In conversation with Shoojit Sircar


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With his upcoming film, an espionage thriller Madras Café nearing its release (August 23), director Shoojit Sircar who rose to fame with his last movie Vicky Donor, gives AGI an overview of his experience and his idea to do this film. Madras Cafe is set against the Sri Lankan civil war, a subject which has remained untouched in Indian cinema till now. The film features actor John Abraham, as Captain Vikram Singh who runs a covert operation in Sri Lanka while American model and actress, Nargis Fakhri plays an international war correspondent.  Dhanya Nair in conversation with Sircar.


Q: Your previous film Vicky Donor although a serious film was told in a much light hearted way where as Madras Café looks like a serious film through and through. How difficult was the transition?

A: It is a complete U-turn from Vicky Donor and other kinds of genre I’ve done. It was a challenge as well as test for me. To deal with this kind of subject was not easy for me; it could be touchy for many. The movie is based on a realistic and sensitive subject–the Sri Lankan civil war. So, the idea was to make sure that we are not partial to any side. There was a lot of background research involved as it was important to get the facts right. Also, I’ve always wanted to make a film about a spy. I chose the Lankan background because it was a story waiting to be told. We’ve seen many different stories about Pakistan and Kashmir so I was really looking forward to do something different.
Q: You come from an advertising background. What lessons have you learnt from advertising?
A: In ads you tell a story in 30 seconds while in films in two and half hours. So, both are two completely different formats. The challenge in advertising is you’ve to latch on to emotions, make it evocative and tell a story in a short span. Advertising in India has also changed a lot. It is less about the product and more about story-telling. But telling a story in 30 seconds makes you a snappy story-teller. Also, in advertising you’re constantly using new cameras, styles and techniques. These two factors have given me an edge as a film-maker. In cinema, the biggest challenge is to keep the audience riveted for over two hours. I came to Mumbai, to be a film-maker; advertising happened by chance. However, I started liking making commercials. For me both are equally challenging but the kick making a cinema gives you is very different.
Q: I read somewhere that you don’t want to do a typical song and dance movie. Is there any particular genre you want to be known for?
A: To be honest even I don’t know which genre I will settle in as I constantly taking U-turns. As a film maker I love the challenge of dabbling into different genres be it comedy or drama. For me that challenge is very important. The only thing I am not cut out for is the typical song and dance kind of Bollywood fare. As an audience, I’ve seen all kinds of movies from Ramesh Sippy’s to Bimal Roy’s, from Martin Scorsese’s to Oliver Stone’s. My icon would be Satyajit Ray who was really ahead of his times.
Q: How difficult was it to re-create Jaffna and other parts of Sri Lanka in India for Madras Café?
A: The film is a spy thriller but the background is the War. We knew we couldn’t shoot in Sri Lanka and it was a daunting task to re-create a war zone on our own without the help of the army. We’ve re-created the war ravaged places in Kerala and Tamil Nadu in South India. The challenge was to make sure we get a similar terrain like that of Jaffna—a town ravaged with bombs and shells, devoid of humanity, full of army and refugees. It took more than 42 days to re-create the first half of the film.

Nargis Fakhri 1 - Madras Cafe
Q: Indian cinema is going global and film-makers like you are doing all kinds of different films. How much of that credit goes to the audience?
A: A lot of credit for the resurgence of this new wave of cinema in India obviously goes to the audience. Earlier we had mainstream cinema and parallel/art house cinema but of late this divide is reducing which means they are more open to new ideas in cinema. There are footfalls for not just the typical Bollywood cinema but also for different kinds of films like Vicky Donor. Sperm donation was a taboo subject; when I made the film I was not sure if they would like it but the audience both young and old loved it. So, the audience is evolving and it is good news for us film-makers.
Q: How good is that business considering many Hollywood studios is now producing Indian films? (Madras Café is produced by Viacom 18).
A: It is an encouraging sign. Today, the industry is getting more organised and all the films are covering their cost. Also, a film-maker and technician is assured that there are more avenues for a film to see the light of the day.

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