We don’t have a culture of making hard-hitting political dramas
With movies like Dhan Dhana Dhan Goal and Hate Story, director Vivek Agnihotri has creatively woven stories in a number of genres. The filmmaker is now back with a hard-hitting political drama, Buddha in a Traffic Jam. Agnihotri has always been vocal about politics and his new movie exposes the dirty political games that rule the country. After facing a lot of obstacles, the film is finally set to release in May 2016. In an exclusive chat with Pandolin, Vivek Agnihotri shares the story behind the name of the film and the ideology that has gone making it.
How was the idea of Buddha in a Traffic Jam conceived?
I used to take classes in Creative Thinking for Leadership and that is when some of the students at ISB (Indian School of Business) in Hyderabad said that they wanted to make a short film of about ten minutes. I told them to go and raise money for a feature film and they raised it, and that is how it all started. During that time, I was reading a lot and traveling too. That is when I realized that there is a certain kind of politics that is taking place in this country, the real politics of terrorism, which nobody is showing. When we show Kashmir, we presume that the army is bad or we show that the terrorists are bad and that is all. We finish everything in black and white.
Then we make political dramas where we say that an inspector or a minister is corrupt. We always pass the blame on to other people, but we never show the entire truth. I thought that it was important to bring out this true story. I researched and picked up 2-3 stories and merged it with my own life story and that is how the film came about. When we made the film, initially it may not have made sense to people, but I think that in the last one and half year, whatever we have shown in the film is coming true either in Hyderabad or Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and also with the concept of Start-Up India.
The movie started as a 10-minute short film, what prompted you to make it into a feature film?
Nobody watches a 10-minute movie. Plus, when we started making the film, the digital market wasn’t so big. It doesn’t make sense spending resources to make a short film. So, out of humor, I challenged the students saying that you’ll are the future CEOs of the world, go and raise funds for a feature film and that is what they did.
Can you tell us the story behind the name ‘Buddha in a Traffic Jam’?
The name has actually undergone a lot of changes. Earlier it was called ‘Break Point’ then it was called ‘Potter’s Club’ and then it was called the ‘Pottery Club.’ But we did not finalize the name until much later. One day, while we were shooting at Indian School of Business (ISB), Anupam Kher asked me what the name of the movie is. And everybody turned to me, so I just said, “It is called Buddha in a Traffic Jam.” Just a day before this incident, I was traveling in Hyderabad and the frustrated driver was saying how if God were to come down to earth, even he would be stuck in the traffic jam. And that is when it clicked. Buddha means somebody with ideas, somebody who got enlightened, so today if you have some idea then in the corporate language you are a ‘Buddha’. But you’ll find yourself stuck in the traffic jam of the system, establishment and politics. That is what the film is all about.
This movie is suppose to be a take on intellectual mafia and intellectual terrorism. Can you shed light on these concepts?
There is one kind of terrorism that we know about, where somebody picks up a gun and shoots innocent people. But what happens when somebody brainwashes you and makes you anti-national or anti-state? On one side you have a group like the Taliban that brainwashes children into becoming terrorists. Similarly, our universities brainwash children and someone like Kanhaiya Kumar emerges, who stands up and chants about the nation’s downfall. This mindset is created when there is intellectual terrorism. That is what I call as intellectual terrorism or mafia.
What kind of hindrances did you face while trying to release the movie?
The problem in India is that all these films festivals, theater festivals, the various creative festivals and establishments are led or designed mostly by the Left wing people. Plus, the biggest problem that they have is that the Right wing does not have any kind of intellect, and that is not true. They were never given a chance or a platform. So the film was facing problems because it exposes such aspects. It was very difficult to raise funds and then release the film. Studios would commit and then at the last minute, they would realize that the film is against their own ideology, so they would drop it. Several top film festivals invited us. We were selected by MAMI but on the eve of the festival, they dropped the film without informing. It is because Buddha in a Traffic Jam exposes the dirty politics.
With today’s Bollywood obsessed audience, where do you think do movies like Buddha in a Traffic Jam stand?
We don’t have a culture of making hard-hitting political dramas. Plus, in order to create business, we tend to take big stars. The minute you take stars, the political part of the film is compromised and it just remains a simple drama. Most films have a superficial view where a minister is bad and a common man will be nice, as though a common man has never bribed a police inspector. Films have always passed the blame to politicians and police officers. But this film doesn’t do that, we have shown that teachers can be corrupt or a mother can also be bad.
Generally, we never show the harsh truth. This is the first time that a film is showing reality the way it is. Everybody is to be blamed, good and bad people, both are a part of it. This is very unlike a Bollywood film, it is an indie film. Moreover, it is a community funded film that was achieved with the help of students. Money has been given by somebody who has no ambition of being a filmmaker. It has been distributed by people who have nothing to do with films. They are doing it because they believe in the concept and not to make money out of it.
How was the overall experience of making this film as compared to your previous ones?
Normally, in every other movie somebody gives you the money, so you are comfortable. They put you up in a five-star hotel, you are traveling in business class and whatever you ask is available. In this case, all of us stayed in hostels including Anupam Kher. We had no facilities and no luxury. In fact, the entire unit traveled in the train and half of them traveled in the third class where there was no AC. We have no money for advertising, in fact, till date we don’t have the complete budgets that were required.
Where do you draw inspiration for your movies?
I don’t know what inspired me. Maybe initially, I wanted to show-off that I can make great movies. I wanted to show-off that I am a filmmaker and that is why I was making movies. But after Buddha in a Traffic Jam, something changed. Now, I want to tell stories, which nobody has the guts to tell and nobody will tell. Those are the films that I want to make.
Any words of wisdom for aspiring directors?
The first thing would be that it is very important and very crucial that you have some theoretical knowledge. It pays to go a film school and study for a year or two. This makes you a better professional, which I was not equipped with and most of the directors are not equipped with.
The second thing is that this industry requires a lot of patience, but ultimately you need to tell the story that you want to tell. Out of all the films that I have made so far, what Buddha in a Traffic Jam has done for me in my personal life and my confidence is much more than the other films. Though I have sacrificed a lot for this film, the satisfaction that it has given me is something that no other film has ever given.