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    We can''t seek solace in escapism: Mani Shankar

    [Interview by Subhash K. Jha]
    Tuesday, April 05, 2005
    He has made "16 December" and "Rudraksh", and now the recently released "Tango Charlie", which Hyderabad-based filmmaker Mani Shankar says is based on "gut wrenching facts of separatist violence".

    His earlier films also broke new ground in mainstream cinema, though this Bobby Deol-Ajay Devgan starrer is completely different from the other two. The Big Bollywood film takes a startling look at terrorism, insurgency and violence in various pockets of the country.

    Shankar says that the success of films like "Black" and "Page 3" have given scope for directors like him to attempt something different. And so, he has come forward with "Tango Charlie" through which he has attempted a "visceral experience".

    He deliberately avoided going to Kashmir for "Tango Charlie" because he needed to give the audience a different, visual experience. Instead, he went to Tripura and "got to know the extent of brutality in the northeast".

    "I think filmmakers need to take up responsibility for what''s happening in our country. We can''t continue to seek solace in escapism," says Shankar, who is now planning a comedy-adventure thriller for Pritish Nandy Communications.

    In this interview, Shankar tells IANS on why he has chosen to telescope terrorism in a film that plants itself in the ideological bankruptcy of mainstream Bollywood cinema.

    "Tango Charlie" is a very unusual film.

    And unlike my previous work, "Rudraksh", where I somewhere lost my audience, the audience flows with "Tango Charlie". I saw the film on the opening day in both Mumbai and Hyderabad. The audience was with the film. And to have audiences with you when the film is talking about the war of attrition around the border areas of India, without showing our soldiers as super-heroes, isn't easy. With a little bit of deft writing I pulled it off.

    Episodic films don't generally work....

    But I never slowed down to think about what would work and wouldn't work. If you strive to create a work of art you just have to go with your instincts. Audiences today are mature enough to not allow conventional perceptions to colour their judgement.

    "Tango Charlie" doesn't qualify as a potboiler. With a very good film like "Black" and a good film like "Page 3" doing well, there's scope for directors like me to attempt something different. In "Tango Charlie" I've attempted a visceral experience. Though it would qualify as an action film I've tried to take the action out of the action, so to speak, to let it assume a higher meaning.

    I don't think any Bollywood filmmaker has used action to attempt a higher experience. Even the way I've portrayed the women characters in "Tango Charlie" is different. I wanted to create a heroine who's superior to the hero in every way and yet he's not threatened by her.

    How did you think of bringing terrorism from different areas of the country under one plot?

    I actually travelled to various parts of the country and saw the violence first-hand. One had to take it in totality. There's no peace in any part of the country. Forget peace, our country is going into pieces. And I'm not talking about simple law and order. I'm talking about insurgency in various parts of the country. I'm talking about the Border Security Force guys who actually take the bullets out there.

    I tried to develop a character (played by Bobby Deol) who holds on to his innate innocence in spite of all the killings around him. I've tried to show humanism is more important than politics. We as a nation have to take charge of these wars of attrition being fought all over. Otherwise we'll end up losing the country.

    Your film requires a learned audience that knows its history and the headlines.

    That's why I've layered the narrative so it can be watched both as an adventure saga and a deeper study of the malaise that threatens to tear the nation apart. I think the media needs to focus more on the problem. I think the press is getting tired of reporting about strife. The solution can be had in three days if the concerned people want it. For that public awareness must be created.

    We're spending millions of rupees killing 20,000 people in Kashmir every year who pose a threat to the place. I chose not to go into Kashmir in "Tango Charlie". I needed to give the audience a different visual experience. I've used different regions and their languages to show the epidemic proportions of terrorism.

    Could your film be accused of over-erudition?

    No. See, the film has to be as exciting for the audience as it is for the filmmaker. The journey must be as exciting as the destination. When I wrote "Tango Charlie", I based it on gut-wrenching facts of separatist violence. When I went to Tripura I got to know the extent of brutality in the northeast.

    Chopping off of the victim's ear is a common occurrence. To my horror, I got to know that in many villages fathers disfigure their daughters' faces when they're 14-15 so that insurgents don't attack and destroy the village just to abduct a beautiful girl. When I saw the disfigured faces of these innocent girls, I was provoked into writing a sequence in "Tango Charlie" where Bodo insurgents brutally wound a BSF soldier and use him as a bait to capture his colleagues.

    Such things happen right under our noses! I know of so many tales of brutality in Kashmir. But I didn't use them in "Tango Charlie". There're so many terrorist groups operating with impunity in Tripura and other parts of the country for the sake of a nebulous freedom.

    Your earlier films were hi-tech fantasies.

    Yes, but "Tango Charlie" brought me back to earth with a thud. I think filmmakers need to take up responsibility for what's happening in our country. We can't continue to seek solace in escapism, arguing that's what the audience wants. Also as a filmmaker I need to keep moving on. My three Hindi films so far have been absolutely different from one another.

    Now I plan to make a full-fledged comedy-adventure thriller for Pritish Nandy Communications. Like all my films this, too, will have an element of technology. There has to be sense of modernity in our cinema today. We must also have stars so that audiences can be enticed into theatres. Do they trouble me? Not at all. Stars have a way of gauging a filmmaker's competence, and then working accordingly. If the film is rubbish, they get disinterested.

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