Tushar Hiranandani on Bhumi, Taapsee and ageism, Saand Ki Aankh’s Shashi Kapoor connect, misogyny and why he won't do another Masti
Tushar Hiranandani defends his directorial debut Saand Ki Aankh, against allegations of ageism, and his past filmography that includes the Masti franchise.
His filmography is as varied as it gets. Tushar Hiranandani has just made his directorial debut with the feminist adventure Saand Ki Aankh, which is based on the true story of the octogenarian sharpshooters Chandro and Prakashi Tomar who first picked up guns in their 60s and went on to become multiple-medal-winning champions. He has been writing for 15 years. His credits include films as contrasting as the dance drama ABCD, the gentle comedy Atithi Tum Kab Jaoge and the crassly misogynistic Masti series. In this volatile interview, he answers questions about the anti-women ageism in his casting choices for Saand Ki Aankh, his attitude to women and patriarchy.
The idea behind Director’s Cut on Firstpost is to engage with a director after watching their film, since generalisations are often inescapable in pre-release Q&As. Hiranandani was briefed about the nature of this section, that it would be an in-depth examination of Saand Ki Aankh and the context in which it has been made. The fireworks in this conversation illustrate why most Indian filmmakers prefer to speak to journalists before their film has been seen, but the resolution is also proof that such interactions are as doable as they are essential. Excerpts:
(Caution: Minor spoilers ahead for those who have not seen Saand Ki Aankh)
I loved Saand Ki Aankh, that is evident from my review. But a problematic aspect of the film is weighing on my mind so I don’t want to beat about the bush. Why did you cast actresses who are in their 30s to play women in their 60s?
You must have seen that in my film I’ve paid tribute to Mother India. It’s one of my favourite films. In Mother India, Nargisji also was young and she played the role from young to old, so somewhere I always wanted to pay tribute to this. And yes, I did try for older star cast and it didn’t work out. Budget factors, some of the old ladies that I wanted could not play it, they didn’t want to do it. I also went to actors in the late 50s and 40s, and no one wanted to play this. And like I said, I wanted to make it like Mother India. It so happened that I went to Bhumi and Taapsee and I was so happy they had the same excitement as I had to do this film.
In the 62 years since Mother India, shouldn’t we have evolved beyond a stage where we make young women play old women?
An actor plays a part. Age doesn’t matter. Today if Aamir Khan being in his 50s can play in 3 Idiots and people applaud it, what’s wrong with girls who are 30 playing 60? (Note: Khan was 44 years old when he played a teenager in Rajkumar Hirani’s 3 Idiots, released in 2009.) I think they showed guts. I think it’s more evolved to cast younger people for older roles which were serious. Today if my film has got eyeballs, because Taapsee and Bhumi have played them. You’ve praised them in your review, everybody is praising them, so it’s a big victory for me.
They deserve praise but it is distracting that they are young women trying to play old. How is this different from when Hollywood would get white people to play Asians and Africans with brown paint on their faces?
I don’t understand. I don’t think I’ve gone so drastic that you’re telling me that I have coloured their faces and they’re playing Asians. They deserved to play this part, they are great actresses and they had the guts to do it. I didn’t do anything wrong.
You’re taking the point literally. I’m not talking about you putting colour on their faces. I’m saying there is a parallel. You equated this with Aamir in 3 Idiots, but the prejudice in our society is against women not men, against older women not older men. Do you see the parallel with Hollywood and the flaw in your parallel with 3 Idiots?
I don’t know why you going again and again about the same thing.
Not me alone. A lot of people have said this.
I am the director. As a director I felt these two were the best for the parts and I casted them. I wanted to cast young people to play old and I thought that was the USP, that the age thing wouldn’t matter, and people would get excited about this.
But you said you approached older women earlier? If this was your original…
(He interrupts with his voice raised) I did approach, it didn’t happen, so I changed my mind. Casting is a process. Filmmaking is a process. It doesn’t happen on the spot, right? (He has calmed down by now) I went through five years of making this film, I’ve gone through all the process, and it’s the best decision to cast Taapsee and Bhumi.
You speak of their courage, but the criticism is not of Taapsee and Bhumi in any case, because they operate in an industry where women have limited choices and they may feel compelled to grab the best opportunities that come their way. The criticism is of the casting by the team of the film because in our country, women actors past a certain age don’t get substantial roles on screen.
I’m saying I wanted, I’m not saying they. They were the only two girls who said yes to me and I think there will not be a better cast.
And the parallel you drew with 3 Idiots? There is a vast difference. In 3 Idiots older men played young men, here young women play older women. In our country…
So what about Mother India?
Which was 60 plus years ago.
There are people casting Neena Gupta. Every actor who deserves to be in the film are getting cast. I made my film the way I wanted to make it. I have a right to do what I want to. Do you have any other question or we’ll keep on debating on this?
Of course you have a right, but we also have a right to have a discussion, right?
Then you have your opinion, I have my opinion. I wanted to cast them, you can keep on criticising it.
Are you saying people like Neena Gupta get the same opportunities as men their age?
Of course they’re getting now ya. Lot of actresses are getting work today. There is not only movies, there are digital shows. A lot of work is happening in the industry. You should be happy in this time of the world there is a recession, a lot of people are getting work. (I laugh)
Okay, you have written vastly varied films – raunchy comedies, a pleasantly mild comedy like Atithi Tum Kab Jaoge – and you’ve directed this film. Which of your films most reflects the kind of person you are?
I’m a writer. Nothing reflects me. The director needs to come to me with a story and tell to me to write. I used to write all kinds of films. I’ve also written ABCD, Dishoom, Half Girlfriend. Any director who wanted to work with me, I used to go ahead and work. Writing is a job and none of them reflects any part of me.
So who came to you with Saand Ki Aankh?
I saw it on Satyamev Jayate, Aamir Khan’s show. I had tears in my eyes and I told my wife, this story has to be told. And she said, why don’t you tell it?
What made you turn to direction with it?
Because I loved the story. Earlier, it was always the director who would give me the story. This is the story I wanted to tell.
You said none of your films reflects who you are. Apart from the characters in a film having certain values, the tone of a film does take a position. Saand Ki Aankh for instance is feminist. Are you saying these are not values you subscribe to?
Of course I do. Are you trying to criticise me or praise me? I am still not getting this interview’s tone. This is what I believe in and I’ve done this film according to what I feel. My wife is the producer. I always respect women. I’ve made the film respecting women, and it is also about “tann budha hota hai, mann budha nahin hota” (the body gets old, the mind does not), any age you can do anything you want.
So if this film reflects your values, how does one reconcile with the fact that you who have made the feminist Saand Ki Aankh also wrote the misogynistic Great Grand Masti?
Like I said, the director came to me with the story. It was this job. And now this is the film I wanted to make. A lot of people say, how did you do it? Maybe no one gave me a chance to, you know. And I had to make money to run my house, I’ve a family to feed, so I did all kinds of films that came to me. But I made the film that I wanted to direct. And I didn’t once let it go though it took me five years to make it.
(Note: Tushar Hiranandani and Milap Zaveri are jointly credited with the story and screenplay of both Masti and Grand Masti. Hiranandani is credited with the story of Great Grand Masti. So when he says the director came to him with the story, he is perhaps referring to the basic concept.)
But a film like Great Grand Masti perpetuates problematic values that cause harm. Should it not concern a writer that their film plays along with prevalent misogyny?
See Ma’am, I don't think you have seen the entire film.
I have seen the entire film.
If you see the entire film, the men are punished in the end, they regret and say sorry to their wives. There is always that in the end. Please see it again. See the entire film. In the end don’t the men say sorry to the wives?
(Pause) And the tone of mockery towards women throughout?
Ah, you haven’t seen?
I told you already I have seen the entire film.
And the tone of mockery towards women throughout the film?
What does it happen in the end? I am asking.
(This is a telephone interview. Hiranandani is on a break, so his PR representative had dialled him for me and then stayed on on a conference call. This has happened perhaps just a couple of times earlier with me and the PRs in those instances have tended to remain silent. This of course is not a usual interview, as you can see, and so at this juncture, the gentleman tries to intervene, but Hiranandani cuts him short.)
No no, you tell me now.
I am saying, there is a tone of mockery towards women throughout. It’s not the characters, it is the tone of the film itself.
Ma’am, are you reviewing me or Masti or we are talking about Saand Ki Aankh?
I am talking about you.
I’ve gone way past Masti. Let’s talk about Saand Ki Aankh. I don’t want to talk any more, I told you what I had to say. Now if you want to believe it, believe it. If you don’t, that’s okay.
So you wouldn’t like to talk about the rest of your filmography? All right, so in this particular…
(He cuts in with his voice raised) No, you’re only talking about Masti. What about other films that I’ve made? Why don’t you talk about Atithi Tum Kab Jaoge?
I actually did.
(The PR tries to intervene again, but Hiranandani talks over him)
No, you hardly spoke about it.
Would you like to discuss Atithi Tum Kab Jaoge?
No Ma’am, you are taking a different tone only. What is this? You are blaming me? Are you blaming me that…
(At this point, the PR representative does manage to be heard. He tries to defuse the situation by requesting me to focus this interview on Saand Ki Aankh today, and promises to make an appointment later for an interview that will offer a profile of the director. I object, and remind him that I had briefed him and Hiranandani about the nature of Director’s Cut. He says he understands but repeats his request. I can hear Hiranandani still talking with his voice raised in the background.)
You said you want to discuss Atithi Tum Kab Jaoge, Tushar. Please do.
(He pauses, then continues) No I don’t. I’m saying again, I already answered to you about Masti, but you as a lawyer are grilling me again and again. I’m saying, did you see the end? You’re saying no.
I did not say no, Tushar.
You are misquoting me. I clearly stated that I have seen the entire film.
You said. (He has lowered the volume of his voice now) Can we go ahead?
I would request you not to misquote me. Okay, now when a satellite character in Saand Ki Aankh first finds out that Prakashi and Chandro have been winning medals, his reaction is not anger but fear that if he doesn’t tell Prakash Jha’s character then he’ll be in trouble. This is an interesting interpretation of patriarchy because he actually doesn’t subscribe to those values but is playing along to protect himself. Is this character from real life?
(Now calm) No, I made this. I made this up that all men are not same. If you see the scene where he catches them and they point the gun at him, I’ve also taken a shot that he goes back to bed and smiles because his daughters are doing well. I wanted to show that men do want to change but they will take time and they’re happy change is happening.
Did you also have in mind that sometimes men too play along with patriarchy as an act of self-preservation because of social expectations?
(Pauses) Yes. That’s why even Rambir, the son who comes from the Army, cannot do anything when he (Prakash Jha’s character, Prakashi and Chandro’s elder brother-in-law who is the patriarch of their family) is throwing the medals, but then he stands up slowly slowly. Even the main character, Prakash Jha, when Seema Tomar comes back (after winning a medal), he takes her in and says, go and meet your mother and your tai who deserve the credit. He changes.
Okay, how close is this film to the actual story of Chandro and Prakashi Tomar?
70-80 percent. Several of the characters, Prakash Jha’s character, the eldest sister-in-law, are now dead. These daadis are 85, 86 now so they gave us the basic family tree and then we had to fictionalise. Most of the instances are real. But we had to fictionalise to dramatise. You take that liberty to make interesting and entertaining films.
One reviewer felt the film should have examined the rivalry and tension this writer believed would have been inevitable between Prakashi and Chandro at some point. Did you gloss over negatives in their relationship?
No, because they themselves are beautiful. They didn’t have that rivalry. You see, they didn’t want for themselves. They were excited they were doing well, they sacrificed it for their daughters to go. People must understand, only reason they did this sport was so that their daughters and granddaughters could follow them, get jobs and stand on their feet. They were selfless about it.
Another reviewer felt there were not enough good men in the film.
There was a lot of good men. Like I already said, there are men in the family who support them. The son from the Army fights for them. The coach is on their side – after the sarpanch said you will not teach any girl, he still trains the ladies.
What are you doing next?
I have absolutely no idea.
Will you direct more?
Direction bug has bitten me. What do you think? I should direct? (I laugh) Let me ask one question?
Okay fine, I’ll answer one question. If you’re making films like Great Grand Masti, I hope you don’t. If you are making films like Atithi and Saand Ki Aankh, I hope you make lots more.
I’ll make lots of films for you.
Thank you. Many films with important women characters tend to build up a man as their saviour, but even with the coach, Dr Yashpal, Saand Ki Aankh does not lionise him and have him stealing Chandro and Prakashi’s thunder, even in terms of your choices of shots, who you end each scene on and so on. Were these conscious decisions as a result of team discussions, or did it happen organically?
No, like I said I took five years and every shot was always discussed, me and my writers and editors. I had my entire unit sitting on the script. Even with Viineet (actor Viineet Kumar, earlier known as Vineet Kumar Singh), like I’ll tell you one funny incident. I was not getting the right actor for Dr Yashpal. Anurag (Kashyap) was being my producer, and he asked me one day, have you seen Mukkabaaz? Not because of casting Viineet, he wanted me to see his film. So I saw it and I really liked Viineet.
I always felt Dr Yashpal, who was from their village, who went away to Delhi, became a doctor, came back and started this training, he would look like how a foreigner would look like in India – stand out. See his clothes and his entire thing was different from the other village folk. When I met Viineet, he told me that every film after Mukkabaaz they’ve told him to remove his clothes. So I said, I will keep on making you wear lot of clothes in my film, don’t worry about that.
Ma’am I’ve seen a lot of films like Mother India, all these old films and actors are a great influence for me. There are lot of things I’ve got inspired in this film and copied, I’ll be honest with you. Like when I wrote Dr Yashpal I always imagined Shashiji to do it, Shashi Kapoor. He was a wonderful actor, a jovial and nice person. He had warmth. And the characters he played was like this. That’s why I always knew that this character will always be there for them but he will not go ahead of them. I told Viineet on Day 1, this film is about these two ladies, no one is more important than them for me. And not once did he question that. Like Dr Yashpal could have easily fought with Prakash Jha when he breaks that school and is burning it, but it doesn’t matter to him because when he reaches there all that he can see that the thing he made is burnt and he cries, and Viineet understood that so well.
Now that our interview is calmer, I’m asking again: in future will we see more films like Saand Ki Aankh from you or is there ever a possibility that you might direct a film like Grand Masti or Great Grand Masti?
No. I’ll tell you very honestly, Ma’am, Great Grand Masti I’d written when my mother was in hospital and I had to pay bills. I had lost my house. There’s a lot of things that happen where you take things up and you don’t take things up, and you cannot help it. Now that we are comfortable in life, me and my wife Nidhi Parmar have formed this company called Chalk N Cheese. The scripts that really interest us, that we both think are right for me are biopics. If I get some other superb story, I will still make it but ya, biopics I will try to make all my life. And I hope you are happy about that decision.
I am just happy that we are ending this interview on a calmer note.
(Full disclosure, dear readers: After the interview, Tushar Hiranandani apologised more than once for losing his temper, told his PR agent that “now we’ve become friends”, and thanked me for my review and this interview. He then got another member of his agency to also phone me and convey his regrets.)
For Anna MM Vetticad’s review of Saand Ki Aankh, click here.
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