‘Humour can be effective in sending across a serious message’

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 Chandraprakash Dwivedi | 54 | Filmmaker, Zed Plus

Chandraprakash Dwivedi’s latest cinematic project Zed Plus is the most recent entry in the league of films such as Welcome to Sajjanpur, Saare Jahaan Se Mehnga, War Chhod Na Yaar and Tere Bin Laden. It promises to be one of those rare films that eschew the dazzling world of glamour and luxury to deal with ordinary events rooted in contemporary politics and society. With this, filmmaker Dwivedi returns with a unique team comprising his old mates from the National School of Drama, New Delhi, associates from Chanakya (the hugely popular 1991 TV serial that he directed and in which he played the lead role) and his previous feature Pinjar, besides new associates, actors Mona Singh and Adil Hussain.

For his earlier ventures — Chanakya, Upanishad Ganga, Pinjar and the yet-to-be-released Mohalla Assi — Dwivedi drew inspiration chiefly from ancient Indian history and contemporary Indian literature. “People are drawn to common things more easily. I am one of them,” he tells Atul Chaurasia. “Tales from Indian literature and history that have been narrated down several generations inspire me. Besides, my work allows me to document them through a new medium and it gives me immense happiness.”

So, does it mean Zed Plus, too, would have historical and literary connotations? He says the film is based on a story he heard a few years ago from Ram Kumar Singh, one of his friends from Rajasthan. “I was enthralled by the way Singh narrated the story. He is an accomplished writer who was awarded the prestigious Rangeya Raghav Award by the Rajasthan Sahitya Akademi,” says Dwivedi. “Upon my insistence, he sent me the draft of the story and then gave me its copyright. So, in a way my association with history and literature continues with this film.”

How the story was translated into film makes for an interesting narrative that gives us a peek into the filmmaker’s personality. The writer and the director had different ideas about the dialogues. Dwivedi wanted the script to use contemporary idiom. Twenty-two drafts had to be rejected before the script was finalised.

Today, when he looks back at his previous work, he feels there was enough scope for improvement in them as well. “I have learnt that one has to write and rewrite the script again and again,” he says. “In the case of Pinjar, the first draft of the script was the final one. If I am asked to write it again, I will make a lot of changes. Mohalla Assi had 14 drafts. And now, there is Zed Plus with 23 drafts.”

Edited excerpts from the interview 

With your latest project Zed Plus, can we say that your obsession with history is over?
No. In this film, too, you will find glimpses of the past 67 years of Indian history, the political upheavals and various events of the period. It is a socio-political satire. I believe that the literature of a country documents its history. Our ancient scriptures also stress that drama falls under the category of history. Through theatre, we give an account of exemplary events of the past. I have not given up history. In this film, too, I have touched upon history here and there.

Tell us more about Zed Plus.
Zed Plus is a political satire about a coalition government grappling with communalism and corruption. While some of the allies are ready to withdraw support any time, one of the parties that support the government comes up with an interesting idea. It suggests that if the government offers a chaadar at the shrine of Peepalwale Peer in Fatehpur, Rajasthan, all the problems will be solved. After much persuasion, the prime minister agrees to act upon the advice. On reaching Fatehpur, the prime minster comes across a puncture-wallah, and the conversation and string of events that follow expose  the obscenity of politics and its estrangement from social realities in an entertaining way.

Is satire an appropriate instrument to address serious political issues like communalism, corruption and opportunism?
There are several reasons for using satire in films. First of all, such films are rarely made here. Secondly, politics doesn’t interest the public. What you are talking about is the bitter reality of our society and people get to see it on TV or read about it in newspapers every day. That’s why, when they enter a theatre, they want something different. When you change the way you narrate the story, it raises the people’s level of interest. We have seen a lot of hard-hitting editorials, but satirists such as Sharad Joshi and Harishankar Parsai adopted a different, more effective method. They brought in humour. To address a grave issue in a grave manner is commonplace. But, if a filmmaker successfully employs humour to send across a serious message, it’s quite an achievement.

Why do most of your projects revolve around subjects from history and classical literature?
I feel all these stories are time-tested. Natya Shastra stresses upon the fact that people easily grasp characters that exist among them. Acharya Hazari Prasad Dwivedi once wrote that when god gave us two eyes, it was not because he forgot to give us a third one. In fact, our third eye is our past. If we look carefully, the past has answers to all our contemporary problems. That’s why the past appeals to me. When it comes to communalism, I think we have always tried to sweep it under the carpet. We have never discussed it earnestly. The same is true for films.

It is more a western tradition to make films on historical or literary subjects. We hardly make such movies in India.
Absolutely. The reason is that in our society, the people are easily offended. Every time a historical movie is made, some controversy or the other arises. Some words that were in vogue yesterday are no longer acceptable. People vandalise theatres, which puts the investors in doubt. We don’t take pride in our past. There is a disconnect with it. Another reason is that historical films have not been successful here. In the West, historical films are hits. For instance, take the Cleopatra movies. The first was unsuccessful, but the other two were huge successes. In fact, the third was the best. Such ventures are continuously taken up there. But we don’t take much interest in historical characters. Besides, a lot of time and research goes into the making of such a film. If there is controversy after so much effort, people feel it is better to pick up another subject that would require lesser effort and time.

Do you prefer Indian tales over foreign literature and history?
I look for images from Indian society. But I keep my mind open. I don’t watch too much cinema. And until an idea inspires me, I don’t make a film. Cinema has always been an obsession for me.

If 10 or 20 years later, you look back and find that just a couple of movies are credited to you, wouldn’t you consider that a failure?
It would be my failure to an extent. But it would also be the failure of the society that could not accept what I had to offer. I have met people who use Chanakya as a reference. A film on Buddha was being made in Sri Lanka and they watched Chanakya several times during the making. Similarly, Pinjar is also used as reference. It is no less an achievement.

Translated from Tehelka Hindi by Naushin Rehman

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