Pushing the boundaries

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 23 Jun 2017 11:37:58


By Aasawari Shenolikar,

Unconventional is his middle name. The day he decided to make a movie, he did not choose the ‘tried and tested’ formula in Bollywood. He took a path that was still considered a taboo; no one had made a film on HIV and same sex relationship. But he handled the sensitive subject with kids’ gloves and My Brother Nikhil was critically acclaimed. Onir had arrived! And even though My Brother Nikhil was not a box office hit, this did not deter from his focus. He wanted to push the boundaries with his films, and it’s been over a decade, Onir continues doing that.

With his latest Shab (Night), set in Delhi, it deals the lives of people who live on the edge of what society finds acceptable. The film focuses on intense relationships. “It is a story about people coming to the city with dreams, people from different walks of life come in search of finding true love and how in their pursuit of realising their dreams, they get caught in the web of circumstances in an unforgiving city,” says Onir, while talking to The Hitavada. Onir reveals that the film was showcases at the New York Film Festival where it received a wonderful response.

A few moons ago, Life In A Metro also showcased the lives of people and their dreams, however, it was set in Mumbai. Does Shab also follow a similar path as did the characters in Life in a Metro? “No,” Onir refutes, “the characters of Shab are very different from what as shown in Life In A Metro. Their ambition and lives follow a different graph, however because the city is also a character, some similarities are bound to creep in. Some similar texture will seem to overlap. The loneliness that is a part of city life, and people who migrate and come here forms the core of Shab.”

Onir is probably the first filmmaker to have gone where no man has gone every before in Bollywood. He deals with sensitive social issues. Ash him how challenging is that in a social milieu like ours where even whispering ‘sex’ is frowned upon and where a simple issue can ignite people’s ire. Laughing aloud, Onir replies, “It is definitely challenging because sometimes the society comes across as starkly insensitive and intolerant. And one has to bear the brunt of it. It is also taxing because the financiers and studios do not want to easily support films like these unless there are big stars to support the cause. Unfortunately, for stories like the one I tell, it’s not easy to rope in big stars. But having said that, it’s also a very rewarding experience to have with all the support of my friends / cast and crew to make those films and be recognised as the first one to tell certain stories in the mainstream space. But yes, sometimes it feels sad that much more such stories could be told with a li’l bit more support from within the industry.”

The films that Onir makes are strong and are different from Bollywood churns out every Friday. His stories are thought-provoking and is a true reflection of what goes on in the society. But such films are frowned upon by a certain section of the society, who call themselves the ‘moral police.’ Does the thought that your work might not get its due because of the action of a few people scare you or has it deterred you from telling the stories that you want to tell? “Long ago such reactions would rattle me. However, one positive thing from yesteryears is that my films, despite its content, never faced any controversy or any protests. My Brother Nikhil got a U certificate without any cuts, and that was eleven years ago. But my experience with I AM was very, very unsettling.” Onir had to wait for six months and he got an A certificate. He was hounded by the Censor Board for making cuts here and there and most of them, according to him, were unreasonable. “This experience was very disconcerting nd now when I sit down to write, I feel an unspoken censor working within me, telling me to be cautious or maybe mask what I really want to say. As an artist, this is not a nice feeling for somewhere my creative freedom is being curbed.”

Since he touched upon the topic of Censor Board, it touches a raw nerve with many a filmmaker these days, does the high handedness of the Board rankle him? What does he have to say about the Cinematographer’s Act that many filmmakers think is outdated? “I totally agree that the Cinematographers Act is archaic, it rules are outdated. Tell me frankly, why should filmmakers alone be brought under the ambit of the Board? The Act and the Board doesn’t take into account the content that in the times of YouTube is freely available, without any restriction, for all ages on the Internet. Why should cinema, which is a voluntary act and paid act, face so many hurdles? It is unfair to cinema as a form of art. Why should it be censored because its screening in a theatre, the same film can be shown uncensored on a net platform. Defies logic.” He also categorically points to the violence/ hate/ sex on TV/internet and print that’s available to everyone. “It does not make any sense why filmmakers should always face the ire,” he contemplates.
In recent times, film buffs have been exposed to cinema that is distinctive and unusual. A lot of filmmakers are experimenting with new themes, new subjects, new ways of filming. Cinema, of late, has definitely grown. Onir agrees whole heartedly to this and thinks that this is a new wave moment for Indian cinema.

“With digital film making there is a lot more possibility for film makers to tell their stories.... The challenge is how to get it to the theatre and make people come and experience cinema which are not all about the so called “big screen experience”. I think the webspace/TV can only be an additional platform. The biggest pleasure of watching a film is on the big screen. However, not many troop in watch films that do not follow the run-of-the mill story.”

But the one positive thing that Onir sees on the horizon is that there are a lot of young film makers with beautiful stories to tell. “We need to provide them spaces where they can show these films. And we hope that with new wave of cinema, the audience will also want to watch cinema that offers them something that is wonderful and has both soul and substance.”

This National Award winning director is on a roll. And like every filmmaker, he wants people to appreciate his compelling stories.