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Exclusive: As filmmakers, we are self-censoring ourselves: Vishal Bhardwaj

Vishal Bhardwaj, Vikramaditya Motwane and Rohan Sippy talk about the changing landscape of Indian cinema and how filmmakers are dealing with it.

29 May 2024

In filmmaking, the filmmaker becomes naked on screen, actors hide behind their characters. Be it his political views or world views, you can see through the filmmaker. It is he who is seen. You can fake it as an actor. You cannot fake it as a filmmaker” — Vishal Bhardwaj


Cinema is considered as a medium of change and perse new voices only contribute to elevating the artform. As part of MAMI Mumbai Film Festival’s initiative, five emerging filmmakers Archana Atul Phadke, Faraz Ali, Prateek Vats, Saumyananda Sahi, and Saurav Rai were mentored by Vishal Bhardwaj, Vikramaditya Motwane and Rohan Sippy, to help them redefine cinematic norms.

In an exclusive interview with Bombay Times, the celebrated trio addressed some raging issues like stifling of creative freedom, censorship, corporate interference and more. Excerpts…

Always the one to challenge the status quo, Vishal Bhardwaj confessed that times are volatile for filmmakers. “It is totally strangulating. You can’t say anything. Do you know what has happened? As filmmakers, we are self-censoring ourselves. Whenever a thought arises, you first wonder what the money men will think. Will they finance us to get this idea across? This is what the system wanted. Before going to CBFC we self-censor.”

Vikramaditya Motwane nodded in affirmative and stated, “You start second guessing everything and that’s bad. Lawyers run the studios in a way.” Rohan Sippy added, “It happens at a corporate level. You are not independently distributing anymore so you are always dealing with large companies that are sensitive to anything that is deemed controversial. Private sector censorship has become more drastic than the CBFC. You don’t know what lies ahead so you feel it’s safer to not go down that path.

 

 

Private sector censorship has become more drastic than the CBFC’

In filmmaking, the filmmaker becomes naked on screen, actors hide behind their characters’

The mentors ranked honesty high as a trait for filmmaking. “As a filmmaker, you must follow your heart and be completely honest with your feelings. In filmmaking, the filmmaker becomes naked on screen, actors hide behind their characters. Be it his political views or world views, you can see through the filmmaker. It is he who is seen. You can fake it as an actor. You cannot fake it as a filmmaker. Parda faash ho jata hai”, said Vishal.

Rohan begged to differ. He countered, “It’s also okay to do the opposite of what Vishal said. Author Hunter S Thompson modelled himself on Ernest Hemingway early in his career. In the beginning, it’s okay to look at others’ work and figure out what you want to do but don’t delay that start.”

Vikram explained, “There are no set rules. If you want to be a filmmaker, be a filmmaker. Go out and shoot 100 bad shorts until you make that one great short film. That’s what I did. I was lucky to get a video camera for my wedding when I couldn’t afford one. I used that to shoot everything. Be it a friend’s wedding, car racing. Read a lot and explore life, that shapes you into a good filmmaker.”

 

You can’t fight technology’

Film vs digital has been an ongoing debate. Christopher Nolan has been a champion of traditional techniques known for shooting on film. However, not everyone gets the budget he does, believes Vishal. “We can’t fight technology. When the sound became digital, we used to say the warmth of tape is not there. I don’t think that’s the case at all. Likewise, smartphones have revolutionized filmmaking. I shot a (short) film called ‘Fursat’ (starring Ishaan Khatter and Wamiqa Gabbi) on an iPhone and I was happy. In fact, whenever we do guerrilla shoots, for instance shooting in a train without permission, we use phones. Steven Soderbergh has shot his entire feature films like ‘Unsane’ and ‘High Flying Bird’ on a smartphone and he did it years ago. Nolan gets such huge budgets, he can afford to say anything (smiles).”

 

Not all filmmakers have the privilege of huge budgets like Nolan’

Agreeing with Vishal, Vikram explains, “Nolan can afford to have Imax cameras. Kodak created a completely new format of its black-and-white film for scenes in 'Oppenheimer'. Yahape you can’t afford to ask for extra film from the producer. Kaha se milega?” There is a certain romance associated with shooting on film but whether it is better than digital is no longer relevant, he feels. “Digital is cost effective and easier to work on. I’d love to shoot something on film if it makes sense financially. I don’t see anything wrong with the digital format”, he says.

Rohan Sippy believes film and digital can co-exist instead of an either-or situation. “It’s great to have different religions in filmmaking and people like Nolan championing ‘film’. Francis Ford Coppola said this 40 years ago, that ‘people who normally wouldn't make movies are going to be making them and for once this whole professionalism about movies will be destroyed and it will become an art form’. That’s the beauty of digital technology. It makes filmmaking handy. How people consume it is up to them. At the same time, we are happy to see some are keeping the tradition alive and looking into conservation of film. You cannot deny the change though. You must embrace it.”

 

Cinema needs new voices’

There has been a generational shift, believe the makers. Vishal concluded by saying, “Cinema ko hamesha se hi new voices ki zaroorat hai. Every ten years ek nayi soch aa jaati hai and if we can give them a platform, why not?” Vikram pointed out, “The kind of realism the new generation is bringing to storytelling and performances is admirable.” Rohan summed up, “The whole landscape is so different today. I remember we didn’t have multiplexes back then and Nagesh Kukunoor’s Hyderabad Blues (1998) turned out to be a game changer. It created new ways of thinking.”

 

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