It is hard to shoot a palatable scene of third-degree torture in a film. Left to himself, director Anurag Kashyap would have filled in all the sights and sounds to make the lock-up sequence in Black Friday, his controversial film on the Mumbai blasts of 1993 which is releasing next week, is gritty and real but most images of physical violence are oblique. Kashyap had to set his own boundaries to ensure that the violence did not overwhelm the film.
“I believe that violence should be shown as it is. Leaving too much to the imagination of the audience is worse. But I also realise that we are not a mature audience. So I only suggested the violence. No shattered nails even if the suspect is having his hands hammered by policemen, just bruises,” says the 35-year-old director, sounding almost wistful.
Kashyap is not the only one who ran up against this creative wall. Director Rahul Dholakia took two years to research and write the script of Parzania, which opened in cinema halls last month. But the 40-year-old director faced the same problem when he started filming the story of a Parsi family that loses a child in the horrific Gujarat riots of 2002. How graphic should he get?
Dholakia got his answer when he started casting for the film. Actor Naseeruddin Shah was more than willing to play the lead, but he had a theory about films that deal with violence: Too much keeps the audience away.
“Shah’s point of view helped me set the mood for the film without too much gore, especially in the long sequence involving the riots. So, we give the audience the feeling that they are witnessing the events at close quarters, but that is it,” says Dholakia, a US-based filmmaker.
The film, starring Shah and Sarika, had been in the cans for two years, buffeted between distributors wary of touching a film on the Gujarat riots. Dholakia finally distributed the film himself, banking on the film’s popularity on the festival circuits and on the nominations it has raked in for the National Awards.
Dark as it is, the story of Parzania had begun on a balmy Sankranti morning in Ahmedabad four years ago. Dholakia, who unfailingly joins the kite flying festival in the city every year, met Dara Mody, an affable film projectionist on a friend’s terrace. The group of friends dispersed soon after the festivities and Dholakia returned to Mumbai to chase his Bollywood dreams.
A month later, Mody’s family was plunged into a terrifying ordeal that has yet to end.
“The characters in the film are not author-backed heroes. They are very ordinary people thrown into a traumatic situation. But their basic strength of character shows through. I don’t play an over-the-top, emotional mother. She is an average woman whose biggest worry is the electricity bill. But she is actually a heroic figure without ever realising it,” says Sarika, whose role as Mody’s wife has won her a nomination for the National Award for Best Actress.
The images in Kashyap’s Black Friday, starring Kay Kay Menon as an investigating police officer, are not particularly palatable either. The film is based on the crime files of the 1993 blasts documented as a book by journalist S. Hussain Zaidi.
The release of Black Friday has been stalled twice. The first time, lawyers of the 1993 blast accused had objected to its tagline ‘The story of the Bombay bomb blasts’. The tag was deleted, but the Bombay High Court ordered a stay on the film till the special court judging the accused delivered its verdict. The Supreme Court finally cleared the film for screening and it is being distributed by Adlabs.
Over the years as he waited for the courts to clear Black Friday, Kashyap wrote a bunch of critically acclaimed scripts for films such as Yuva, Shool and Guru. In fact, his other big project, No Smoking, starring John Abraham is now being readied for release.
Kashyap believes that violence made digestible and glamorous as it is in slick action films, is dangerous. “I have a problem with violence that is shown in diffused light, with techno music, as choreographed kung fu. Because that is highly watchable violence and it tells the audience that it is okay to kill. Hard violence makes you cringe, but it also brings home the horror of the situation,” says Kashyap.
A hard-hitting film was the last thing on Dholakia’s mind when he was shuttling between Mumbai and Los Angeles, making television documentaries on migrant youth. He had dropped anchor in Los Angeles after completing his degree in filmmaking at the New York Institute of Technology. His first film, which tanked at the box office, was a romance called Kehta Hai Dil Baar Baar.
His biggest fear through the making of Parzania was that Mody would see it as a voyeuristic attempt to exploit the tragedy. “But he just told me, ‘I’m not worried about the film. I want my son to know wherever he is that I have not given up on him’,” recalls Dholakia.
The toughest act in the film was the filming of the riot sequence. Dholakia says he stopped short of showing the killings and used creative cinematic tools to convey the mindlessness of the violence. “The idea was never to rouse the rabble or point fingers at any one community. I want viewers to come out of theatres more compassionate and questioning.”