The "Dansh" director says you stole her idea.
I don't know the "Dansh" director Kanika Verma. We have never met or spoken. She claims I stole the idea from her. But the fact is two years ago, immediately after "Dhoop", I wanted to make "Siskiyan". This film was announced with Harry Baweja as producer and Urmila Matondkar, Boman Irani and Rahul Bose in the lead. Harryji pulled out saying it wasn't commercially viable. I am doing another film for him now. Then I met Guddu Dhanoa who decided to back the project. If I knew another film on the same subject was in the making, why would I or Dhanoa make a film based on the same subject knowing the other film is 80 percent complete, as Kanika claims. Interestingly, Kanika forgot to mention one detail.
What is that?
I had narrated this subject to Sonali Kulkarni. Not once did she mention she was doing "Dansh". I would have stopped my film then and there. While I was shooting, I came to know a similar film was being made. But their backdrop was the Mizoram insurgency, while mine is the Gujarat communal riots. I did inform my producer.
But the basic story of a woman re-visiting her rape remains unchanged?
Yes, but the whole Gujarat backdrop gives my film a different color and flavor. When we talk about Hindu-Muslim relations, the theme acquires an immediacy that perhaps the Mizo movement wouldn't in the average Indian's mind. We knew "Dansh" would come before us. But we knew it would not affect "Siskiyan".
See, I know how difficult it was for me to make my first film "Dhoop". I feel for Kanika. "Dansh" and "Siskiyan" were not like two "Bhagat Singh"s. "Siskiyan" doesn't have Ajay Devgan or Bobby Deol. No one is dying to see it. My actors Sachin Khedeker, Neha Dhupia and Sonu Sood have done justice to the theme. But no one is holding his breath to see them. My film can't kill another.
If "Dansh" got killed, it must look for reasons elsewhere. It was immature, and a sense of frustration that must have made Kanika speak so rudely about Guddu Dhanoa. Today I am doing a film with Subhash Ghai. To get to successful place in life, one may need to make all kinds of films. You may or may not agree with Guddu Dhanoa's kind of cinema. But that doesn't make it worthy of condemnation.
What about the similarities with "Dansh"?
My film is inspired by "Death and the Maiden", as is "Dansh". I saw the film some years ago and then I saw the play also. I decided to apply the theme to a communal situation when one day I saw a fight after a road accident between a Hindu guy in a car and a Muslim on a motorbike. The minute the Hindu guy discovered the other person's religion, he became more aggressive.
I realised there's a communal streak in us, no matter which social strata we belong to. There is an anti-minority sentiment within all of us even if our parents didn't suffer during the 1947 riots. A little bit of bitterness is still there. That's what I have used in "Siskiyan". I am a Hindu. But I do feel I make Muslims feel insecure in some way or another.
This is dangerous territory!
I know. I realise great films like M.S. Sathyu's "Garam Hawa" and Govind Nihalani's "Dev" tried to probe into the Hindu-Muslim divide. No producer is interested in this theme. I realise that in communal distress it's the women who suffer the most. Through my three protagonists I have tried to take stand against the politics of hatred.
Rape is not my main subject. It's a riot rape and a Hindu-Muslim situation. Yes, it's dangerous. But I believe cinema should go beyond entertainment, though I have nothing against pure entertainers. But to me, cinema should raise issues such as the distrust between the two main communities. I hope "Siskiyan" provokes people to think. I am so happy my movie got a UA censor certificate.
What made you cast such an eclectic triumvirate?
Since the producer was already doing "Sheesha" with Sonu Sood and Neha Dhupia, he suggested them for "Siskiyan". I had seen Sonu as "Bhagat Singh" and in "Yuva" also. But I was apprehensive about Neha Dhupia. She surprised me. I realise, given a high-performance zero-exposure role she can carry it off. Neha also has a point to prove. She wants the audience and critics to know she can act. She will be a surprise, since no one expects such a performance from her.
Your next move?
A young film based on the education system; again a comment on our socio-political system, which I will start for Subhash Ghai in November. I am prepared for challenges. I do not mind doing commercial cinema as long as I am not made to dodge the issue. I have taken a socio-political stand in "Siskiyan". Let's see how it goes.