By Natalia Ningthoujam
New Delhi — Filmmaker Vivek Agnihotri says that, till the 1990s, there were a lot of “political commentaries” in Indian films. But the trend lost out to films on Mumbai and those with youth-centric themes after the rise of the “Bombay-bred boys”.
Last year, Agnihotri made headlines for helming the controversial socio-political thriller “Buddha in a Traffic Jam”. He is now working on a film dedicated to India’s second Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri.
Why are political films important to him?
“I was making commercial films like ‘Chocolate’ and ‘Hate Story’. Then came a time when I realised that such stories only entertain for a week, and then we forget about them,” Agnihotri told IANS in an interview.
“I have one life and the political narrative always disturbs me. I feel what’s important is that writers and filmmakers should present an alternate narrative.”
So, why aren’t too many political films made in India?
“You look at Raj Kapoor, Amitabh Bachchan or Dev Anand’s films… I think up to the 1990s, there were a lot of political commentaries in our films… on oppression and women empowerment.
“We used to have a genre called Muslim social drama which nobody in the world has. Writers from north India and Bengal came and wrote great stories. Then that stopped.
“Then Bombay-bred boys started making films. That is one of the reasons (for fewer political films). If you look at the most successful directors today, you will find that their entire world is about Bombay,” said the filmmaker, who was raised in Bhopal and has roots in Uttar Pradesh.
And that’s why, he feels, there are a lot of youth-centric films and the “concept of a school boy and girl is more in fashion than anything else”.
The other reason why the trend of making political films “died” is because employment of writers stopped.
“Writers who have seen life and who understand socio-politics stopped coming, and people started writing on their own,” pointed out Agnihotri.
The third point, he says, is critical.
“Earlier, films were made and the amount on distribution of films was small. Today, marketing is almost 60 per cent of the whole filmmaking process.
“Now, people give 80-90 per cent of their mind to marketing and very less to content. The stakes are very high. So, when marketing starts dictating, the first victim is the socio-political issue.”
He, however, isn’t among those who let marketing dictate terms.
His upcoming film on Shastri attempts to raise questions about the mysterious death of the leader, who died 51 years ago. It will be made on a shoestring budget.
“The budget is enough to tell a story. It will have some of the best actors and not stars. It’s a realistic and hard-hitting film,” said the director who has worked with actors like Anil Kapoor and John Abraham.
In fact, Agnihotri began the year with “crowdsourcing of ideas” for the film.
“There are no official documents, but there are so many people who know so many things (about Shastri’s death). When I put out that post (on crowdsourcing of ideas) on Twitter, my inbox got flooded.
“There was bogus information, but very interesting things as well. This is the first time that people are collaborating this way,” said the 50-year-old.