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Out to steal hearts

Anuj Kumar meets Dibakar Banerjee, who has brought Delhi back to celluloid

Photos (cover and centrespread): Rajeev Bhatt

The drifter Dibakar Banerjee loved to hang out near Chanakya cinema

He understands his characters inside out and the surroundings they inhabit. Dibakar Banerjee knows how to hold a mirror to his audience. The man who gave us absolute delight with Khosla Ka Ghosla has now come up with Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! If Khosla won him the National Award, his latest was premiered at the ongoing IFFI.

Behind those thick-rimmed glasses there is a naughty man who dreamt to be different and realised it. Born and brought up in Karol Bagh, he bunked for the sake of girls but rooted for films like Holi. “Remember that ragging scene where the boy is asked to pee on the heater! I believe the classes and masses divide was too distinct in those days. Now it is blurring fast in cinema,” says Dibakar.

By the way, he speaks Punjabi and Hindi much better than Bengali and that is perhaps one of the reasons that, as the 37-year-old director explores Delhi as it is, his characters come across as real. For his Hindi, he gives credit to Gyan Bharti School. “To me believability is the key. Once I finished a late night shoot of Khosla…, the guard came to me and said this is what happens in my house every night. India has changed a lot in the last couple of decades, but it is not reflecting in the cinema. Our filmmakers remained too busy with life in Mumbai. Comfort level must be a factor, but it’s time we explored other parts of the country. Imagine for 20 years the only image I had of Kashmir was through cinema. Today, cinema, I believe, is the only medium left to counter the feelings of regionalism. I would love to see a tale set in North India in Malayalam.” ”

Going back to the lanes of Delhi, Dibakar reminisces he was a “sissy” child. “I also had an asthma problem. I would watch the tough guys of my age play cricket from the window for hours. I had no choice, for I could not manage to even catch the ball. Perhaps that made me observant.” He insists he was never bullied because he was too good in studies. “Then they would see me play the tabla and painting. So every time I was bullied, a bigger bully would come to my rescue.” Dibakar says as he grew, he became a rebel. “After 10th standard my romance with class books started to wane, as I wanted to explore the world. I befriended boys who were good in sports to know their world. I started bunking classes for films and what not.” As his rank dropped in the class, his frictions with his father, which later became part of Khosla…, started. “This was a normal thing which each one of us must have experienced. He wanted me to be a doctor/engineer but in some corner of his heart he also wanted me do something out of the routine.” Well, Dibakar did join the National Institute of Design. “I was chucked out in two years because I was not concentrating. Still NID did help me in developing a strong base.”

Flamboyant thief

In Oye Lucky…Dibakar is again exploring the idiosyncrasies we associate with the Capital. “In Khosla Ka Ghosla, I was on the side of the right man. Now I wanted to know how a criminal sees the legal world. My research showed criminals also believe in values like betrayal, loyalty and friendship. They take pride in their work like anybody else and aspire to reach somewhere in life. Lucky is one such flamboyant thief, who doesn’t believe in violence. He just loves to rob people. He is a proud thief, who lets the person he robs know he is privileged to be robbed by Lucky. He understands class differences in Delhi and uses it to his advantage. Like how security guards don’t stop somebody driving an expensive car, even if he is a robber.”

For Khosla…, Dibakar got the conversation of a real property dealer taped for Boman Irani to help him get into the character. For Oye Lucky…he did something similar for Paresh Rawal, who is playing three characters in the film. “I do it on the demand of these great actors. One of the characters Pareshji is playing is called Gogi bhai. He is a shaadi band wallah, who deals in stolen automobiles during the night. We discovered one such real character through a news story and then taped how the man speaks.”

Despite all the hoopla, Dibakar feels the going is still tough for independent filmmakers. “There is still a strong support system for the formulaic mainstream films. When a formula film works, they cry from the roof tops…when it fails everything is hushed up. Nobody talks about the figures. But when it comes to us, one failure to connect is enough for the support to be scratched. Comments like ‘it was destined to happen’ surface quickly. So there is a constant pressure to deliver certain returns for a certain budget.”

Who is Lucky?

The character Lucky, played by Abhay Deol, reminds one of the popular Bunty chor, who made news some time back, but Dibakar says he has researched on many such Buntys. “I have seen many such characters around me in Karol Bagh and read about many of them in news stories. Lucky loves to steal mobiles, cars and bungalows but if he doesn’t like the object, he leaves it in the same place with a funny message, implying it didn’t deserve to go under Lucky’s name!” The role required a combination of mischief and innocence, which Dibakar says Abhay has in the right proportion. “After a point, the film has plenty of layering, which Abhay has brought out with spontaneity. As he grows in stature, Lucky leads a dual life. He is an exporter during the day and follows his passion in the night. Sometimes Lucky returns with just a teddy bear!”

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