Cinema gets real, stark
Bollywood superstar Akshay Kumar has claimed that he agreed to act in Nikhil Advani’s Chandni Chowk to China after seeing a poster of the proposed film and once he was on board, the film had been easy to make.
As he puts it, “The story of the abduction stayed at the back of my mind, till one day I talked about it to my friend, writer-lyricist, Amitabh Varma, and finally began the process of transforming the story into a script.” It is a well-known fact that while a handful of big films boast of shamefully large budgets, for many others filmmaking is more a matter of passion than sensible economics.
Rajpal knew that his film had to be shot in the heart of Bihar, in real locations. It would need more than a month to shoot, and it had to be shot in 35 mm. And of course it would need a team of dedicated technicians and actors to work for free! FTII alumni formed the core technical team and even Swati Sen, the female lead, is an acting course graduate from FTII.
The film was shot at a small village called Kanti near Muzzafarpur. The unit stayed in school hostels, had a rather adventurous shoot during which the male lead Raj Singh Chaudhary (seen earlier in Gulaal) fractured his hand, and the production designer, Shruti Anindita Varma, often also cooked meals for the unit. Incidentally, Raj Singh couldn’t wear a cast on his fractured arm as that would have caused continuity problems during the shoot.
Scriptwriter Amitabh Varma says “Antardwand is 80% fact, 20% fiction. We toned down some of the harsh realities.” The actors and the writer met up with Rajpal’s friend to get a first hand account of what had happened to him. The actual story in which a groom was abducted and forced to marry also ends the way it does in the film, except that there also is a lawsuit that has been carrying on for 30 years. Rajpal’s friend is a practicing lawyer now, and the woman he was forced to marry, a small-time Bihar politician.
Such abductions, apparently, still happen in Bihar, but in fewer numbers, dowry concerns being the main trigger. The film is not just set in Bihar but also uses a cast and crew that is largely from Bihar, thereby getting the nuances right. The cast, consisting of Vinay Pathak, Akhilendra Mishra, Swati Sen, Raj Singh Chaudhary and Jaya Bhattacharya, unerringly deliver ‘real’ performances.
For Vinay Pathak, better known for his comic fare, the role of the groom’s father was attractive one. “It wasn’t an obvious one to be played by me. Being born and brought up in Bihar made it easy for me to understand the character, because I have seen tyrannical patriarchs like the one I play in the film.” Vinay personally knows people who have been married off after being abducted — some happily, others not so. He adds, “There were no monetary concern, for Rajpal had been a boarding school senior and a friend since long, and this was a film I wanted to be a part of.”
Also from Bihar are Swati Sen who plays the role of the bride Janaki, and Akhilendra Mishra, who plays her father Mahendra Babu. “Winning the best actress award at MAMI last year made me feel on the top of the world,” she says, “for the film had often seemed like a jinxed project to me. Director Imtiaz Ali was originally supposed to play the groom Raghuveer but opted out at the last minute. There were various production problems and sometimes Raj Singh and I would be shooting for 48 hours at a stretch, while the technical team would be rotated.”
But as Raj Singh, who stepped in to fill Imtiaz’s shoes says, “It was all worth it in the end. Apart from working with a fractured hand, shooting in Bihar was a pleasant experience and the unit never encountered the kind of lawlessness that the film portrays.”
Like Rajpal’s friend’s story had a long journey before it became a film, the film’s journey towards release has been a long one. Says Rajpal, “The film’s unit was ecstatic when we won the National Award earlier this year for best film about a social issue. The award not just brought in recognition but made the film’s release easier.”
Directors Anurag Kashyap, Raj Kumar Hirani and Imtiaz Ali have been helped to promote the film. But yes, the film’s poster does not look as eye-catching as that of Chandni Chowk to China. It looks more real, stark, and rooted, like the film. And it tells a story.