Are you astonished by the film's success?
Yes, most certainly "Black" has gone way beyond expectations. I can't believe it has actually completed a 100-day run. I thought the film wouldn't go beyond two days in the non-metropolitan centres. I was stunned to hear that the film was a big success in a place like Patna. It's just so sobering! And a lesson to us filmmakers who insist on making presumptions on the audiences' behalf. There's no such thing as a niche audience. We create niches for our convenience when in fact all films should be made for the entire viewing sector.
Why do you think it worked?
"Black" came at a time when the audience was craving for a change. I gave them that change and they embraced my film wholeheartedly. It's very gratifying, specially since I was repeatedly warned that "Black" can only be a limited success. 'Critics and awards will be on your side. But the audience will be cautious.' That's what I was made to believe.
What are the lessons that you've learnt from the unexpected success of "Black"?
Why segregate the audience in our minds? I always believe one thing. My films are made because they have to be made. I don't make them for money. You either make films or you make money. Sometimes you get to make some money also. But that can't be the purpose of making a film. Trade papers weren't favorable to "Black". They kept saying it wasn't doing well in many areas when in fact "Black" has done well all over, including overseas.
Why was the trade so sceptical about "Black"?
It wasn't a film where the boys and girls were trendily dressed. They didn't dance in exotic locations. "Black" didn't seem to have any of the elements that appeal to NRIs. But a work done with good intentions can never go wrong. For the first time in the history of Indian cinema abroad, a film picked up in its collections and actually made remarkable headway. Word of mouth on "Black" in both India and outside was amazing.
What are your future plans for "Black"?
I don't think getting an Oscar is the ultimate goal for "Black". I think the kind of recognition and success that it got goes beyond anything we expected. But yes, the Oscar keeps recurring in all conversation on "Black". I think it's the people's way of telling us how much they appreciate the film, and what hopes they have for it. When they say Amitji deserves an Oscar, I think they want to tell him he has reached international standards of performance. I agree with that view completely. I just want "Black" to be seen by more and more people.
So an Oscar for Mr Bachchan and "Black"?
I feel the West hasn't really acknowledged Indian cinema beyond Satyajit Ray and random parallel filmmakers. Mainstream Indian cinema hasn't been recognized in the West. I wonder where "Black" fits in! People in India thought it was an off-mainstream film. But it surprised everyone by being accepted by the masses.
Now they say "Black" is ineligible for international recognition because it's inspired by the film "The Miracle Worker". That reading of "Black" is a result of complete misinformation. Both "The Miracle Worker" and "Black" are sourced to a play on the life of Helen Keller.
So your film goes back to the play?
Not even that! We just read the play to know about the protagonist's life. From there we constructed our own story and characters. In the play, Helen Keller's life is taken only to a point. We've gone much further. "Black" is a completely original piece of work.
I keep reading cynical comments by so-called avant-garde filmmakers from our film industry. One of them thinks "Black" is 'hammy'. Now what on earth is that? Another one thinks my film is overrated and unrealistic. God bless them and their hardly seen films. I think such people are trying to get a bit of recognition by trying to run my film down.
Your own assessment of "Black"?
First and foremost, for me it's the most important performance by one of the most brilliant actors of our country. If nothing else, then "Black" must be acknowledged for Amitabh Bachchan's brilliance and excellence. It won't return for a long time. He has performed his character with such flamboyance and elan. It isn't over-the-top acting. It isn't hamming. It's a passionate confirmation of life, no less. And then to have the cynics saying it's no great shakes!
Please, let's have more constructive criticism. Everyone doesn't have to like my film. But if the criticism is done merely to settle scores or to vent your bitterness, then it's not done. No fellow-maker should comment on a film in print. For me "Black" has touched a chord in the hearts of dancers, painters, musicians, artistes and laypersons all over the world. Jealous and unimportant filmmakers' opinions don't matter.