article 15 cinematographer Ewan Mulligan on how he captured Anubhav Sinha's gaze on caste discrimination)

All images from Twitter.

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Updated Date: Jul 01, 2019 15:49:05 IST