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Exploring ‘uncomfortable’ truths



Bollywood filmmaker Onir


His fascination for the dream factories of Bollywood has given us films likeMy Brother …Nikhil”and “Sorry Bhai”. Filmmaker Onir speaks to Madhur Tankha about his experiences in life and his upcoming film highlighting various social issues.

For him, filmmaking is a tool to create awareness about contemporary issues plaguing our society. Bollywood filmmaker Onir insists an audience willing to explore the uncomfortable truth about the plight of refugees, homosexuals and child abuse victims exists in our country.

The dream factories of the Hindi film industry fascinated him even as a child. “To pursue my goal, I went to Berlin to hone my editing skills. After the course, I was keen on making a socially enlightening film. But producing a film on social issue is a risky proposition. I was increasingly getting frustrated that I couldn’t fulfil my dream because there were no takers for my subject in Bollywood. Finally lady luck smiled on me when ordinary people and talented artistes who could relate to my story agreed to finance my project.”

To raise funds for his first film “My Brother …Nikhil” which explored the subject of gays and AIDS, Onir gave details of his film on the Facebook. He invited bloggers to become co-owner of the project by giving donations. Some gave money, others chipped in through other means. A lady from Bangalore said she couldn’t give money but would cook food for the entire unit for two days.

Onir’s upcoming project “I Am” has four short stories. To reach out to a large number of film buffs, he has used some of the best mainstream actors, scintillating music and divergent stories. Even if 10 per cent of the audience feels that the movie connects with their lives, it would succeed in creating awareness on these issues, he says.

The first story of “I Am” focuses on the plight of Kashmiri Pandits who have been driven out of their homeland. “Paradoxically, there is a huge silence over this issue even though 300,000 Pandits have been forced to abandon their homeland. Juhi Chawla plays a Kashmiri Pandit who has lost her home and identity, while Manisha Koirala is a Muslim who finds living in a militant-dominated Kashmir a nightmarish experience. Juhi is such a sensitive person that she decided to pump her own money into my film.”

The second story of “I Am” is about the gay community that is intimidated by the police even though the High Court struck down that provision of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that deals with homosexuality. “Rahul Bose agreed to play a homosexual character. Anurag Kashyap, who was himself a victim of child abuse, called me up that he would play the molester.”

Onir’s third story is about sexually abused children. “Statistics reveal that a staggering 53 per cent of our children have been sexually abused. Sanjay Suri is playing an adult who was sexually molested as a child. The film shows the psychological effect on the victim. Filmmaker Anurag Kashyap volunteered to do anything to support my film. So I gave him the role of the perpetrator that nobody was willing to play.”

The fourth story is about problems existing in NGOs.

Though Onir has Bengali roots, he grew up in Bhutan where his father opened an educational institution. “My family was there for three decades but one fine day we were asked to leave. Suddenly we were unwelcome and my dad was asked why he cannot recruit a local as a principal. So I could relate to the plight of the Kashmiri Pandits who were thrown out of the Valley for no fault of theirs. I went to Srinagar for my upcoming film and found that the young don’t know a thing about their earlier neighbours. I feel that truth must be told even if it is uncomfortable.”

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