Madhur Bhandarkar on directing Babli Bouncer: ‘The film is a coming-of-age fictional story of a female bouncer’

In conversation with Madhur Bhandarkar on Babli Bouncer, casting Tamannaah, “revamp” of Bollywood, ‘Boycott’ trend and more.

Seema Sinha September 20, 2022 09:46:16 IST
Madhur Bhandarkar on directing Babli Bouncer: ‘The film is a coming-of-age fictional story of a female bouncer’

Madhur Bhandarkar

Way back, over two decades ago when Madhur Bhandarkar was shooting Chandni Bar (film on a displaced woman who is forced to become a beer-bar dancer), his second film that shot him to success, with Tabu, the actor would crack up at her director’s jokes and she wondered why he was making such a serious film, instead he should be making a comedy.

“Tabu would literally fall on the floor laughing at my jokes and one-liners. She would say, ‘You are making me do a serious film but behind the scenes you are making me laugh, you should be making a comedy, you are so hilarious’,” fondly recalls the director, who is gearing up for his next release, Babli Bouncer, a comedy-drama with Tamannaah Bhatia in the lead. The film is a coming-of-age fictional story of a female bouncer, set in the real ‘bouncer town’ of North India – Asola Fatehpur. It traces Babli’s journey from her village known for producing the most number of musclemen and bouncers, to a posh Delhi club, where she becomes a ‘lady bouncer’. The film portrays various layers of the profession usually taken up by men.

Four times National award winning director may be known for hard-hitting, realistic cinema — — films like Chandni Bar, Page 3, Fashion …gave him the image of a serious filmmaker but he says that he has a humorous side to his personality that many don’t know. “Even in my serious films you will find a bit of comic sequences. Then, I did try my hands at comedy with Dil Toh Baccha Hai Ji (2011) but Babli Bouncer has far more comic elements in it. Comedy is not challenging at all. But I enjoy all genres. I have always been a film-buff and I would enjoy watching both Manmohan Desai and Shyam Benegal films. But yes, my cinema is more middle-of-the-road, it is neither very commercial nor very arty. I am a story-teller and I believe in good content,” says Bhandarkar.

Jointly produced by Fox Star Studios and Junglee Pictures, Babli Bouncer will premiere on Disney +Hotstar and the director feels it is a perfect OTT release. “Babli Bouncer was made with OTT in mind. It was designed that way. We want families to watch it at home together and enjoy it. It may not be about the box office numbers but you get appreciation on OTT,” says the director whose last release was Indu Sarkar, a political potboiler set in the period of the emergency in India.

Bhandarkar, who started the trend of films women protagonists through Chandni Bar, Satta, Page 3, Fashion, Corporate and Heroine with many of these becoming successful and award winners, says he wanted to give a fresh perspective by showing the life of a female bouncer and probably his penchant for women-oriented subjects convinced Bhatia, the main protagonist. “People haven’t seen the world of a female bouncer. I am getting so many calls from film distributors and exhibitors from Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Dubai …that why I am not releasing the film in theatres. We have seen the world of bouncers in our industry and outside and it has always been male but I wanted to give it a fresh take. It is a very interesting world that how these people from villages, small towns come to big cities in the evening on their bikes, do the job of a bouncer and go back to their villages at the crack of dawn,” says Bhandarkar.

When the concept came to him, Bhandarkar says he was working on two more scripts – an action film and a serious hard-hitting subject, and he decided to give Babli Bouncer a comic twist. “This film could have been serious but I decided to make it a comedy. It is a simple, light-hearted film the kind Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Basu Chatterji would make. It is not over the top, it is about a real character,” he says.

Further, the director says casting Tamannaah was suggested by the team of Disney Hotstar and since he wasn’t too familiar with the actor, he had to do some research on her. “I had not seen any of Tamannaah’s films except for Baahubali. I also had this perception that she is from South which is not true, she is a Mumbai girl. I googled and saw her images. But I am not too finicky about actors or who I am casting, I am more concerned about the character that I have in mind. I gave her a two-and-a-half-hour narration and she cracked up. She was surprised that I could think of doing a film with so much humour. I got her to interact with bouncers and also gave her a lot of details about real life bouncers. It is a very difficult role to play but she has justified it beautifully. She has taken her character to another level. The film will be a game-changer for her,” says Bhandarkar.

Someone who has written and directed 15 to 16 films, feels the cinema is going through a revamp considering that the movie business has got much more unpredictable than it ever was. Though Bhandarkar feels it is a passing phase, the ‘Boycott Bollywood’ trend does bother him a bit. “Why people are attacking Bollywood, I don’t know that but this social media trend will not affect us at all, that’s not true. Negativity around anything will definitely have some dent whether it is for a person, for a factory, for a restaurant or against a film. Even when I make a small mistake while posting something on Twitter, I get scared of getting trolled. People have every right to their opinion. But we wouldn’t want any film to come in that space of negativity; we would want maximum people to watch our films because eventually we make films for the consumer market,” he says.

And someone who started with the business in video library, and has seen the industry very closely over so many years, feels Bollywood isn’t going through a bad phase as such and that good films always work. “I have been hearing for a long time that the industry is shutting down, theatres are shutting down…good or bad phase comes globally. Sometime in the 80’s when people were glued to their television sets watching shows like Humlog, Buniyad …it was felt theatres would shut down. Then again, before Hum Aapke Hain Koun..! released (1994) people were saying cinema is over, theatres are shutting down, films are not working… Suddenly Hum Aapke Hain Koun..! came and led to the revival of theatres. But we can’t say nothing has worked. Pushpa, RRR, KGF did well even in North; KGF did a business of over Rs 450 crore just in North India. Bhool Bhulaiyaa, Gangubai KathiawadiJugg Jug Jeeyo and Karthikeya worked, then figures that Brahmastra is bringing is a good sign for the industry,” he concludes.

Babli Bouncer will premiere on Disney + Hotstar on September 23.

Seema Sinha is a Mumbai-based mainstream entertainment journalist who has been covering Bollywood and television industry for over two decades. Her forte is candid tell-all interviews, news reporting and newsbreaks, investigative journalism and more. She believes in dismissing what is gossipy, casual, frivolous and fluff.

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