One can say Bollywood is divided into two: commercial cinema and its more artistic cousin, the indie film. However, some directors straddle both camps. Their films lie somewhere in between, and they're fine with their kind of cinema not having a name. Madhur Bhandarkar is one of them.
Coming to the fore with the critically acclaimed and four National Awards-winning Chandni Bar, starring the powerhouse Tabu, Madhur claims he chooses to — or at least strives to — make films that “hold up a mirror to society”.
From Chandni Bar to the Konkona Sen Sharma-starrer Page 3 that exposed the relationship between the media and high society or the Priyanka Chopra-starrer Fashion chronicling the journey of an aspiring model to supermodel-dom, Madhur has made a name for himself by tackling offbeat subjects. And his long list of national and international awards is a testament to that.
“It [has been my] conscious decision to make such films. I’ve always said I’m not a commercial filmmaker. I’m basically a slice-of-life filmmaker. I don’t want to take a chance with commercial cinema, cast superstars, add five songs, etc. I don’t do that. For 14 years I’ve been successful making my kind of cinema,” said the filmmaker in an excusive interview with Images.
“When I look back at myself, a video cassette library boy has come so far. Four National Awards, critical acclaim, and box office success; I don’t think I need more. God has given me so much: fame, adulation, people’s love. I’m really very happy and I consider myself God’s blessed child and I want to keep making good cinema.”
Now one of the most sought-after directors in Bollywood, Bhandarkar was in Lahore for two days to participate in the three-day Rafi Peer International Film Festival last week. We caught up with him at Alhamra on the first day of the festival where his film Chandni Bar was also screened.
He had always wanted to visit Pakistan and especially Lahore, he shared: “I loved what I saw on the way from Wagah border. I had heard about Pakistan since childhood so I’m very happy I came to Lahore. I had always wanted to visit Lahore, which is known for its hospitality and food.”
Ask him what he had wanted to see in Lahore, the filmmaker said he planned to visit the Badshahi Masjid, the dargah (Data Darbar) among other of the city's famed historical places, and definitely sample its roadside food.
Rafi Peer Theatre felicitated Bhandarkar at the festival for achievement in films as a director, particularly his portrayal of strong female characters.
“It’s a great honour for me to get this prestigious award. I had always wanted to come to Pakistan and what’s better is I’m getting awarded for my films here. And I’ve got a huge fan following here who stopped me, interacted with me. I always interact with them on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook. So this was definitely another feather in my cap,” he said.
"Culturally, we’re definitely the same. We may have a different religion, but we still have that maa, baap, chacha, chachi, phuppa, phuppi, cousins, saas, bahu [culture] between us," he says.
On the first day of the festival, Bhandarkar was also part of a panel discussion with veteran Indian actor Om Puri and a host of their Pakistani counterparts, who talked about how film exchange between India and Pakistan can help both industries grow.
All praise for the important points raised in the session, Bhandarkar is open to the idea of the cross-exchange of Pakistani and Indian talent.
“A lot of actors, actresses are doing very well in India and I’m very happy about it. I think there should be more cultural ties [between] both peoples. Pakistani films are being shown there, your artists are working there. I saw Bol and Khuda Ke Liye in the theatre myself.”
But what about the fact that this exchange has been one-sided so far? What needs to be done to open up the Indian market for Pakistani content?
“To open the ground for more exchange of films, there have to be [stronger] cultural ties between the two countries and representatives from the film world in India and Pakistan should sit together," proposed Bhandarkar.
"Not just films, art is rich; it can be painting, fashion shows, songs, theatre and so many things. There has to be a cell with filmmakers from India and Pakistan [who can work out cultural exchange between the two countries]. Governments are busy with their own affairs, so obviously they don’t have much time to think [about it]."
Bhandarkar believes film has always been a bridge between people across the world and that art has no boundaries.
"There has to be a cell between the two countries with filmmakers from India and Pakistan [who can work out cultural exchange between the two countries]. Governments are busy with their own affairs, so obviously they don’t have much time to think [about it]."
“We see Italian and Spanish films with subtitles. Art is something you are just attracted to and when you like something you appreciate it. I’ve been a video cassette library boy, delivering video cassettes. I remember in the '80s, Pakistani serials such as Dhoop Kinaray, Baqra Qiston Pe, all these were huge hits. Umer Sharif was a big hit in every household and so was Moeen (Akhtar) bhai. Everybody knew who they were. Reshma, Abida Perveen jee are so popular all over the world.”
Now that India’s Zee Zindagi channel has dedicated airtime to Pakistani dramas and some of Pakistan's recent films have also been screened there, Bhandarkar said he has loved the little bit of content from across the border he’s come across.
“I have not got to see too much, but whatever I’ve seen I’ve loved the content, the drama. Culturally, we’re definitely the same. We may have a different religion, but we still have that maa, baap, chacha, chachi, phuppa, phuppi, cousins, saas, bahu [culture] between us. We’re quite deep-rooted that way. We’ve been one country; there’s just a divide in between,” he said about Pakistan and India's shared culture.
As a parting note, Bhandarkar said he was going to start working on his next projects from next month and his fans will soon hear some good news.