Politics in Sudhir Mishra's films: Daas Dev highlights director's mastery over genre
The launch of Calcutta Mail at a suburban Mumbai five-star hotel in 2005 was a grand affair. Anil Kapoor, the film's lead actor, had managed to gather quite a few of Bollywood's power players at the event. Sudhir Mishra, the film's director, looked slightly out of place. The apparent uneasiness in his body posture stemmed either from his nervousness that he was venturing into an unknown terrain or had a premonition about the fate of the film at the box office. It was also the first time that he was graduating from working with actors to working with stars and had deserted real stories in favour of a make-believe, hardcore crime thriller. It was a foregone conclusion that Calcutta Mail was doomed and the inevitable happened at the box office. The failure taught him that to gain success, he cannot ignore his forte.
As the grandson of former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Dwarka Prasad Mishra and nephew to Brajesh Mishra (the former National Security advisor during the Vajpayee regime), Sudhir Mishra couldn't have stayed away from politics. Except in his case, the politics was expressed cinematically.
His recently released film Daas Dev is a modern interpretation of Devdas — set against the backdrop of Uttar Pradesh politics. In a career spanning 12 films, it can safely be assumed that Sudhir Mishra feels most comfortable when dealing with politics. After Yeh Woh Manzil Toh Nahin and Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi, Daas Dev brings him back to familiar turf. “Politics in a way controls our lives and governs us. The notion of power and the idea of freedom are things that affect a person and it’s all about reacting to those things knowing you are not living in the best of times,” Sudhir had said in a previous interview.
With the cult film Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro marking his screenwriting debut, it was expected that Sudhir's fist film as a director too, would be special. And it was — although Mishra’s debut film Yeh Who Manzil Toh Nahin (also his most accomplished work after Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi), remains unseen by many. Sudhir's masterpiece of a debut was made when he was just 27. Shot in 40 days in Lucknow with few acting stalwarts from Bollywood and local theatre talent, the film dealt with political activism in the milieu of student politics: as three old men travel to attend the centenary celebration of their alma mater, their days of political activism are recounted in flashback; once they reach the venue, the current political confrontations remind them of their failures.
Sudhir took a U-turn with his next film, Main Zinda Hoon. This film dealt with the trials and tribulations of a city woman and her love life. Dharavi came after Main Zinda Hoon and this time too Sudhir followed a different trajectory and dived straight into the heartland of Asia’s biggest slum. The film had Om Puri as a taxi driver who harbours dreams of getting out of his penury and took home the Best Film — Hindi trophy at the 1992 National Film Awards.
It was 1996's Is Raat Ki Subah Nahi tht established Sudhir Mishra as a filmmaking tour de force. The plot spans the events of one night, when an advertising executive is embroiled in the murky dealings of some Mumbai mafiosos. The film's slick pace made it a winner, and the story itself was based on an incident dating to Sudhir’s brother's days as an FTII student. Is Raat Ki Subah Nahi — in many ways — also laid the foundation for future films about the Mumbai underworld, through which Ram Gopal Varma rose to prominence.
The failure of Calcutta Mail and the unanimous criticism was a jolt to Sudhir. It made him go back to the drawing table and work on a story whose subject was significant to him. The outcome was Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi. This time he used the Emergency of 1975 as the backdrop for a tale of three students and their life journeys. Juxtaposing a love story against political ideology, Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi showed an India which was in the throes of political and social change.
Chameli was perhaps the biggest box office success in Sudhir Mishra’s career — but it cannot really be termed "a Sudhir Mishra film". Sudhir stepped in to finish the movie after the demise of director Anant Balani. Then followed Khoya Khoya Chand and Yeh Saali Zindagi — which, despite some great reviews, had no takers. Khoya Khoya Chand dealt with the Hindi film industry in the '50s while Yeh Saali Zindagi was promoted as a sequel to Is Raat Ki Subah Nahin. His next film Inkaar was set amidst the backdrop of sexual harassment in the ad industry but even a gripping and taut screenplay could not save the film from being dubbed a flop.
It is after five years that Sudhir Mishra helms a film again; one sees the filmmaker's grasp on politics coming to the fore with Daas Dev. It highlights that despite Sudhir's ability to tell different stories, it is the political genre over which his command remains strongest.
Updated Date: Apr 29, 2018 11:51:14 IST