FILM MAKING INFLUENCES – Life and People
I just try my best to make films that I can make and try not to get affected by fashions. I’ve tried my best not to follow the European model or the Indian model. I use what I’ve naturally grown up with.
I’ve had a very complicated upbringing, in terms of influences and where I come from. I am a University professor’s son ‘ a mathematician’s son and I’ve lived off my father’s salary; except that I have got a lot in terms of influences from him. The more I discover myself now; I discover I am quite a lot like my father (D.N. Misra). It’s more and more now that I think about it. Now that I’ve become his friend, I hardly see him like a father. Of course he remains my father ‘ but he’s a friend as well. Whatever my main influences are, they are because of him or through him.
When I was four ‘ six – eight years ‘ he showed me all sorts of films. He was one of the founder members of the Lucknow film society. Sometimes there were film screenings in our aangans and he showed me films we were not supposed to see as a kid – like Milos Forman’s Loves of a Blonde, Pather Panchali or Chaplin which he showed me a lot of.
He had a pretty eclectic taste. Never bullshitted. He enjoyed the experience of film viewing. I grew up with that experience.
Fortunately, because he was a non bullshitter, he never made me feel as if I was watching anything haloed or something superior. We were just watching a film and people who told stories and told them in their own way.
I had an uncle who used to react very violently to all these films that my dad used to show me and insisted that the best films were the Dara Singh ones. So, whenever he came home, the uncle showed me Dara Singh films. I saw all Dara Singh films at that time.
My father never interfered.
I had a younger uncle. He’s a very good friend of mine. He used to read comics. When I was ten, he was 25. He used to buy comics in my name. If someone would ask why he was buying comics, he would say he was buying them for his nephew. And then he’d give me these comics. As a kid, I had one of the biggest collections of comics ‘ about 5,000 comics. They were all sorts of titles. I don’t know if you’ve heard of something like Classics Illustrated which is how I was introduced to a lot of good works of literature ‘ I read Hamlet, The Prisoner of Zenda, Three musketeers, Count of Monte Cristo. All these titles were available as comics. I don’t know if they are still printed. And Superman and Phantom and Garth.
And then, my paternal grandmother was an influence. My grandfather who was Lucknow’s biggest doctor had left home ‘ he had gotten married again and was living separately from us. My grandmother used to keep showing me Sahib, Bibi aur Ghulam, because I think she identified a bit with the Meena Kumari character. I saw S-B-G around 25 times ‘ every time it got released. But my father never interfered with that either. I saw it 25 times, also ‘ because my grandmother gave me 8 annas each time.
My maternal grandmother used to like a film called Sant Gyaneshwar and showed me that. Even though my father was a scientist – a mathematician and one of the most genuinely secular men I have ever seen, he never taught me any religion.
In fact, the only condition he put on my mother was that you are not going to teach my children anything about religion. And you’re never going to take them to a temple. I never had a religious upbringing. But, of course you can’t control everything. My grandmother told me some religious stories as well.
Then, I had a brother, his name was Sudhanshu. He was ‘ and again, I am trying hard not to bullshit ‘ he taught me cinema. He joined the Film Institute. He was a near genius who sort of probably failed because he got into a party sort of life. He told me once that he went into a party in 1977 and when he came out the party followed him out. He sort of used his mind up a lot with all sorts of things. He was a very good film-maker who never made a film.
He taught me film making. I never went to the institute and lot of people thought that I did, because I used to go and stay in his room. I would teach him what I learnt in Bombay, because I came and became an assistant here ‘ with Vinod Chopra and Kundan Shah. But, my main influence, my teacher in cinema was my brother. I still think, when I look at my own films, I don’t see influences of those who I assisted, but personally if I don’t bullshit, I see a lot of him in them. He taught me mis-en scene. He taught me how to block a sequence and how at different times cinema is an amalgamation of many things. He taught me the relationship between the camera and the subject and that often the subject is an actor and often it’s not an actor.
And then I was really fortunate’really fortunate that a girl called Renu Saluja brought me into her life. I kind of married her. It wasn’t a marriage. It was a personal marriage. I lived with her for 12 years and that was so fortunate in the sense, she had so much influence on me, that it wasn’t funny. And it wasn’t merely about cinema. She taught me about people and how to handle life. She taught me in fact, not to bullshit.
Both Sudhanshu and Renu taught me that cinema is about the concrete and it’s in the doing and that we always know more than our talent. There is always a gap between knowledge and talent. And cinema is about your talent and not about your knowledge. It’s about your instinct. So, when knowledge becomes instinct, it is that knowledge which is ingrained in you and what you can work with. At a time when you write and you work, you follow your instinct and try and follow what works for you. When you make a film with that intention you often tap into what you are.
When did I start making sense of all these influences in my work’ When I met a man called Badal Sircar. I was 20-21 years old. This man told me how to make use, make sense of what I knew, to make sense of my influences and how to put them in ones work.
In a sense, Badal Sircar was probably the first great artist I had met in a personal way. I worked with him for about a year and a half. We formed a group, called Workshop Theatre in Delhi where he used to take workshops and we did two or three plays – and very idealistic. There was no notion of ‘director’ and 7-8 people formed this group who said there would be no director and so we will all, sort of, play the director – which is not a workable proposition. But for those one and a half years, you work with a great man. In a sense, all those individuals tried to create something of their own. The process was a way of opening up your head. The best part of Badal Sircar was that he was not trying to govern you. He was trying to open you up and make you find out the person you were.
In a sense it was interesting, even though I escaped from him. Because after a while every person becomes a cult figure or a guru and you want to get away if you want to do something of your own.
My first credit was when I was very young. I was 23-24 years old at that time. It was for Jaane Bhi do Yaaron. And please, I’d like to emphasize that Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron is a Kundan Shah film, as in, he determined the film. And we were there, in a sense, to aid him. Because at the moment, I am making films more than Kundan is, therefore, a lot of credit starts accruing. But you know, it’s a Kundan Shah film on which I sort of worked and I guess I must have done something because he gave me the credit.
It was interesting to work on a material that was not yours and in a city, which was not totally yours, but the problems were the same you were seeing elsewhere. That was my first experience and that’s when I realized I could write. I didn’t know whether I could write. In hindsight you can say anything, but I didn’t know that I could write. I did Jaane Bhi do Yaaron and worked on Mohan Joshi Hazir ho. I am credited with the screenplay for both films. Then, I was in Khamosh, with Vinod Chopra. In these three films, I realized that I could write but I didn’t want to write what I was writing at that time. That, I had to, if I want to make films, I have to delve a bit more into myself.
That realization came to me. And it is very nice, because I worked with film makers who were not very senior. Mohan Joshi’ was Saeed’s third film, Khamosh was Vinod’s second film, Jaane bhi do yaaron was Kundan’s first film. I was not working with people I was awestruck by. And they were wonderful people who gave me a lot of space at that time. In a sense, they allowed me to learn on my own. They were not cult guru types who tried to impose a theory of the world, life or cinema. Also, they respected you for who you were. It was quite a wonderful group.
Those four or five years were wonderful. I came into cinema in the 1980s.That was the last good phase of the so called parallel cinema. After 1986-’87 it all disappeared. That phase was interesting. I met wonderful people who are still my friends. I was introduced to Ketan(Mehta), I liked his cinema. What was interesting was the possibility that you could do what you wanted to do ‘ that idea of freedom. I met Shekhar (Kapur) and even Javed Akhtar. I had a wonderful relation with Javed Akhtar from 1985-2000. But from 1985-’95 he was like my elder brother. Again, he was not trying to impose his view, but allowing you spaces in which you could grow ‘ these were some people you could have a dialogue with. I think both, Javed and Shabana are very influential in my life in some way also.
And there were so many disparate types of people ‘ there was Vinod, there was Saeed, there was Kundan, Javed, Shekhar, Mahesh Bhatt. And all of them were, kind of starting out at that time. And there was Mani Kaul and Kumar Shahani. And I am not at all influenced by their kind of film making but Mani was a wonderful person. Mani has no idea of what he has given me. I used to watch him as an individual and again, he was wonderful in the sense of opening up your head. And so were all these individuals with whom you interacted. A lot of people treat Mani and Kumar as cult figures, but I had no such notion. I come from a background, where there was no such thing as a cult figure and my father had ensured that I am independent in the head. When I met these people, they were wonderful and I found that they were excited about the medium. And it was good that they were all around, so everybody was doing things that were different and not mimicking each other. And therefore, you also said, oh, I am not like the rest of them, I am like someone else and so became someone else.
It was that atmosphere at that time, which was very liberating.