Not just a flicker
ZIYA US SALAM
Kalpana Lajmi is ready to rekindle old fire with "Chingaari", a Sushmita Sen film releasing this Friday.
Over shooting I discovered a dynamic individual in Sushmita Sen, a woman who is far ahead of her age
ABOUT EMOTIONS AND POWER Sushmita Sen in a scene from the film "Chingaari"
Times have changed. The sad reality check of the 1980s has given way to a happier cinema, to a cinema where the characters speak our language. And there is a new network for sensible cinema. Discloses Kalpana Lajmi, "The distributors are more adventurous. The multiplexes are a boom for cinema which tells different stories, for cinema on a low budget, for a cinema with a direction." Well, times might have changed, but Kalpana Lajmi has not. She is still as fierce in her commitment to what she calls, "socially purposeful cinema". She is still a firebrand who minces no words, is unafraid of following her own trajectory.
And remains as defiant as unapologetic. "I am unapologetic about the kind of subjects I take up. I am unapologetic about women being the central character in my films. In fact I am proud of it. It is a huge task to make such a film, and then sell it. Unfortunately, we are living in times when we are judged not by the quality of our work but by the box office collections. The exhibitors don't care about the continuance of cinema. The Gujarati-Punjabi-Sindhi group does not understand the language of cinema. The corporate offices have forgotten their pledge of bettering cinema. We need enlightened finance for enlightened cinema. Unfortunately, banks also expect collateral security. They don't have faith in any kind of cinema beyond the big banners. The sleaze of video has permeated down to sleaze in popular cinema. There are limited avenues for niche cinema. The multiplexes have provided more screens yes, but where is the choice for the common man when a blockbuster plays on all the five screens. I call it intellectual dacoity."
However, for all the faults of multiplexes Lajmi is releasing her latest film "Chingaari" this Friday with over 40 prints on the Delhi-UP circuit alone. A three-crore film, she admits to being a shade nervous about the market response. "I am scared. I am worried. For the first time I am releasing 200 prints across the country. But these days I am not sure if I can invite the audiences to sustain interest. The initial is crucial."
Well, times might have changed, and multiplexes may have arrived. But Lajmi continues to be as frank in her opinion now as she was when she shocked the conservative audiences with "Ek Pal" in 1987 or "Darmiyan" in 1997 when she dared to talk of alternate sexuality way before the likes of Mahesh Dattani and Karan Razdan did likewise with varying degrees of sincerity. Not only is "Chingaari" yet another woman-centric film where Sushmita Sen gets to experience a whole gamut of emotions, the director is fierce in her criticism of the male actors in the industry in general, and Anuj Sawhney, who plays the hero in "Chingaari" in particular.
ALL FOR MEANINGFUL CINEMA Director Kalpana Lajmi with musician Bhupen Hazarika
"I went to Dino Morea for the role. Then approached Akshaye Khanna, Riteish Deshmukh and a whole lot of other actors. They all refused, excusing themselves on the pretext of their image being affected. Some of them even refused to hear the subject! Then Anuj approached me. He was a five-film failure, an absolutely abysmal actor, non-trained, non-experienced, but credit to Sushmita. She gave him all help, worked in a completely professional manner."
So, how did she pencil in Sushmita Sen?
"I did not short-list her nor did I do the screen play for her. I wrote it the way I wanted. Since I am not a star director, I had to approach the actors for a role. I realised the days of Nutan-Shabana Azmi are over, their commitment is difficult to find. I was told Sushmita is hard to access. But call it luck or whatever, I approached her on a Sunday afternoon. She heard me out, and she immediately said yes. This despite the fact that I did not have a producer for the film. She gave me 45 dates in a year's time. She was gracious enough to give me a consent letter that she was doing the film. It took me six months to get the finances rolling. I had seen two of Sushmita's films - `Filhaal' and `Samay'. I thought she was brilliant in both, but I still feel it is her best yet. Over shooting I discovered a dynamic individual, a woman who is far ahead of her age. We trusted and complemented each other completely."
Times might have changed, her ire might be the same, but there is one constant in her life that defies all generations, and mocks at all pundits - Bhupen Hazarika. "Chingaari" is based on Hazarika's story "Sindoor". And, the veteran composer has yet again joined hands with the irrepressible and irascible director in "Chingaari". Lajmi addresses him as "Dr Hazarika", and it is also about the only time, aggression gives way to humility.
"He is original and way above lifting anything else done by anybody though we have stopped being creative in our times." She is referring to his story "Sindoor" having the same name as a Shashi Kapoor-starrer of the 1980s. She does not need to. Irrespective of the box office results, one can be certain "Chingaari" will have as much spunk as "Darmiyaan", as much topicality as "Daman" and be as timeless as "Ek Pal". She might be a slow filmmaker - she has done just six films over almost 20 years - but what she lacks in pace she makes up in quality. The lady has the last word: "Cinema has to have a language of its own. You cannot make films like reading a book." Happy viewing.
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