MUMBAI – We met the no-nonsense woman director, Meghna Gulzar, at the J.W. Marriott for a chat on her latest and most hyped film “Raazi,” which narrates the real-life story of Sehmat, a 20-something young girl who was taken out of college and married off to a Pakistani young man by her dying father to be a spy.
Gulzar’s and Raakhee’s daughter Meghna Gulzar, after burning her fingers with “Filhaal” (still cherished for its brilliant music) and “Just Married,” directed a dramatic story in “Dus Kahaniyan” and went on to do the intense “Talvar,” again a dramatized real-life saga.
With smart marketing and her increased respect for the audience, “Raazi” promises to be a delight for the audience.
Excerpts from an interview:
Q: Why did you choose this story of Sehmat and want to make “Raazi?”
A: I was actually working on other scripts when Priti Shahani of Junglee Pictures told me this story. Then another source got me to read the book “Calling Sehmat,” which narrates this story. I thought that there must be some reason why the same story came to me from two different people. I met Harinder Sikka, who wrote the book, and struck a rapport with him. He said that he would like only me to direct a film on it, so I told him that I will develop it and cull a cinematic story from it. After that, I told him we will look for a producer. Afterwards, I went to Priti Shahani, because she had told me about the story first as it seemed morally right.
Q: This is your first adaptation of any book. What were your challenges?
A: When you read a book, what you interpret visually is with your imagination. When you watch a film, what you get is my imagination – that of the writer. Cinema has so many tools – visuals, sound, music, performances, costumes – all of which are arts. So as a director I must damn well make them work to take the film to a higher level than the written material, whether that is a book or a script.
The advantage of a book is that it has so many words to explain a character in it, like the innocent and sensitive husband here, or the simple girl Sehmat is. Here I have to do scenes to establish that, like Sehmat saving a tiny squirrel from being run over.
Q: Are you now only into real-life stories?
A: It’s not a conscious decision, but I am gravitating towards true-life stories as they are far more compelling. But I like to creatively shift gears so that I do not stagnate. I would like to do different genres like the diverse colors of a palette.
Q: After a long time, we have some hummable songs in the film that are original.
A: That is because the music is bonded with the film and is not there only for an album. Like “Dilbaro,” the ‘bidaai’ song. As for the patriotic song, “Ae watan,” I wanted a duality in the song. This is a creation of the legendary Dr. Allama Iqbal, who also wrote “Saare Jahaan Se Accha.” He wrote “Ae Watan” in India and then migrated to Pakistan, and the lyrics are so universal that they can apply to any country.
Q: Did you have any trepidation about doing an Indo-Pak story? Or fear of protests et al.?
A: If I had, I would not have made the film. Yes, there was awareness that it was a sensitive zone. But, like with “Talvar,” I knew my intent and integrity were pure, so subliminally, the audience will get that. The audience is far more attuned and aware than what we credit them to be.
Q: Why did you opt for Alia Bhatt and Vicky Kaushal?
A: One, I knew the arc of the characters, so the first demand was the actress who was Sehmat has to be able to deliver. Alia could, so that was one box checked. She also fit the physical box of a 20-year-old from Kashmir. Then she had to be a spy, not a Lara Croft, but a young girl put on a tumultuous journey. She never metamorphoses into a superwoman but remains young and fragile even when she does things she hates. As for Vicky, he had the quality I wanted, of “Namrata (humility)” and was likeable. For us Indians, a Pakistani soldier should be a villain, but he is not!
Q: How much does your father Gulzar get involved in your films?
A: I write all my films, though I give him my scripts to whet, and to check on languages and diction. For my songs, I dare not go anywhere else! As filmmakers, we are completely different and after he wrote five scenes for “Filhaal,” my first film, I told him I would write the film and then show it to him!
Q: Will your film release in Pakistan?
A: I wish our cultural exchanges are not directed by politics, but most of our films are not shown there.