Talvar has a very definite end
Meghna Gulzar is back to the Director’s seat after a long hiatus. Talvar, her latest outing is based on the real life murder case of 14-year-old Aarushi Talwar, a case that shook the nation. As the film hits theatres, Meghna talks about dealing with this sensitive subject, giving the film a definite ending, the casting for Talvar and more.
What was that trigger point for you to make a film on this subject?
It’s a very intriguing case with very compelling characters. One didn’t look it as a subject or a potential film when one was following it. But the idea actually came from Vishalji (Bhardwaj) while discussing subjects that could be my next film. In the conversation, several topics, subjects and ideas came up and this was one of them, and I grabbed it. Because of course, I had been following the case, like everyone else. And I was also being swayed by the different news reporting that was happening for the case. But when the theory started becoming diametrically opposite, is when I started noticing another layer that was operating beneath what was coming up in the headlines. And that, for me, was very exciting.
The Aarushi Talwar case is one of the most sensitive cases of its time. How difficult was it to work on a story which is open-ended and convert it into a film?
Why do you call it open-ended? If you are talking about the real story, it’s pretty much resolved. There was a verdict after a trial, where a sentence was given and the suspects/accused are in jail. So the case itself is hardly open anymore. The reason, why in a lot of people’s minds this particular incident remains open-ended, is because everything about it isn’t hundred percent convincing. The biggest challenge is the sense of responsibility that sits on your shoulders. You are making a film on a real incident. These are real people who are alive and it’s not an official biography. You have to be very careful that you maintain your objectivity, especially when you are saying that you will be showing all the various points of view with equality and fairness. You have to be very concerned and aware that nothing in your film is offensive or derogatory to anything. Of course, that is if you want to make a film with integrity, which is what we started off with. And well, these are the challenges one faces when they are doing a film like this.
During shooting, as a director, what I had to ensure was keep my emotions out of the way. That included my bias, and my personal opinions as well. Otherwise to film a sequence where you are showing parents killing the daughter, how do you execute that if you are reacting emotionally? You have to treat it very clinically, which was very exhausting.
Talvar is a very dark film with suspicious characters. How did you decide on the casting for the same?
Before we put a full stop on the first draft, Irrfanji’s (Khan) name was on everyone’s lips. Before we had a producer and before we even knew if we’d be able to make this film, we knew he was our man. These were all instinctive choices. We knew the roles were very complicated. The same actor was going to be playing the character in two different ways: guilty and innocent. So performance levels were something we needed. We didn’t go for the physical resemblance as that was never the intention. We mainly needed certain evolved level of performances. All the actors that came to our mind were all instinctive choices and everyone we went to, said yes. So there was no thinking over it again.
Was there a particular prep process for your actors to get into their respective roles?
Along with the script, I made little booklets of all the relevant detailed articles that were unbiased and not slanting in one direction or creating sympathy in another, and distributed it to all the main characters so that they had a background or an idea of the real case. Once they had that, it was easier for them to relate to the script and the case.
Shooting doesn’t always happen in a linear order because sometimes we do the fiftieth scene first and then we do the second scene etc. On shoot, all I had to do was explain to them that at what point they were in their lives and what had happened to them in the past as well as what was going to happen to them in the next scene. Whether you are guilty or innocent is what I had to tell them and leave the rest on them.
Being such a controversial subject, how did you end a film like this?
The film has a very definite end. But if you are asking me if I have a conclusion on who has committed the crime, you’ll have to figure it out for yourself.
Talvar is a movie where you’ve been given entire freedom to work on real facts and not alter information and names unlike how it was in the past. What do you have to say about this stage of Bollywood?
It’s commendable that today we are allowed to do what we are doing but if you call it entire freedom that’s not entirely true. We’ve had to fictionalize our characters, put a disclaimer and change the title of our film mid-way, so if we had everyone’s permissions and blessings, we would not have had to do this! So we’ve also faced that.
But the good thing is that today producers and studios are much bolder. Unlike in the past where they might have been reluctant to take up a challenging topic for fear of the film not being released, today studios agree to take risks.The perspective which has changed is what is very encouraging.
How much of it was fictionalized?
We may have an amalgamation of two or three real characters and that’s what may partly fictionalize it. But there is no fictional character in the film. If we had to fictionalize characters, events, evidences and data, then we would not and should not make a film like this. The purpose or strength behind making a film like this is to keep it as authentic as possible.
Talking about producers, how was the association with Vishal Bhardwaj?
It’s very strange, you know, because somehow when you say Producer, Preeti Sahani comes to my mind. Vishalji was pretty much in the background as a Producer. With me his interaction has been mostly at the level of a writer where we interacted a lot. I spent a lot of time with him when we discussed the case and the research. And then obviously as the Music Composer. I made casting and costume decision with him as a writer because he saw the script and the characters. So somehow in my head, it’s Preeti Sahani from Junglee Pictures who comes to mind and not him (when you ask me about the producer).
You’ve already had a series of screenings around the film. How has the response been so far?
Toronto completely took me by surprise. The film is not actually made for an international audience, intentionally. Majority of the people in the theatre were not Indians. The film is subtitled and it’s very heavy on dialogues, facts and connections. So if you miss a subtitle you may miss a connection. And this case is an Indian case, not an international one. But even then, the entire audience was completely engaged. When they laughed, it wasn’t just a few pockets of people in the theatre but the entire hall. And there’s a lot of black humor in the film. And they got it all, which was very encouraging. Here, in India, we’ve had a few screenings for bloggers and well, I’ve just read about them on Twitter and it’s very encouraging. But the final acid test or the finishing line for any film is when it releases and comes before the audience. That is the reaction which means everything. And I am hoping this positivity continues.
How excited are you to know the reaction of your audience?
I am actually very keen to know everyone’s reaction. For me, as I said earlier, this is like a new beginning. It’s a reboot. And I really want to know but not just selfishly for me, but because this story deserves to be told. A lot of people have asked me that there has been so much already told about this case, what is it that’ll interest us in your film? We already know everything that has to be known. And I honestly believe that yes, there is a lot that has come but it has come over a period of eight years. The communication of it was not always balanced. While some stuff was over-amplified, some stuff was dabaoed. Here we have tried to project everything at the same volume, clearly and in a simplified form. This is a very different experience to arrive at a conclusion.