Edited Excerpts from an interview
You have previously spoken about how hard it was for you to write the screenplay for Margarita With A Straw. Do you think your efforts have paid off now that the film has released?
My efforts paid off way back in 2012 when I became the first Indian to win the Sundance-Mahendra Global Filmmaker Award a year after writing the film’s first draft. The award allowed my script to be accepted in the Sundance Lab (a 5-day workshop on screenwriting). At first, it felt fantastic but eventually they ripped my script apart. This sent me into a dark cave of more intense writing and rewriting. The second time my hard work bore fruit was when top creative talents such as Prasoon Chakraborthy (production designer), Mikey McCleary (music composer), Resul Pookutty (sound designer) and Niharika Bhasin (costume designer) came in to head various departments and craft the film. Finally, I was vindicated on finding a fantastic acting coach (who did not want to be named) for Kalki.
How did you convince everyone that the film’s issues were not off limits as they appeared?
The major roadblock for me was funding. I never managed to convince any studio or producer in this country to give me my entire budget — paltry though it was — for the film. The final 50 percent of the production funds had to come from Nilesh Maniyar’s (producer) family and the Jakhotia Group. The cbfc Revising Committee cleared our film with only one minor cut. We faced no real struggle there.
Like in Amu, a mother-daughter relationship runs through Margarita With A Straw. How important do you think was the ‘Aai-Laila’ dynamics to the film?
It’s the backbone of the film. For me, my mother was the centre of my life till she passed away when I was only 21. I think I am still processing her loss and that’s why both Amu and Margarita With A Straw have a close mother-daughter bond.
Sunny Leone-starrer Ek Paheli Leela and Margarita With A Straw released on the same day. Is it an indication of a greater flexibility in the film industry that two different kinds of film can co-exist at the box office or does it worry you?
I think it’s great that we can have such diversity in our cinema. I’m not sure how much audience that kind of film has, as it flopped and I’m quite certain it didn’t have to struggle for finance or a commercial release. So, it seems that’s the irony in our film industry. It’s really not a conducive environment to co-exist.
Tell us about how it was to direct two gifted actresses — Kalki and Revathi — in the same frame?
I am a proponent of the theory of ‘river acting’ as opposed to ‘pond acting’. The former is one in which a current flows from one actor and is met with the current from the co-actor. The key to achieving river acting is the rehearsal process. During the rehearsals, relationships are forged between the actors and thereby the characters.
Why do you think that people in India cannot look at ‘disabled’ individuals without a twinge of sympathy?
Primarily, such individuals are hidden from the appropriating gaze of the society. Unless you have a family member who is disabled, it is very difficult to understand them apart from what is shown in movies or on TV. Secondly, we don’t have access or inclusion in our schools or workplaces that would provide an opportunity for ‘abled’ and ‘disabled’ people to mingle and understand each other.
Your last two films (Amu and Chittagong) had socio-politically charged subjects. Do you think Margarita With A Straw is different?
This also has a charged sociopolitical issue since being homosexual is a criminal act in India. I wrote all my films the same way — from my heart. Putting aside issues of sexuality and disability, I’ve also woven complex human relationships which we all are a part of. So, a person who isn’t aware of these issues can also relate to my movies.