Whether it is Akshay Kumar’s upcoming Toilet Ek Prem Katha or Sharib Hashmi’s Phullu, there is an interesting trend emerging in Hindi cinema. That of lifting the lid on taboos. These choices are brave and aimed at bringing about much needed changes. Stories have become more and more personal. There is a welcome change. It seems that people have finally accepted the biology of the human body.

Abhishek Saxena’s Phullu is one such simple story about awareness on menstruation. Pandolin spoke with director Abhishek Saxena and actor Sharib Hashmi to understand the physics behind the making of Phullu.

Abhishek Saxena

Abhishek Saxena with actors Jyotii Sethi and Sharib Hashmi

When and how did you decide to make a film around the subject of menstruation?

The concept came to me back in 2015. I went to a chemist shop to buy a sanitary pad. The shopkeeper wrapped the pad in a black polythene bag to hide it. It was there that I felt the need to bring this subject out into the open where it can be talked about. I also saw that since childhood this topic has remained a taboo in every family. When a television commercial of any sanitary pad comes on television, the channel is changed. Slowly these small elements grew with me and I discussed the concept with the writers and got it developed.

How difficult was it to find a financier for a topic like this?

It was extremely difficult. I had approached 7-8 people but no one was willing to put money in this project as they saw it as a risky proposition, considering the fact that the topic was a big taboo. They feared putting their hands in the project. Some even had concern about how they’d talk about it in their own families. How people would respond to the idea was also their concern. I then thought of the doctor with whom I’d done my last film. He understood (the need for such a film) and things started to fall in place. In April 2016, we finished the shoot.

And it took a year to post produce?

Not as much. We were ready for release in October last year. But because of Demonetization, we had to put things on hold. There was a delay due to Censorship also.

Were these actors your first choice?

Sharib Hashmi was my first choice. From the very beginning, I knew I wanted a very realistic character. I wanted a boy-next-door; someone who’s far from being a conventional hero figure. The story progresses in a very poor milieu. The lead character has not attended school. So, when he can take an initiative regardless of the friction around him, then why can’t we do something living with all the privileges? I could not think of anyone apart from Sharib. As for other characters, we found them as things progressed.

Jyotii Sethi and Sharib Hashmi in a still from Phullu

How difficult was it to release this film?

The difficulties are still very much in our vicinity. There are big films coinciding with our film. It might be possible that we don’t get as much screens. But we are positively trying our best for the film.

Apart from a theatrical release, do you have plans to take the film to other places?

I’d like to travel with this film to villages. I want to show it in schools. My target audience (TA) for this film is not someone who can shell two hundred rupees in theatres. My TA are the people who can’t buy sanitary pads due to lack of finance. So, you can imagine the situation.

Have you taken any step in this direction?

Yes, we are starting the travel after the 16th of June (the film’s release). We will start from the village that we shot the film in. From there, we’ll try to travel all over India depending upon the response we get.

Sharib Hashmi

Sharib Hashmi

Sharib Hashmi

What was your first reaction after you read the script?

When Abhishek (Saxena) narrated the subject to me, I was thrilled. The concept felt very fresh. And after reading the script, I was both relieved and happy. Considering the subject of the film, it had a risk to become preachy. But this one was an interesting treatment.

I also made my wife read the script, as I wanted a female’s perspective on it. She too liked it as much. I had made up my mind to not leave this film at any cost. So, I immediately said yes to the project.

Was there any specific part of the script that was clinical in this decision-making?

The sheer theme of the film. Menstruation is something that women deal with on a day-to-day basis. Cycles are a part of human existence. Jaise aapko bhook lagti hai waise hi aapko periods aate hain (It’s as basic as one feeling hungry for food each day). Then why is such a process still a taboo? To address this cause was necessary. This film should have happened long back. But as they say better late than never!

How did you approach the characterization?

Half of my questions about the character were answered in the script. After reading the script multiple times, I could find multiple layers to the character. This is like a protocol that I follow for characterization. If a script is not able to answer questions for my character, then probably the script is weak. This wasn’t the case with Phullu’s script. My character was well-defined. So, Shaheen Iqbal (Writer) had already done half of my work. I even sat with him for getting the dialect of the character right. He belongs to the region where the character is from. His command over the local dialect was very strong. I made him record an audio of the complete script and listened to it repeatedly. I visited the village before the shoot and stayed at the house that we finally shot in. I also spent time with the locals and loitered in the village alone for a day.

Which village was this?

It was Koyla Alipur, a small village in Mathura. A portion of the village, which is called Pucca Koyla, is where we shot. It was an amazing experience working there. The locals were extremely cooperative. The shoot went smooth and we shot the complete film in fourteen days without compromising on quality. It was a tough task to achieve this but the locals made it easy for us.

Sharib Hashmi in Phullu

The script made you understand the intellect of the character. How did you get the physicality right?

This was the purpose of me staying at the village before the shoot. A lot went behind finalizing the look for the character. The hair had to be unkempt and I also needed the right kind of skin tan. Not that I am a fair guy. But the tan of a person living in a village is different. To achieve that authenticity, I was there, loitering in the sun. I observed the people around me and never worked on making mannerisms. My focus was to internalize those people and bring them in my character as much as I can; to make them a part of my own self.

What were the dissimilarities between you and the character?

Phullu is from a village while I’m from Mumbai. Our upbringing was different. Phullu has a villagers’ naiveness. He is a simpleton. So there were quite a number of dissimilarities.

What’s your starting point of making a character?

It’s finding the similarities and dissimilarities between us (Him and the character). I find it exciting to build traits that I don’t have. For this character, my stay in the village helped me bridge this gap of dissimilarities between Sharib and Phullu.

Lastly, please talk about your future projects.

My next is a dark thriller called My client’s wife. The trailer will be seen with Phullu. Then there is National Award-winning director Bipin Nadkarni’s film Darban. My co-actors in this film are Rasika Duggal, Sharad Kelkar and Flora Saini. Then, there is a film called Vodka Diaries with Kay Kay Menon sir, Mandira Bedi and Raima Sen.

I have also produced a film called Ram Singh Charlie where Kumud Mishra plays the protagonist. Insha allah (God willing), we are looking at releasing the film in the second half of this year!