Two sides of a coin

Kabir Khan | Director, Bajrangi Bhaijaan
Kabir Khan | Director, Bajrangi Bhaijaan

Apart from re-inventing Salman Khan, Bajrangi Bhaijaan also gave the country Harshaali Malhotra, who played a mute child in the film and captured everyone’s imagination as the lovable Munni. Another piece of cinema that portrays the story of a ‘special child’, the heart-warming Marathi film Yellow, might not ring a bell with many but it won a Special Jury Award at the 62nd National Film Awards this year. Although both films depict children with disabilities, they belong to very different schools of filmmaking. Where Bajrangi Bhaijaan is a romanticised journey, Yellow stands as a poignantly humorous tale. At the first edition of the International Film Festival for the Persons with Disabilities (IFFPwD) being held in Delhi, Usri Basistha speaks with Kabir Khan, the man behind Munni and Mahesh Limaye, the maker of Yellow, to fathom if two separate strands of cinema can converge when it comes to the common ground of portraying people with disabilities.


Edited Excerpts from the Interviews

After directing two action thrillers, Ek Tha Tiger and Phantom, how did you come out of that zone to make a film like Bajrangi Bhaijaan?

Vijendra Prasad, a writer from the south of India narrated the basic storyline to me and I loved the idea. I knew I had to make this film.

What made you think the rambunctious Salman Khan would fit the character of this soft-spoken do-gooder?

After having worked with him, I know him well. I wanted to observe his body language when narrating the film to him. I had decided not to go ahead with the project if he did not display signs of excitement. But I have never seen him jump into a role like this.

In the film what kind of research went behind shaping the character of Munni? Did you consider casting a real mute girl?

We spoke to many doctors about the kind of disability showed in the film. We got to know of cases where kids did not speak until they were six or seven. But disability was just one part of Munni’s character. As a filmmaker, you are ultimately trying to send out a message. I felt Harshaali could convey that better when it came to a larger audience than perhaps a girl with a disability could.

There has been good cinema in India on issues related to disability, Margarita with A Straw being a recent example. Why do you think mainstream directors don’t take up such issues more frequently?

Honestly, I don’t think people make films with any agenda in popular Indian cinema. There are no proper movements toward making a certain kind of cinema. However, films are such a powerful medium and can bring about a change, say, in the way disabilities are perceived. Maybe now, many more films regarding such issues will be made.

How did you explain to Harshaali the nuances of her character?

I narrated the entire story to her once and then I would just give her the background of the scene on the particular days. Sometimes, I would forget to give her the context and when I would ask her to act in a certain way, she would draw a blank look and ask why. But then again, she is a good mimic and if I would act out her scenes for her, she would do exactly what I did.

Lastly, do you think audiences in India are opening up to newer stories?

The audience no more relates to unreal settings, common in our films till 10 years back. Though mainstream storytelling will never exclude songs, the characters and situations are starting to get real in terms of costumes and context.


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