A man of principle

Real issues

A man of principle

There are few Indian directors who know what they want their films to say and actually translate that to the screen. Nagesh Kukunoor is one of them.

His element of realism in films like Dor, Iqbal and ‘Hyderabad Blues’ will once again be replicated in the upcoming film ‘Lakshmi’, which addresses the
issue of child trafficking in India.

Interestingly, Lakshmi’s story came to him by accident. “I was invited to an event where I met a man who was running a rescue shelter and conducting sting operations to save ‘VOCSETs (Victims Of Commercial Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking). On meeting the women, I was not able to believe that after all the emotional, physical and sexual abuse they had suffered, they could still stand in front of me like normal human beings and have a normal conversation. I felt very strongly that I had to do something about it,” shares Nagesh.

Nagesh adds, “There are certain stories that slap you on the face and say ‘Make me now!’ I had actually embarked on making ‘Lakshmi’ three years ago and cast a real 14-year-old. But the more I interacted with her parents, the more it felt irresponsible. I wanted my story to be told and felt that she was the perfect vehicle. But I constantly asked myself why I was exposing someone her age to this side of life. So I shelved the film.”

This moral dilemma passed when he met his leading lady Monali Thakur six months later at a party. “I didn’t know who she was but was mentally picturing her with pigtails and in a little girl’s outfit knowing that she could pull of looking 14! I made her very uncomfortable because every time she turned, she caught me staring. But I asked if she’d be interested in acting and she came for the audition and was fantastic!” he recalls.

How was she to work with? “It wasn’t a tough process because she was intuitively amazing. But it was very clinical – like in disturbing scenes where a man was manhandling her, I’d put his hand on hers and say ‘This is how it’s going to feel’. When a woman’s above 21, she’s comfortable in the knowledge of what’s happening to her,” notes Nagesh, adding, “But on a few days, it was very difficult for her because she kept going into a bad space.”

The film’s release was delayed because of the Censor Board and will finally hit theatres on March 21. “There are three tiers to the Censor Board – evaluation, revision and tribunal. When the evaluation committee saw the film, they told me that there’d be a lot of cuts and advised me to take it to the next level. We couldn’t assemble the revising committee to see it in time because I was travelling. But when they eventually saw it, they were unbelievably fair and passed it,” he says.

Asked if he constantly sees the world through a film-maker’s eyes, he laughs and replies, “This is one of those unique professions where the work doesn’t exactly begin or end – it’s an ongoing process because as a storyteller, you’re looking for stories everywhere. The only problem is that you don’t get to enjoy any film. If a film makes me forget that I’m a film-maker, that’s the one I truly enjoy.”

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